50 Years of NZ Book Awards: Paula Morris

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Book Awards in New Zealand. Our national prize has had different sponsors and incarnations over the years: it’s now the Ockham NZ Book Awards, held each May on the Tuesday of the Auckland Writers Festival.

Over the years many of our brightest and best writers, and classic books, have been recognised in the awards. Many of these authors are part of the Academy of New Zealand Literature. We’re celebrating their work this year by publishing excerpts from one of their award-winning books, along with notes from the authors on writing those books. Here’s to fifty more years of great books and our constellation of writers.




Rangatira by Paula Morris (Penguin)

NZ Post Book Award 2012


Paula Morris writes:

I spent years researching Rangatira, in the UK and New Zealand – climbing the old pa site at Ngunguru, seeing the room where the Māori party met Queen Victoria at Osborne House, reading old newspapers and Native Land Court transcripts. But most of the novel was written over a few frigid months in Glasgow, when I lived in an unheated flat on the third floor of a Victorian tenement. I sat wrapped in a blanket, typing. In the street below foxes wandered the grassy median: when they were too noisy, I banged on the window. It was a miserable time – working in a bad job, living in a cold and dark place – but useful for writing about Paratene Te Manu, trapped in wintry Birmingham in 1863, longing to sail home.




Excerpt from Rangatira (Penguin, 2011)


