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New Zealand Maori poet Apirana Taylor launches new CD - "Footprints in tears, thumbprints in blood"
Dorothy - 06/08/04

The issues of peace and violence that have dominated our history are vivdly presented and the poems will stir most listeners to profound thoughts on the themes. The powerful image in the title, Footprints in tears, thumbprints in blood , prepares the listener for the themes of the poems on the CD. Apirana Taylor, well-known now for his arresting presentations of his work, once again moves us to sorrow, to frustration, to anger, to a thirst to know more about the history behind the suffering in the past, and a desire for action that will forestall more tragedies in the present. Past needless violence and pain are portrayed through such themes as Te Rauparaha, Parihaka, Onuku marae, Titoko, and present day struggles and tragedies in poems about the tragedy of premature death of young men, young women striving to cope with the patterns of violence, and a suicide bomber.

The mood of the poems is intensified by the background music played by Apirana and his friend on the guitar, the putarino (Maori flute), the traditional nose-flutes, and the koauau (Maori bone flutes). The sound is often plaintive and haunting, or suggestive of the calls of native birds. Apirana changes the vocal tone and the rhythm of his speaking and blends them into a tonal and rhythmical harmony with consummate skill.

The poems are to be published later this year by the Canterbury University Press. Apirana gave me copies of some poems to read as I was preparing this article, and as I read, the words were enriched by my memory of the vocal enrichment given them on the CD. I do recommend you to buy both the book and the CD to complement each other.

The CD opens with a karakia - a traditional Maori incantation, tracing the descent of life from the creator on down to darkness and light.

Rite Tonu(Always) - a short lament in Maori - is accompanied by haunting music.

Kapiti deals with the warlike leader Te Rauparaha, highlighting his appetite for conquest and feasting on the bones of his enemies,

to the thunder of haka
under the sun
the lightning crack
of the musket
the Pakeha gun
and above it all the call of Te Rauparaha
aaaa ha haaaaa

Uttering the full-throated cry with his deeply resonant voice Apirana evokes the sense of terror that the great chief must have awakened in his enemies and his minions.

With changing times and the influence of Grey, Te Rauparaha gave up making war and then died himself, but what a trail of destruction and death he left behind him! In a tone of deep sadness Apirana closes the poem with

why did you not tend
the kumara gardens in peace
you who took wars bloody path
you gained more
than even you saw
in your schemes and dreams
and lost it all
in a rain of blood

Onuku Marae contrasts the unfulfilled promises of the past and the vows of utu (revenge) and 'divine retribution measured in blood' with the present scene of the children laughing and running, oblivious of past suffering as time has brought healing.

Parihaka again deals with issues of peace and war and the attempt by officialdom to hush up the story of soldiers attacking defenceless people whose leaders preached peace. There was silence about Parihaka in the education system

We never knew
about Parihaka
it was never
taught anywhere
except may be
around the fires
of Parihaka
itself at night ...

but the only
peace the soldiers knew
spoke through
the barrels
of their guns
our women children ....

The music again heightens the atmosphere of mourning.

Zig Zag Roads again deals with past injustice. The Pakeha were paid compensation if roads went through their land. The roads 'crazily snake and zig-zag through the province.' using Maori land for which no compensation was paid. The music suggests the meandering of the roads. The poem ends with "The liar's road is never straight."

Fishbone, spoken against a background of slow guitar beat, recalls the Taranaki wars - the Pakeha victory measured against the price of the lost lives of leaders, and the Maori resistance led by Titokowaru.

how it must've stuck in their gullets like a fishbone
to have their plans foiled by a black little one-eyed
monkey called Titokowaru

After several successes Titokowaru planned an ambush which would have wiped out the Pakeha force, but they took another way and the Maori force of old men, women, warriors and children melted away, seemingly because Titokowaru had offended against tribal culture in his relationship with a woman considered tapu (forbidden) for him.

He Dog is the name of a Lakota Indian involved in the Battle of the Little Big Horn where General George Custer led his cavalry only to be defeated by the American Indians. When Apirana was in Italy with Lance Henson, a North American Indian poet, he was shown a photo of He Dog sitting in prison with the Stars and Stripes superimposed over his image - a photo stressing the irony of fighting for freedom and American rule imposed on the Indians.

From this point on the poet moves to writing about modern suffering, beginning with scenes close at hand and widening the scope to include world wide impacts of evil.

In Lady Anorexia he laments the changes in a young woman suffering from anorexia.

thy body and thy soul
is a gift to be praised and loved
thou art special
there is no other like thee
His use of 'thou' and 'thy' produces echoes of Bible passages as he comments on her real natural beauty and pleads with her:
eat and be well
as thy maker loves thee
and intended thee to be.

it's a rap was written after the poet took his daughters to a rap concert. He stresses the irony present in gatherings that talk of peace and arohanui amid violence and an accumulation of negative impacts on the young.

In Survivor Apirana has learnt to rejoice over his grey silvering hair as a sign of the age he has reached while most of his friends have met premature and violent deaths.

none of them got to thirty
life hangs on a slender thread
both weak and strong die young
only the lucky survive

To Rerenga Wairua
Here Apirana deplores the casual attitude of tourists visiting Cape Reinga - the dust. the noise and the loud voices of the American tourists' argot - the language of thieves - as they are stealing the peace of the sacred place where the spirits are farewelled with tears of grief and tears of sadness for the lost peace of the place. Music ends the poem with a long mournful sound.

We are, a brief poem, likens us to birds, laughing, singing, squabbling, hunting and being hunted - a simple telling image with background music suggesting bird calls.

Hinemoa's daughter
Apirana based this moving poem on the experience of a woman who told him of the difficulties of her earlier life. Like her ancestor Hinemoa in the well-known story who had to swim across the waters of the lake to reach her lover, she has to struggle for survival - amid of sea of violence. She tried many times to slash her wrists and escape, but just as Hinemoa in the legend reached the shore and her lover Tutanekai, the modern Hinemoa finally reached a peaceful shore beyond the violence with a man who loved her and

in the city of the lost
they raise many fine young children
with aroha

Sisters shows women living beyond the turbulence and violence of youth.
We've been there before
Ain't on that road no more

A sense of the impermanence of life pervades Startled Birds where another bird image depicts the changing nature of our lives, and Hurihuri which pictures the volatility of life comparing it with the wind never ceasing from making the leaves tremble and then turn and fall.

Suicide Bomber portrays the state of mind of the young woman - eighteen years old - protesting against the oppression and slaughter of her tribe.

she's happy to pay the price
of a ticket to death
with madness and hate
equal to that
of her oppressors

Peace Lanterns
Children set peace lanterns afloat on the river in memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the poet thinks too of the suffering of millions of others, especially the victims of Hitler's gas chambers.

Footprints in tears, thumbprints in blood
The poet begins with a powerful picture of the horrors of violence and then in agonised irony repeats his cry

oh it's a great big party
and we're having such a bloody good time

Man Walks
The first section is a series of images of a beautiful world and a life of peace. Then the theme changes. This poem relives the experience of the atom bomb dropped on a beautiful day from a clear sky.
bombs blow
people go
killin killin
more and more
whats the score
such a beautiful beautiful day
hey hey hey hey

The poem and the programme end with peace and hope again.
mother of pearl
night sky
new day
such a beautiful beautiful day
hey hey hey hey

To purchase the CD contact Apirana or Prue.
Cost: NZ$25.00

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