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Mapping the human landscape.

- Free Online Library
It was with great sadness that staff and students at the Universityof Waikato farewelled Jason
Waterman in January 2011. Jason was a valuedstudent, teacher, and friend and his warm humour,
fund of stories,generous support, environmental advocacy, and passion for his family andfor his
Potawatomi heritage were admired and appreciated by all. Adoctoral candidate at the University of
Waikato, Jason gave a paper on'Te Pou', a short story by Raglan-based author Andre Ngapo, atthe
Writing the Waikato symposium in November 2010. Jason died beforebeing able to complete the full
write-up of his paper, but his readingof Ngapo's work gives an insight into an emerging
contemporaryMaori writer's sense of place and culture. This meditation isgrounded in Jason's wider
exploration of ecocriticism, particularlythe way in which literary texts both reflect and urge changes
inthinking about culture, identity, and the relationship between peopleand places. What follows is
something of a hybrid genre: bothscholarship and a tribute to a much-mourned friend.
E hika e,
E kore rawa ra e warewaretia,
Haere, Haere, Okioki mai ra
[Our dear friend, You shall not be forgotten
Farewell, Depart, to your final resting place]
In 2008 Andre Ngapo won the 2008 Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition with his entry 'Te
Pou'. Ngapo later said of his first venture into fiction: 'I wrote about a couple of young boys with
tough lives and big hearts. I wrote about what I knew, where I'd come from, and things I'd seen in
my life'. (1) 'Te Pou' is located in a Waikato town in which Maori and Pakeha are divided
geographically, socially, and culturally. Following a flood click here in 1981, the Maori families at
the centre of the story are relocated to the 'other side of town'. (2) The narrator and his friends call
their new neighbourhood 'the Bronx', and this American appropriation reflects the poverty-stricken
and dilapidated nature of their new environment. Yet the neighbourhood is also one in which
community and connections are formed and individuals strive to find meaning and purpose. Ngapo's
refusal to name the town, providing only its regional location, makes his story both geographically
specific to the Waikato and representative of wider national and global concerns about race,
culture, place and identity.
Ngapo, like fellow Waikato writer Alice Tawhai, returns to thelocalised urban discourses of the
Maori Literary Renaissance that markedmany of the early short stories of J.C. Sturm, Patricia Grace
and WitiIhimaera. Yet the deliberately ambiguous place in Ngapo's narrativealso connects with
broader indigenous concerns about place and identity,particularly the way in which non-indigenous
perceptions of therelationship between nature and the self have destabilised and displacedan
indigenous sense of connectivity and integration. 'Te Pou'maps an alienation from nature that echoes
the fictional preoccupationsof Native
American authors such as Leslie Marmon Silko and LouiseErdrich. (3)
In 'Te Pou' the anonymous young narrator tells two kinds of stories from within the debilitating
confines of 'a rundown [...] neighbourhood in the Waikato that didn't even have concrete power
poles'. On one hand, this marginalised environment is marked by a state of moral degradation. Local

gangs supplying 'drugs and intimidation' interrupt boyhood games; the 'rats that were everywhere'
thrive in the squalor of 'rotting and abandoned [...] state-railway houses'; and the atmosphere is
thick with running jokes about 'white flight'. However, the narrator also finds inspiration in loner
Piri Paea's relentless efforts to carve his initials--his identity--into the neighborhood's '162 wooden
power poles' before the city council replaces them with concrete poles. Nevertheless, in the
narrative's violent and bloody climax, Piri murders Jack, a council worker who is trying to prevent
him from etching his initials into the last of the poles. His ensuing 'lockup' and institutionalisation,
along with the council's removal of the wooden poles, invite an examination of the link between
specific environments and indigenous identity.
It is impossible to comprehend Piri's demise without seeing the wooden poles (or pou) as a
metaphorical representation of culture. Ngapo begins his narrative with a gloss that is indicative of
the seminal roles of both pou and Maori epistemology in the shaping of identity. Ngapo firstly
defines the word in terms that speak to cultural identity: '(noun) pole, pillar, post, support,
sustenance, expert, teacher'. From a structural perspective, the power poles certainly support the
narrative in much the same manner as the poupou support the roof of the wharenui. In this context
with respect to the wharenui and the practice of korero---Ngapo's narrator might be said to tell
his story under the watchful eyes of the pou tupuna (ancestral figures).
Furthermore, the visual prominence of the 'wooden powerpoles' that 'lined the roadsides'--like the
pou taiepasurrounding a marae or a pa--suggests a sense of community andbelonging, as well as
protection from outside forces. To see thestory's many power poles in this light is to see the
boys'neighbourhood as Ngapo's literal construction of a marae. From anecocritical perspective,
however, this analogy is incomplete withoutMerata Kawharu's explanation of the relationship
betweenidentities, marae, and environment: the marae is the focus of a wider ancestral landscape
and the central focus of kin group identity. It embodies the relationships between people and their
environment and between people and their forebears. The environment may be considered as an
extension of all that the marae symbolises, and vice versa; marae are an extension of a wider
environment. (4)