Auckland, New Zealand

June 1886


At the Native Hostel down on the waterfront, people are always talking. At times I think they don’t have anything else to do. Many of them are in Auckland to appear at the Native Land Court, to say their piece or argue about claims to this and that. Some of them are here to sell something in the market, or buy something in the shops. Some of them spend too much time in the grog shops along Shortland Street. I don’t bother with that anymore. Drink is a waste of money, and it steals days, turning them into dreams. I don’t have that many days left to waste on dreaming.
……..Last time I was in Auckland, when the trees were still bristling with leaves, I was asked to pose for a photograph. I was happy to do this, even though it was quite a to-do. Someone has made pictures of me before, in a proper studio, in a proper city, so I knew what to expect. But this photographer just had a room behind a chemist’s shop, and a blanket hanging on the wall. His hair was slick with oil. He insisted that I wear a peacock feather tucked behind one ear. He stuck it there himself, and his fingers were as greasy as his hair.
……..This feather was quite ridiculous. Then he covered my jacket with a great cloak, a kaitaka, but he draped it upside-down over my shoulders. He wanted the woven border of tāniko work to show in the picture, he said. I was an ancient warrior, he told me, as though this would explain why I was wearing a peacock feather and an upside-down cloak.
……..When I say he told me, I mean to say this – he told my old friend Wharepapa to explain things to me in Māori. I could understand his English, but I didn’t let the photographer know that. I don’t even let Wharepapa know that. People speak more when they don’t think you understand.
……..One of my eyes doesn’t see too good these days. I stood looking away from the camera.
……..‘Does the old man think the photograph will insult him in some way?’ he asked Wharepapa. ‘Does he think it will steal his spirit?’
……..‘Yes,’ said Wharepapa, without a smile, although I’m sure he thought this was a great joke.
……..‘Paratene Te Manu, the last of the ancient warriors,’ the photographer said, almost to himself, and then Wharepapa grew restless. He fancies himself quite handsome and vigorous still, and likes to tell people of the old days when he too was a great warrior. He doesn’t often say this when I’m there, because we both know that I was fighting with my second taua when he was still a gurgling baby, strapped to his mother’s back. Almost everything he says about battles are stories he heard from his uncles.
……..The picture was taken, and there was an end to it, I thought. But this week, at the Native Hostel, one old fool tells me he’s seen my face, pinned to the wall somewhere along Queen Street. I don’t take any notice until Wharepapa comes thudding down the hill from his house in Parnell, seeking me out on the beach where I’m smoking my pipe. The Bohemian painter is back in Auckland, he tells me. He has taken over a small room in Mr Partridge’s building, and is working from the photographs taken in town earlier this year.
……..‘You should talk to him,’ Wharepapa advises. ‘Otherwise he’ll paint your picture with that peacock feather. People will say you’re an Indian princess.’
……..Wharepapa thinks this is so funny, he repeats it to everyone in Mechanics Bay. I wish I was back up north on Hauturu, tending my garden, away from the chatter and intrigues of this place.
……..I need not have come down, you see, after all. I sailed here with a Mr McGregor, who is here in Auckland to make deals about timber and gum. Tenetahi, my nephew, used to bring me here in his cutter, Rangatira, whenever I had to speak before the land court. But the Rangatira was smashed to pieces in a storm a few years ago, on the rocks off Aotea. This is the island that people now call the Great Barrier. Tenetahi and his wife, Rahui, live on Hauturu, or the Little Barrier. Everything has two names these days – a Māori name, and a name that Captain Cook thought of and the Pākehā can remember. These Aucklanders here, I’m certain they were happy to hear that the Rangatira lay in pieces, because Tenetahi was always winning too many races in the Auckland regatta.
……..He and Rahui almost drowned that day, off the shores of Aotea. After the Rangatira was stuck on the rocks, and they saw that nothing could be saved, they found a whaling boat and began to row home. Another storm turned the waters of the gulf grey and angry, and tipped the whaling boat upside down. Rahui had to swim out to fetch a lost oar. Every time they righted the boat, it filled with water again. A man travelling with them was washed away. A boy they’d taken to Aotea to teach him how to strip blubber from a whale, he died later from the cold. They took more than half a day to row back to Hauturu. People staying at the hostel said it was mākutu, some sort of spell, because of all the bad will in the land court.
……..The argument is over who owns Hauturu. Whoever owns Hauturu has the right to sell it, and someone or other has been trying to claim the island, and sell the island, for the past forty years – Ngā Puhi, Te Kawerau, Ngāti Whātua. And us, Ngāti Wai, the ones who have kept our fires burning there for as long as I can remember. And who in Auckland can remember longer than I can? The court tries to make it complicated when it isn’t.
……..In 1881 the judge agreed that we Ngāti Wai were the owners, naming five people. Each of us represented one hapū of Ngāti Wai. But not long after the sinking of the Rangatira, the judgment at the land court was given to Kawerau. That’s when people started saying things were turning against us.
