Maori Warrior's Book of Dreams
Nearly a hundred years ago, a Maori named Aporo drew in a notebook the visions which he saw in his dreams. He was a warrior fighting for the Maori King against the Pakehas and the Pakeha Queen. On 23 January 1867, while he was hiding underneath a waterfall at Poripori, he was shot by Major Gilbert Mair, a famous Pakeha soldier. Nothing else is known about his life.
But his dream drawings were saved by the man who killed him, and they are now in the Turnbull Library in Wellington. So far as we know, this is the first time that any of them have been published. We show only a few drawings here; there are many more of them in this old notebook, the pages of which are fragile now with age.
It is a kind of diary, a record of the dreams and nightmares which came to him as he lay asleep, probably in a shelter deep in the bush, one of a band of guerrillas fighting a bitter, hopeless battle against the men who wanted their land.
This is what is written on the first of these pages:
I slept because of my sadness, and in my sleep I saw this sign above me: a reddish cloud, and a flock of little birds, and a big bird in the midst of them, flying in the direction of the great cloud. They settle on the cloud with their big friend. I awoke.
(Moe iho au i runga i oku Pouritanga ka kite au i tenei tohu i te takiwa nei. He Kapua ahua whero me te Pokai manu ririki nei me te mea nui ano i waenganui i a ratou huihui ana ratou ki te Kurae Kapua nei. Noho ana ratou i reira me to ratou hoa. Ka oho ake au.)
Above this is a painting of the great red cloud, the flock of little birds, and the big bird in their midst.
On the next page is a painting of a European ship. Beneath it is written:
This is a ship with one mast. Its sails are red.
The whole of the sea of Tauranga is red like the sails.
(Ko tenei Kaipuke he rakau tahi. Ko ona heera i ahua pu[w]hero pau Katoa te Moana o Tauranga katoa i te whero o nga Hera.)
There are other drawings of ships—one of a European ship drawn up on the shore, one of a canoe on a mountain top. Some drawings show a figure very much like a knight, wearing a cross on his breast, which may be inspired by pictures of St George.
Many of the drawings have symbolism which is hard to interpret, and sometimes the text is not easy to follow. The mysterious drawing on page 38 seems to represent the glory (kororia) of the sun; and perhaps the word on the right in this drawing, and the sign beneath it, refer to a key. The writing on the strange, poetic drawing on page 40 seems to mean ‘the post of glory’.
One page shows a miserable-looking man—‘This is an unhappy man’. (Ko te nei tangata he pakira.)
The writing beside the drawing on this page reads in translation, ‘This is Governor Grey, otherwise known as Old Grouchy. He is looking for an excuse to enable him to destroy the Maori People … he makes great speeches to his people about the bravery of the Maori’. Another drawing, illustrated on the next page, reads, ‘This is Governor Grey. He has come to deceive the Maori People. He has got them in the bag’.
There is yet another devil, complete with pitch-fork, and as beautifully drawn as these others, who is about to thrust the Maori King on to a fire.
We wish that we could illustrate more of these pictures, but unfortunately many of them are done in watercolour and pencil, and would not reproduce well. But if you should visit the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, the people there will be very pleased to show them to you.
Aporo had been educated by Pakehas, probably by missionaries, since he uses Christian symbolism to express his hatred of Governor Grey, the leader of his enemies. He had turned against Pakeha things, and the bishop is shown as being an ally of Grey's. But he knew in his dreams that it was too late to defeat the Pakeha. He made these drawings very carefully and skilfully, and his images of the great crisis in which he was a helpless victim move us now by their poetic power (the drawing on page 38 may remind some readers of the drawings of William Blake), and by the sense of impending doom which they express.
Early drawings of this kind are very rare indeed. If some other early drawings have been preserved by Maori families and are not yet generally known about, it would be of great interest if their owners were to decide to let Te Ao Hou know of their existence.