The Mixed Grill
Old Pineha Harangaote, that small, elderly kaumatua, in his Maori way, acquired a modest trilogy. He was born great, he achieved greatness and he had greatness thrust upon him.
Heni Tuatope, on the other hand, was never to progress beyond a comfortable mediocrity. Unless of course you count her size. She was possibly the biggest, grossest Maori woman of all time. Yet who shall say that, in her own way, her name was not inscribed in large and legible characters on the scroll of fate.
Pineha, through a converging of genealogies, inherited so many lines of chiefly descent that he was of the upoko ariki. That is to say that he was a chief of such mana that he could speak with unquestioned authority on any marae of his own tribe, and indeed of many other tribes as well.
He had also achieved a modest greatness by his efforts on behalf of his people. As a young man he had been a disciple of Apirana Ngata, Jimmy ‘Taihoa’ Carroll and other Maori leaders. Fired by their example he had initiated many reforms and innovations among his people. Largely as a result of his precept and example they were among the most up-to-date of all Maori tribes in all things which made for material prosperity. They were noted for their fine homes, clean and prosperous farms, and for the number of their young people who achieved success in a strange and modern pakeha world.
At the same time they had preserved their Maoritanga. They were noted for the preservation of ancient customs and traditions. Young people who spoke fluent Maori were the rule in Pineha's hapu, where they were the exception elsewhere. His people performed the poi, the haka and wiata in a manner which was an inspiration to all.
In consequence Pineha was, rightly, regarded as a great man. His own people revered him, neighbouring tribes respected him, and the pakeha spoke of him almost as though he were not a Maori.
It was inevitable, therefore, that he should have greatness thrust upon him. He was made an O.B.E. and it was whispered that, should a knighthood be allotted to the Maori people, he would be the recipient. He was Chairman of his tribal committee, Maori member of the provincial Education Board, and finally, when a Royal Commission on Maori Lands was set up, he became a Government nominee and its Chairman.
For all this he remained, as most Maori chiefs remain, an humble and unpretentious person. When, once a month, his Education Board meeting took him to the provincial centre he stayed always at the Connimore Hotel, a second-rank hostelry which combined comfort and good food with unpretentious neatness.
Once in every three months he visited Wellington to preside over the deliberations of the Maori Lands Commission. Here too he stayed at an hotel which others of his Commission looked upon as below their dignity, especially as their expenses were paid.
Pineha Harangaote did not drink and did not smoke. He was a person of modest tastes. At home he ate, uncomplainingly, the somewhat unimaginative diet supplied by one of his mokopunas who kept house for him. As this grand-daughter had a husband and many children, as Pineha was not a rich man, and as the husband was an incapacitated returned soldier with only his pension for income, the fare in their home was plain. In consequence Pineha enjoyed his food when he stayed at a hotel. It was on one of his visits to Wellington that he was first introduced to a mixed grill. He was taken to lunch, at one of the
leading hotels, by a Cabinet Minister. The Minister happened to order a mixed grill and Pineha, always ready to try anything once, followed suit.
Like all men of fundamentally simple tastes Pineha was capable of great enthusiasm for simple things. He developed such an enthusiasm for a mixed grill.
When, later in the course of one of the Commission's meetings, there appeared to be a deadlock over which of several courses should be pursued Pineha used the mixed grill as an example and a simile.
‘Each of the courses which have been suggested,’ he said, ‘is a course of merit. But, unfortunately, each course contains something which will act against its success. Let us be like that pakeha cook at the hotel and, taking the choicest bits of each course, combine them to a mixed grill which will give us the best features of each course without a surfeit of any.’ Thereupon he analysed the various suggestions, pointing out their strengths and their weaknesses and, without difficulty, persuaded his fellow Commissioner to adopt what was afterwards known as his ‘mixed grill’ policy. That it proved a success has no bearing on this story other than the fact that it made Pineha even more a devotee of the mixed grill than before.
Pineha was too wise in his generation to try to make his mokopuna introduce the new delicacy into her limited cuisine. He continued to eat, with apparent relish and without complaint, the food she put in front of him.
It so happened that on his next visit to the provincial centre to attend the Education Board meeting, Pineha encountered Heni Tuatope just outside his hotel. Heni was the chef and Pineha was tempted to introduce the subject of mixed grills, but conversation took a turn in a different direction.
‘Tena koe, Heni.’
‘Kia ora, Pineha.’
‘Kei te aha koe?’
‘Kei te pai, kei te pai.’
Salutations were barely over when the woman laid her massive hand on his arm.
‘Heh Pineha, you fellows fix those scholarships today, eh?’
‘My boy Hoera, he go for that scholarship, eh! He the good boy, my Hoera.’
Pineha made non-commital sounds and prepared to go on his way. Heni's huge hand detained him.
‘Heh, Pineha, good thing if that Maori boy get the scholarship, eh? Too many times pakeha boy get that scholarship. My boy, Hoera, get it, good thing for the Maori people, eh!’