……..For us Ngāti Wai, all of our mana comes from the water. Now Tangaroa was angered and Tenetahi’s boat, with its boastful name, was so many pieces of driftwood. His mother was Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, from the East Coast, and his father was a Pākehā, people said, perhaps a Portuguese sailor. He was only the adopted grandson of Te Heru and had no rights to Hauturu on the basis of descent. They said that Rahui’s rights were through her father, Te Kiri, and their Te Kawerau lineage, or their Ngāti Whātua lineage, nothing to do with Ngāti Wai. They would say that, wouldn’t they?
……..I’m tired of all this. I just want to live there in peace. Some years ago, I said that we should sell the island to the Queen, to end this matter once and for all. We’ll live there without constant summons to court by this or that person. I wrote many letters to the court saying so, because every time we stand before a judge, he chooses a different group, and then years go by with more bad will and more arguments. More appeals, my nephew says, because he knows all the language of the court.
……..So this is why I travelled down to Auckland this week, for yet another appeal. If the judge restores our claim, we have decided to ask for £4000 to be shared among us all, and for Tenetahi and Rahui to keep a small piece of the island. Just a hundred acres, where we live most of the time, so we can continue growing crops and grazing, and cutting timber to ship down to Auckland. We’re all agreed on this.
……..But now my nephew says that this is not a good week to stand before the court. If we wait until later this year, the rules are about to change. We can have a Pākehā lawyer to help us present our argument and no one can wring their hands about it, as they did last time when Mr Tole helped us. Perhaps things will be better by the end of the year, he says, because now the government is saying that times are hard. The gold rush is over. The stock market has collapsed. They don’t have any money these days. We should come back to Auckland in the spring, in October.
……..He may be right. Matariki has risen, but the first new moon of our new year brought a tohu, a very bad sign. This is what people at the hostel are talking about today. Down on Lake Rotomahana there have been sightings of a spirit waka, its ghostly warriors paddling through the mist. Many more people talk of a strange wave surging across the lake, and of the Pink Terrace, which people travel across oceans to see, spitting mud.
……..We’re not supposed to believe in things like omens anymore. We’ve put aside the old ways, the old beliefs, the old fears. We have our new Christian names, the Māori words for John, and William, and my name, Paratene, which is our word for Broughton. But we still have our old names. How can we forget the knowledge of our ancestors? For a long time I tried to tell myself that they were wrong and that only the ways of the missionaries were right. But as I grow older, in my mind I can’t unpick the two. I do know that a lot of what we were told by the missionaries wasn’t true.
……..I’d like to go home now, to be far away from all this talk of restless lake spirits, and bad omens. But Mr McGregor is down here for another five days. I might find this Bohemian painter and see what he’s going to do with the picture of me pinned to his wall. At another time in my life I was expected to wear a costume, to be on display, and this made me very unhappy.
……..If he’s going to make a painting, the Bohemian has to take away the peacock feather. I’ll tell him this in English, so there can be no mistaking what I’m trying to say.
……..So I set off down Queen Street, walking towards Mr Partridge’s shop. The street is crunchy with mud and stones, and rain starts falling again. The first time I saw this city, when my son was a small boy, none of these buildings were here. It was a settlement, not even daring to call itself a city. None of these docks or wide roads – just tracks cut into a deep bed of fern, the sea lapping up. This wide road, and the hill where horses haul the big trams up to the ridge, that was all water. Some parts of it were a stream, clogged with clumps of flax, and some parts of it were just a swamp. All you could see was the thatch of ferns and clusters of mānuka trees, with their spindly arms and legs, whispering in the wind.
……..In later years, when it started calling itself a city, things weren’t much better in Auckland. There was a church and a fort up on the point, but the whare were only replaced with shops and houses that a gust could blow down. Whenever it rained, the track along the stream turned into a bog, and to climb it was to walk in treacle. We used to laugh at them, those Pākehā, trying to press their town into the soggy hill and moving dirt and rocks to fill in the sea. We always camped down by the bay, where the Native Hostel and market stand now. Easier to get in and out.
……..They also tried to build a fort around the stream, to make it a canal. I say canal, but really it was a dirty gully where people emptied their piss-pots, and it looked and smelled like the prickled mud around mangroves at low tide. You had to cross it by walking on planks. At night, when people were drunk and nobody could see anything, they’d fall in. This was the best show going in Auckland for years, Wharepapa always said – that, and people tumbling off the rickety wharf they built, the one that collapsed a few years ago. Not to mention visiting the stocks and the gallows, of course, though they don’t have those anywhere near Queen Street anymore.
……..I don’t usually buy my tobacco from Mr Partridge, but I know his shop. On a day like today, when it’s raining, the place is crowded, and smells like a wet dog. A whey-faced boy in a stained apron points the way to the Bohemian’s room, up the stairs and at the back of the building. I knock on the door with my stick, and there’s a long pause before someone inside coughs and tells me to come in.