Reading the analogy in this context connects to Ngapo's additional annotation of pou: '(verb) (-a) to
stick in, erect, plunge in'. In other words, imagining the wooden poles, or pou, as the pillars that
link identity and environment on and within Ngapo's urban marae makes their removal of
paramount significance to lais characters' survival.
Despite the neighbourhood's ties to the land through the pou, Ngapo has created an environment in
the middle of a literal 'nowhere' and without any specific meaning for the community; it holds no
memory. The ancestral landscape of the 'old neighbourhood [...] was wrecked by the floods in '81'.
The new neighbourhood becomes a version of 'the Bronx' in New York City; a haven for 'wannabe
tough guys' rather than a locale for tangata whenua. It is also interesting to note that a story
that takes place in a 'mostly Maori neighborhood' provides so few visible signs of indigenous
identity. While the narrator remains anonymous throughout the story, for instance, the test of the
gang members are known as Snotty, Ginga, Black, Tubz, and Chong. Only Piri Paea can be clearly
identified by his Maori name. Collective identifies are equally ambiguous, with the gang sometimes
falling apart and then regrouping, while undergoing a series of name changes--'The
Bronx Brotherhood Badness', 'The Triple Bs', or 'The Bronx Bad Boys'. Sometimes, 'ex-Mighty Crew'
members forswear ties to the community altogether and move up north to become 'born-again'
Christians. In the midst of this confusion, the community has lost its knowledge of the 'performative
application of marae principles'. (5)
According to the narrator, 'Henchmen would roll in to the Bronx to throw Molotov cocktails at
Mighty Crew pads, or hit the local pubs in numbers looking to rumble, or worse'.

The 'rituals of encounter between tangata whenua (hosts) and manuhiri (guests)' are as broken as
the 'cracked footpaths' upon which they negotiate their way through this land. (6) Piri is the only
character who seems able to avoid falling through the cracks. His grandmother says that he is
different because of a problem with the way his brain grew before he was born. She said he
was like a butterfly--a pururehua--that couldn't quite break free from his cocoon. His beautiful
wings lay hall in, half out--trapped, unable to fly.
Although Piri cannot fly, he can climb and his attempts to carve his initials--'PP' into the poles can
be interpreted as analogous to the carving of the ancestral figures (pou tupuna) that line the walls
of the whare tupuna. These particular pou, according to Kawharu,
symbolise tribal heritage and celebrate noted ancestors whose deeds or actions----often in relation
to protecting a group's interest in land or in relation to alliances that may have been formed
through marriage--affirm descendants' ties to an environment and to a group. (7)
Piri's killing of the council worker is a literal manifestation of the stories inherent in the many pou:
He had killed a power board worker and was found up a blood-stained power pole, his carved
initials, PP, outlined in a muddy red were lit up in the late August moonlight.
The sheer number of Piri's ascents suggests his continuous reaffirmation of this cultural awareness.
The message of the last pole is Piri's articulation of his desire to protect the land. Written in blood,
this message endures in the memories of the people who gather at the scene.
Suffused within this powerful image, however, is the last vestige of cultural identity. When the
community draws together to watch 'the first of the 162 wooden power poles [...]
unceremoniously ripped out' of the earth 'by the powerful crane', its removal leaves a 'deep hole', a
cultural abyss reflected in the 'chants of the tohunga', which 'trailed off into silence'. Watching
from his kitchen window, the narrator feels the 'deep hole [...tear] straight though' his 'heart' and
he vomits his 'raw confusion' onto the floor. His lack of individual identity--'hanging and broken like
that blood-stained pou'--is 'laid bare' before him. He weeps.
For Piri, institutionalised after he kills Jack, there is no escape. The 'beautiful butterfly' remains
'trapped'. The tragedy momentarily brings Maori and Pakeha, 'elders, contractors and councillors',
together, but Ngapo's vision for the people of 'the Bronx' is a bleak one. The maternal centre of the
community, Aunty Nan, dies of a broken heart, families leave the neighbourhood, the liminal
identity and community provided by the gang culture are shattered, and the council articulates an
empty rhetoric of 'rebuilding' and dialogues with 'stakeholders'. Yet, Piri's legacy lives on in the
narrator. Overcoming the cycle of abuse and alienation that marked his childhood and adolescence,
he 'break[s] free'. But this does not represent a rejection or loss of origin and identity. His
'break[ing] free' is psychological more than geographic, a movement away from the
imported, illusory, potentially destructive identity of his gang membership to the cultural identity
represented by Piri's carved initials. The acknowledgement of his own hurt and emptiness, and the
catharsis of his tears, lead him to a place of healing and reintegration. Years later he returns to the
community of his childhood to 'help the youth' and he regularly visits Piri, taking on the mantle of
cultural mentor and guardian. He has become the pou, the 'expert, teacher' who sustains and
supports others.
His part-teasing, part-serious urging that Piri decorate the 'wooden beams that line the hospital
corridors' with 'giant PPs' can perhaps be read as a call to transform places of alienation into the
protective shelter of the marae.

(1) Andre Ngapo Contributor Profile, Learning Media
(2) Andre Ngapo, 'Te Pou', Sunday Star Times, 8 November 2008, Te-Pou. All subsequent
quotes from the story come from this on-line, unpaginated source.
(3) For a more fully realised discussion of issues of the local and the global in relation to identity
see: Jason Waterman, with Jan Pilditch and Fiona Matin, '"Then They Grow Away from Earth": An
Eco-Critical Reading of Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead and James George's Ocean
Roads', Australasian Journal of American Studies, 30.1 (2011), 39-56.
(4) Merata Kawharu, 'Environment as a Marae Locale', in Maori and the Environment: Kailiaki, ed.
by Rachel Selby, Pataka Moore, and Malcolm Mulholland (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2010), pp.
(5) Kawharu, p. 227.
(6) Kawharu, p. 227.
(7) Kawharu, p. 228.

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