May 9, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Short Story: The Great Dying by Potaua Biasiny-Tule

7 min read

Tane Mahuta

I’m sure glad that I whakapapa back to this tree. Nothing will happen to us” called out Hare Mahuta as he leaned out of his ute. “Pull those forks out from the base and we’ll try to bandage up the trunk later”.

His crew had agreed to take the job of building a cafe through the Waipoua Forest. While some his whanau called him a sell out, saying that bad things would happen, Hare merely shrugged as he saw that creating new jobs was more important.

They had encountered a few problems along the way – trucks getting stuck, oil cans stolen, sick crew members. But that was all part of it. What locals needed more was jobs.

“We’ll fix it tomorrow!” Hare called, looking over to his foreman Tama Ranginui, giving a sign to wind up mahi for the day. Tama looked back at Hare with a look of fear and trepidation. Hare smiled. “It’s getting dark now bro. Lets pick things up tomorrow.”

The crew pulled all of their gear into the containers, locking the gate behind them. Tama stopped to stare back at the huge gash they had made in the trunk of Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Trees. He felt his heart skip a beat. “Bro, lets go…” said Hare. The shadows deepened in the forest. No birds sang their usual farewell to the sun.

Many miles away, Raiatea Aliki fell in her garden. She had been busy tending the flowers with her granddaughter when a sudden spike of pain racked her body. “Aueeeeee” came the anguished cry as the great village Matriarch looked up toward the sky. A single raindrop descended onto the small Pacific nation of the Cook Islands, finding its mark on the nose of Raiatea. Her granddaughter could do little but hold her hand as it went cold.

Matua Pele was out running along his beach front home, enjoying the sweet scent of ocean breeze in his nostrils. He loved being back on Oahu – home – after many moons of being away. It was bliss to feel the soft grass under his callused feet. He would never again leave his island paradise. As his mother called out for him to join them for lunch, she spotted him briefly stagger. She laughed. He was such a joker. Then he dropped. “Matuaaaa!” she cried. Leaping over the veranda, she could do little more than cradle the head of her once proud and strong son.

A nameless child was brought into the hospital, itself a whir of action and commotion. The nurses called the boy ‘sweet potato’ as his shape was similar to that of the vegetable. It reminded them of the form of Taiwan itself. He had no mother nor father, and had been found in a small box outside the doors of the back exit. The staff were themselves instantly attached to this curious child, who some claimed looked like a boy from the Yami people who lived on the far removed Orchid Islands. Whatever the lineage, his heart had started to accelerate right in front of the adoring nurses. They looked on helplessly as he reached up one last time.

Pito Hotu had been gathering trees for a late night ceremony. He was the eldest son from one of the last lines on Rapa Nui and his family had worked incredibly hard to ensure that this night would be successful. Long had they fought against the colonisation of their history, so rededicating themselves to the spirit of the Moai felt good. As Pito climbed atop the verge to greet his bearded ancestor Tukuturi, he felt an overwhelming sense of urgency race through his legs. They wanted to run but he could do little more than watch as they gave way. His last breath exhaled a cry of surprise and alarm.

The horses ran at full gallop as Papa Renato raced his son to the fence. It had been a long time since they both laughed. Working with the oil company Petrobras had been hard on the family, but now that he had saved enough money to finally buy their dream home in Lima. All would be right. He could feel the warm fire being prepared that evening in his mind as he reared his horse over a tuft of grass. His son let out a loud laugh, urging on his white mare at full speed. Life was good. Just then, both horses seemed to collide as Papa fell limply from his mount.

She was nothing more than ‘Women X’, a run away from the Verkhoyansk region who was found dead in mountain range close to the Jana river. Siberia was a harsh place. No one would miss her, surely.

The smell of fresh dyes flooded the square in Wadi Salib as Rabi Hau Yisraeli made his way to morning prayers. Never had he been so forgetful. Though Haifa was considered the workroom for a resurgent Israeli economy, its history ran deep and Rabi Yisraeli knew as far back as any man. He had seen signs of trouble not in humanity but in nature. Something was not quite right but he could not put his old finger on the exact cause. This worried him. Nothing escaped his attention. Not even the intense pain that seemed to suddenly rip open his heart, causing panic amongst those who had started toward him for their blessings. As he dropped to the ground, his final view was of an old tree, falling.