……..Because of the rain pelting the window, the room is quite dark. The only light is from a kerosene lamp, and a small, ashy fire in the grate. I know I’m in the right place, because it smells of paint in here, and many Māori faces are pinned to the wall. The Bohemian, sitting in a chair in the corner, is drinking from a teacup. He’s peering at me through small round glasses, and with his sharp face and his hooded eyes, he looks like a bird at night, huddling in the darkness.
……..He places the cup on the floor and stands up to shake my hand. He knows my name, which surprises me at first, but of course he must recognise me from the photograph that was taken. I can’t see the picture myself. There are so many up on the wall.
……..‘I thought you will come,’ he says. His English sounds worse than mine. ‘Your friend tells me.’
……..Wharepapa. He has the biggest mouth in Auckland.
……..The Bohemian pulls papers off a low chair so I can sit down as well, and finds the photograph to show me. I look angry in the picture. My white whiskers stick through the ridges of my moko, so my face is like a frayed mat . I’m staring off to the side, my left eye milky, fuming about the peacock feather. I should never have agreed to it.
……..‘You paint my face, not this one,’ I tell him, jabbing at the photograph. It’s strange to hear myself speaking English out loud. ‘No feather.’
……..I smack my left ear so he understands about the feather, and the Bohemian smiles. If a ruru could smile, it would look like him. Even the Bohemian’s little beard is as pointed as a beak. Just his cap, which seems to be made of carpet, is round.
……..‘Next week I will go away,’ he says. He’s looking hard at my face, and then, without saying anything, he leans forward to take the photograph from my hands. His own hands are thin and veined with blue.
……..The Bohemian looks at the photograph for a long time. The only noise is the patter of rain against the glass, and a tired hiss from the fireplace. Then he gets up and pokes at the fire with the irons.
……..‘I go away too,’ I say. ‘Until October.’
……..If I’m alive then, of course. I think this argument at the Native Land Court may outlive me.
……..‘I am no more in Auckland this year,’ the Bohemian says. ‘In five days, my wife and I, we go. On Wednesday we sail for England. Mr Buller took some of my paintings to an exhibition in London. You know Mr Buller?’
……..I nod. This Mr Buller was once a judge at the land court, but not in Auckland or in Helensville. I’ve heard of him, but he’s not one of the judges I know, like Mr Monro and Mr O’Brien, who are sensible chaps, or Mr Macdonald, who is a stupid fellow, and utterly wrong in his judgements.
……..‘But perhaps …’ The Bohemian doesn’t finish his sentence. He looks at me and taps his chin – one, two, three. He doesn’t have any of the quickness of a bird about him. The last time a painter looked at me, it was very different from this. That painter had a bush of hair, wild eyes, and thick hands that crushed the pencil he was holding. He came to our lodgings and drew me, and then another person, and then another person, wriggling in his seat all the while. Months passed before any of us saw the painting. It was very big, and no one could recognise himself in it. In the picture we were all standing in a room at John Wesley’s house, a place we’d only visited – once or twice, I can’t remember.
……..This all took place in London. I must tell the Bohemian that I, Paratene Te Manu, have been to London, and have been painted before, and that the painting was very large indeed. I won’t tell him that in this painting I was on the edge of things and looked like a child trying to hide from view, rather than a rangatira, and the oldest person in the room. The only one among them to have fought alongside the great Hongi! The English don’t understand these things. Perhaps Bohemians don’t either.
……..I hope that the Bohemian is only planning a small painting, so it need not take months and months.
……..‘Can you come tomorrow?’ he asks me. ‘We meet tomorrow, and again on Monday and Tuesday, maybe?’
……..I agree to this. There’s little else for me to do in Auckland these days, except spend money and hear people talk about bad omens, and neither of these things is good for me at all.
……..‘You will talk to me about London, yes?’ The Bohemian is smiling again. He pins my photograph back on the wall. ‘I know you spent much time there, some years ago. With your friend, Mr Wharepapa.’
……..Wharepapa should write stories for the Auckland Weekly News. He likes to shout his business up and down the town. I’m sure he’s told the Bohemian that without him, without the personal invitation of the great Kamiera Te Hautakiri Wharepapa, I would have never stepped onto that ship and sailed to England.
……..This annoys me so much that I start muttering bad words and banging my stick on the floor. The painter, who I think does not understand Māori, glances at the window as though he’s eager for the day to be over. The rain has stopped and, finally, so do I.
……..‘Tomorrow,’ he says, bowing to me, and I let him help me up from my chair. This weather makes my bones creak.
……..When I leave the Bohemian’s little studio, I walk down Queen Street towards the water, making my way back towards the Native Hostel. The canal of shit is covered over now, but the city still smells, especially when the wind blows the smoke from the big sawmills at Te To. I could cut down Fort Street, but I don’t want to. Old men like me remember when this was Fore Street, when its shacks and stables used to gaze out to sea. Now it’s a foul and bedraggled place, fed by the muddy alleys where harpies lurk, waiting for night to fall and the sailors to stagger along into their arms.
……..Here on Queen Street, a lot of the old shops have burned down or been replaced. These grand banks with their pillars and railings, these shops with the big letters outside, the trams that have to be pushed and dragged up the hill, even these flat footpaths supposed to keep your shoes dry – they’re all new. If you stood in the middle of Queen Street, looking at all the false fronts, and the gas lamps, and the men hurrying about their business, you might think that this is a real city now. But it’s not. I’ve seen a real city, the biggest city in the world. And whatever that chattering kākā Wharepapa has to say, it was nothing to do with him.