‘Now look, Heni,’ Pineha explained. ‘Scholarships are recommended by teachers. The Board only confirms them. If Hoera's been recommended he'll get it. If he hasn't he won't. There's nothing I can do about it.’
Heni looked at him in patent unbelief. Her massive frame quivered in indignation and affront.
‘Upoko kohua, Ngati, Manere,’ she shot at him, and turning on an indignant heel hurried into the hotel.
At lunchtime that day Pineha ordered a mixed grill.
‘I'm sorry,’ the waitress said, ‘it isn't on the menu.’
‘I know,’ Pineha agreed. ‘But ask Heni to cook me one.’
Heni was a good cook. She was normally a reasonably obliging chef, but she was a woman of determination and she was out of friends with Pineha.
‘Kahore,’ she said when the waitress bore Pineha's request, shaking her head to emphasize the negative. ‘Mixed grill she no on the menu. No mixed grill.’
Pineha shook his head sadly when the message was brought to him but made no protest and ordered a steak.
‘Really Heni,’ said the waitress to the chef. ‘It wouldn't have hurt you to give the old gent his mixed grill. You've got everything cooking, it's only a question of putting a bit of each on the one plate …’
‘You mind you’ tables,’ Heni retorted. ‘I mind my cooking, eh!’
‘But,’ the waitress protested, ‘he's a big chief …’
Heni shook her head as an assertation of independence.
‘He may be big rangatira on his own marae, he just a taurekareka in my kitchen.’
Pineha, rightly or wrongly, put down the refusal to his having refused to use his influence in the matter of Hoera's scholarship. Next mealtime he again ordered a mixed grill. Again it was refused. Now though Pineha was a mild and temperate man he was capable of great determination. He wouldn't have been the great man he really was without it.
He wasted no time in argument. He set about getting his own way in another manner. First he ordered a grilled kidney as an entree.
Having disposed of that he ordered a small entree of grilled sausage; this he followed with an entree order of grilled steak. If he couldn't get his mixed grill in one order he was content, meanwhile, to get it piecemeal.
When he paid his bill on departure the following day he mentioned to the manager his regret that he couldn't get a mixed grill with his meal. The manager seemed surprised.
‘There shouldn't be any difficulty about that,’ he said. ‘I'll have a talk with the chef before you come down next month, Mr Harangaote.’
But when Pineha ordered mixed grill on his next visit he again met with refusal. As before he made no complaint. As before he worked his way through the entrees and again, when leaving mentioned the matter to the manager without mentioning Heni's name.
‘I'm awfully sorry, Mr Harangaote,’ apologised the manager. ‘Old Heni's stuck her toes in for some reason. If it was something more important I'd insist, but Heni's been with us for years, she's worth her weight in gold. I just wouldn't dare to upset her by insisting.’
The stalemate continued for some years. With unfailing regularity during each day of his monthly visit Pineha ordered a mixed grill. With equal regularity Heni declined to supply it. Without fail Pineha ordered his succession of grill entries. The waitress reported to him that Heni was hopping mad.
‘She knows it's you gets all these little entrees,’ she told him. ‘She says one day she'll stop them. Me, I don't think she can do that. There just isn't anything she can do about it.’
There wasn't. The issue remained an issue until it became almost a tradition. The story spread from the dining room to the bar, from the bar it percolated through the town. Eventually Pineha's fellow members on the Education Board heard about it and fondly twitted the old man about it. He was a great favourite and their teasing was affectionate and mild. Old Pineha just smiled.
There came a day when Pineha missed his monthly visit.
‘Where's that Ngati Manene taurekareka?’ Heni asked the waitress. ‘That old fellow give in, eh? Change his hotel?’
‘I heard he's sick,’ the waitress said.
Heni dropped the subject but from the way she tossed her head and slapped the pans around it was clear that her sympathies did not go to the invalid. When a second month went by without Pineha coming to the hotel Heni went so far as to ask the manager if he'd heard anything about the old man.
‘Why, Heni?’ asked the manager, surprised. ‘I had an idea you didn't like the old gentleman.’
‘Just curious, eh!’ Heni said, loftily.
‘Matter of fact,’ the manager said, ‘I was talking to the Chairman of the Board, in the bar, only this morning. He tells me Mr Harangaote is pretty sick. Can't eat. Just fading away. Pity. He's a fine old man; credit to your Maori people.’
Heni tossed her head and went back to her kitchen without further remark. A week or two later Pineha was moved from his local hospital to the Provincial Hospital where he could be under the care of a specialist. The change seemed to do him little good. He lay there, day after day, eating little, saying less. He lay with lack-lustre eyes.
‘Just fading away,’ the nurse said to the ward sister.
It was Heni's husband who brought her the rumour. He was entertaining a few friends with a few flagons when Heni arrived home one night.