“We are here now – everybody grab your bags and let us make our way to the Sphinx and Pyramids”. It was a fun job for Hassim Tanga Roa, a new boy to the hustle and bustle of guiding tourists to the grand sites. He had sold postcards as a youth, learning the ancient knowledge of his revered ancestors. Perhaps he descended from the Pharoahs themselves. Oh how proud they would be to see him! His new shirt and tie, the bus company who hired him, everything was coming together. “Please people…you need to…take…your……”

“Kia ora Tama, kei te pehea?” asked uncle Sonny. “Kei te riri i taku wairua e matua” came the response. “Mo te aha, boy?” said uncle Sonny, this time leaning forward over his beer. “Uncle, can I tell you something” said Tama, pensively. “Ae.”

“Uncle, you know how the kuia Tumata said trouble would happen if we did any mahi near Tane Mahuta” said Tama sheepishly. “Ae.”

He continued. “And do you recall how she said this tree linked all Maori together as well as tying our ancestors into one long line across the oceans, back beyond our tupuna and into the realm of nga atua?” Uncle Sonny nodded again, quietly whispering “Ae.”

“Well, just before knock off, we were all in such a hurry to finish preparing the foundation for the cafe that when we put down some of the timber along side the big tree, our forks went into the base of it and…”

Uncle Sonny dropped his handle and looked up. “Boy – please don’t say you’ve hurt our tupuna rakau!”

The whole pub stopped and turned to look at their table.

“Please boy, tell me the truth” pleaded uncle Sonny.

Hare walked over and punched Tama. “Bro what a big mouth. Stop narking – nothing will happen.”

Uncle Sonny stood at once and cried “aue, what have you boys done!”

He walked outside and collapsed.

Then Papamai the barmaid fell.

In the corner Tawhiri grabbed his chest and rocked as he too dropped from his bar stool. Tama and Hare watched in horror as they saw everyone around them give way.

The Great Dying had begun…

About the Writer

Potaua Biasiny-Tule is a writer and a thinker. Potaua was raised listening to stories shared by his elders about ancient Maori customs and traditions, often asking questions that would open up deeper conversations. According to tradition, Maori Gods gifted parts of themselves so that people today could live. Along that line, many theories have emerged claiming that Maori descended from the Cook Islands, from Easter Island/Rapa Nui, from South America, from Taiwan, from Siberia and even from as far away as Israel (as told to me by my Ringatu grandfather) and ancient Egypt. This story weaves together that whakapapa in a fictitious story. Tane Mahuta is said to be the son of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, responsible for forcing his parents apart so that life could exist on earth. The physical manifestation of that Atua can be seen in the tree, Tane Mahuta, who resides in the Waipoua Forest. We traveled to visit Tane Mahuta on Waitangi Day 2013 and could see no earth works or cafe being built near the base. Only a caravan was present, which was on the other side of the road. This re-imagined story is written to make us think, to scare, but more, to explore our what if’s. We do need to look after our whenua more. Our environment is way more important that the economy. Its just today, we seem to have that simple premise all mixed up. Please treat this work as a fictional short story whanau. You may use this story but please reference it as an original piece of unpublished fiction for which I take full responsibility. Kia maia. Kia manawanui. Potaua – [email protected]

2 thoughts on “Short Story: The Great Dying by Potaua Biasiny-Tule

  1. An enjoyable, sad and thought provoking snippet where yes-there IS something to be said regarding Respect (of life in all its forms-Tane Mahuta, and those individuals who mysteriously lost their lives) and the blatant disregard shown (Hare and crew) for the sake of profit perhaps under the guise of job opportunities for others?….. Well written Potaua.

  2. Awesome Potaua, I couldnt stop reading and its so relative, it tugs at the heart the mind and the soul.It is Te Ao Maori in narrative form, I absolutely loved it, wow Im have totally nothing but good things to say , congratulations, woop woop

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