……..Here are the reasons I went to England. The only reasons.
……..I went to England because I happened to be down in Auckland in January of 1863. I was there to speak up for old Tirarau in his dispute with Te Aranui, to make sure we in the North were not going to start fighting each other again with guns. I arrived just after the big fire, the one that raged up and down Queen Street and turned the Thistle Hotel to a mound of ash.
……..I was near the ruins of the Greyhound, I think, watching it smoulder, when Charley Davis walked up. He had been a friend to us Māori for many years, so I listened when he asked me if I would like to join a party of rangatira people the following month. This party would be making a journey to the other side of the world to see England and some of its great factories, palaces, churches, and schools.
……..Our passage there and back would be paid, as would all our lodgings and expenses. He said we would see the riches and wonders of this place, and learn their language. People would assemble in churches and schools, eager to hear us talk of our customs and old ways.
……..This sounded very interesting, of course, but perhaps a little vanity played its part as well. When I should have been suspicious, or cautious, I was thinking how important I must be, to have Charley Davis seek me out and make such an offer. I would be among rangatira, not riff-raff, as I am all too often at the hostel.
……..But this is not the only reason. I went to England because while I was in Auckland for too long, busy with the affairs of Tirarau, my younger brother drowned off the Tutukaka coast, and he had died and been buried before I could get home to learn of it. And then my dear son, the only one of my children to survive to manhood, had the coughing sickness, and died just two days after I returned to Tutukaka. With my brother gone, and my son gone, I couldn’t bear to stay there. This was January of 1863. My wife had been dead for six years. Everyone I loved most in the world had left me.
……..None of my people wanted me to go, and there was a lot of wailing and begging from my sister and my youngest brother. They tried to stop me from boarding a boat for Auckland. They said I needed to stay at home to receive mourners, as was customary. But I didn’t care anything about custom anymore. I wanted to sail as far away as possible, where there was nothing to remind me of all I’d lost.
……..So then, these are the reasons most people know – that I was invited and lured with many promises, that my brother had died, that my son had died, that I wanted to travel far away. But one thing no one knows, because, unlike Wharepapa, I don’t announce all my business to the world.
……..I went to England because when I was a young man, still eager for fighting, I heard Hongi tell stories of his own trip there. This was the visit when he met King George, and when he helped the missionary and the professor write their book of Māori words. He returned with chainmail and a helmet presented to him at the King’s armoury, and a vast number of muskets, collected in Port Jackson on his way home. I carried one of these guns on my first taua against Ngāti Paoa at Tamaki, just two months after Hongi arrived back.
……..That was 1821. I’d been learning to fight, waiting to fight, my whole life. The night at camp, not long after the first battle, when I heard Hongi speak of going to England, I decided that I too would go one day. I wanted to see the riches that Hongi had seen, the castles of powerful men, the book-houses holding the maps of Napoleon’s battles. I never thought I’d have to wait so long, or that by then I would no longer have any appetite for muskets, or armour, or battles of any kind.
……..And of all the stories that Hongi told, or other people told of Hongi, there was one I should have believed, more than any of the others. He said that after that voyage to England he realised a Māori could never trust a missionary. All the missionaries did was put themselves in the way of things, speaking for the Māori, trying to stop us from conducting our business in the proper and established way.
……..That day on the street in Auckland, when Charley Davis told me about the trip to England, I should have remembered Hongi’s words. There was a good Pākehā in charge of our party, Charley Davis told me, and this man, this Jenkins, would see to everything. Jenkins wore a white neckcloth. He was a Wesleyan, and at first I thought he was a minister. He didn’t say he was, but that’s what I assumed.
……..Jenkins had worked as a native interpreter, Charley Davis said, so he knew our language and our ways. He was a devout man too, building Wesleyan chapels down in the South Island, when he first arrived in New Zealand.
……..I signed the piece of paper he put in front of me, and agreed to join the group travelling to England. I didn’t read this paper at all, although it was written in Māori, and at my age I should know better about signing pieces of paper without looking at every word. Charley Davis said we could trust Jenkins, a fellow Christian, to take care of us, and I believed him because I wanted to believe him. But Charley Davis was wrong. We couldn’t trust Jenkins, and we couldn’t trust ourselves.
……..There’s too much to this story – too much to remember, too much to explain. I will write it down, and I will write it down in English. There must be a record. So much depends, as I have discovered, on things that are written down on paper.




© Paula Morris, 2011, published in Rangatira, Penguin.

'Character to some extent is much a construction of the reader as it is of the writer.' - Lloyd Jones

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