‘I hear Pineha Harangote he almost kamate’ he said. ‘Rongo here said he got the makutu sickness, eh?’
Heni stopped pouring her beer. She remained, flagon poised, as she looked at the men.
‘Who say he makutu'd?’ she demanded.
‘My cousin belong Ngati Manene,’ Rongo told her. ‘My cousin say Pineha told Maori Commission all Ngati Manene land should be made consolidated block. My cousin say Toraire, the tohunga, he not want his land consolidated. He say Toraire makutu Pineha.’
Heni looked at the men without speaking. She was a modern Maori and she didn't quite believe in the old witchcraft. But even modern Maoris don't like to meddle with makutu.
‘Serve him right’, Heni's husband said. ‘If it not been for him our Hoera get that scholarship, eh?’
‘Oh! Ka ti te turituri, ehoa,’ Heni snapped She left her beer untasted and went off to bed.
Next day she went to see the manager of the hotel. He listened to her and shook his head, doubtfully. When she left he rang the hospital and asked to speak to the matron.
That night was visiting night at the hospital. Old Pineha lay on his bed, his wasted hands folded on his thin chest.
‘The old Maori gentleman's not too good,’ the ward sister said to the nurse.
Pineha had no visitors. He wanted it that way, it seemed, for he gave them no encouragement. Many had visited him when he first came into hospital, but Pineha just lay there and seemed uninterested in them. Even the Chairman of the Board had resigned himself to a weekly token visit. Pineha took no notice of the throngs of visitors who passed his bed. He might have been miles away.
He sensed, rather than saw, Heni when she came to his bedside. He recognised her but he did not smile or make any sign.
Nor did Heni smile at him. She just stood there, a huge, untidy figure clutching a huge, untidy parcel.
‘Tena koe, koro,’ she said, at length.
‘Tenoa koe, Heni.’ His voice was so weak it was hardly a whisper, barely audible.
‘Kei te aha koe?’
‘Kei te pai,’ he responded, but Heni could see that all was far from good. She put her huge, untidy, brown-paper parcel on the locker behind the old man's bed. She bent over him and put her huge, coarse hands ever so lightly on the old man's frail shoulders and pressed her nose gently to his in the hongi greeting.
Tears coursed down her fat cheeks. Whether from sentiment or from sheer physical weakness tears welled from the old man's sunken eyes and mingled with hers. He lifted a wasted hand and feebly patted her massive, quivering shoulder. She straightened up, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief which seemed ludicrously small for so large a woman.
‘Enoho ra,’ she said, and turned away.
‘Haere ra.’ The old man's voice was so weak that she barely heard him. She left the ward still dabbing her eyes with that ridiculously small bit of linen. Hardly had she gone when the nurse went over to the old man.
‘Well!’ she said with professional brightness. ‘A visitor? That's nice. Oh, and a parcel too! Shall I open it?’
The old man made no reply. She thought he shook his head.
‘Come now,’ coaxed the nurse. ‘I'm curious, if you're not. Besides, it's nearly bed-time and it'll have to be unpacked and put away.’
The old man took no interest whatever as she proceeded to unpack the parcel. First she took off the brown paper. This removed, the parcel looked even more huge and ungainly
in a wrapping of closely fastened blanket. The nurse rummaged in her pocket and brought out a pair of scissors. She snipped away the stitches which held the blanket tightly sealed. She peeled the blanket away and revealed a bright aluminium container.
‘Well I never!’ she exclaimed. A close observer might have thought her less surprised than she sounded. The old man was no close observer. He showed not the slightest interest. Using the blanket to protect her hands the nurse carefully opened the container. An appetising smell permeated the ward.
‘My!’ The nurse sniffed, appreciately. ‘Well, of all the things for that Maori woman to bring you!’ She sniffed again, a Bisto sniff. ‘Well, I never!’
Odour, sniff and exclamation aroused the old man's faint curiosity.
‘Show me?’ he demanded.
He raised himself slowly and weakly on his elbows. The nurse held the container down, low, where he could see it. Steam rose from it. A delicious smell, doubly delicious to the old man, emanated from it. On a plate inside the aluminium container lay a steaming hot mixed grill; a small piece of steak, a piece of kidney, half a sausage, a small cutlet, all swimming in rich, steaming gravy.
‘Try just a weeny-teeny bit,’ coaxed the nurse. ‘It looks lovely.’
Slowly the old man shook his head. He lay back on his pillows and closed his eyes. The nurse looked at him, puzzled. Tears coursed down his sunken cheeks, but there was a smile on his lips, the first she had seen since he came into the ward. He looked different, somehow. Calm and peaceful and, somehow, triumphant. Even as she watched he fell sound asleep, still smiling.
‘I believe the old Maori gentleman's taken a turn for the better,’ she reported to the ward sister.
The first annual poukai to be held outside the Waikato took place at Kokohinau Pa, Te Teko, last January. Close on 2,000 people, including Princess Piki, were present.
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