The Most-Read Posts of “…on Anything, Really” in 2012: Maori Mythology in New Zealand SFF—A Few Favourite Tales
Like yesterday’s “Most-Read” feature, the tauparapara Te Tangi O Te Matiu, this post was also sparked by Waitangi Day on February 6, and my reflections on the very strong contribution Maori writers have made to New Zealand’s literature—including SFF.
I was very pleased when “Maori Mythology in New Zealand SFF—A Few Favourite Tales” was selected for the NZ at Frankfurt blog carnival—and equally pleased that my own blog stats suggest it has also pleased “…on Anything, Really” readers.
Maori Mythology in New Zealand SFF—A Few Favourite Tales
Monday 6 was Waitangi Day, the holiday that celebrates New Zealand’s founding as a modern nation, and in my blog post, here, I talked briefly about the importance of contemporary Maori writers in the NZ literary scene.
The day before I had discussed a few of my favourite retellings of the Arthurian legend, here, and yesterday I followed up with a few more favourites that draw on the Arthurian cycle without actually being retellings, here.
But doing the post for Waitangi Day and then following up with a traditional tauparapara/karanga as my Tuesday Poem, here, also got me thinking about the use of Maori myths and legends in contemporary New Zealand SFF–and a few of my recent favourites. (But I certainly haven’t read everything that’s out there, so if I miss your personal favourite, that’s probably why—but fear not, you can tell me about your picks in the Comments!) But otherwise, here goes!
Probably the most well known, recent retelling of a Maori legend would have to be Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider (1987), mainly because it was made into an internationally successful film in 2002. Whale Rider draws on the legend of Paikia, an ancestor of the East Cape’s Ngati Porou, who was reputed to have been saved from drowning in a canoe journey from Hawaiki (the ancestral homeland in Maori myth) and brought to New Zealand by a humpback whale, thereafter being known as ‘the whale rider.’ The novel tells the contemporary story of Kahutia Te Rangi Paikea Apirana, a twelve year old girl who is a descendant of Paikia and struggling to gain recognition from her conservative grandfather, Koro, in the leadership of their family line. You don’t think this is speculative fiction? Then all I would say is: read the book, especially the part about the actual whale riding. ‘In my book’ it’s at least a strong contender for the tag of magic realism.
In terms of the use of Maori myth and folklore in contemporary SFF, I can’t go past Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead (2010.) I think it’s an excellent book—an intriguing mix of urban fantasy set right here in Christchurch, as well as in Napier in the later part of the book, that has been woven together with Maori legends of the patupaiarehe (fairies) and taniwha, as well as the myth of Hine-nui-te-Po, the Goddess of Death. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the critical replication of the myth of the trickster demi-god Maui’s (unsuccessful) encounter with Hine-nui-te-Po, is that it has been interwoven with the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Entirely successfully in my view, but I will leave you to make up your own minds—because if you haven’t read it already, then you should definitely read this book.
A third tale that I really enjoyed recently was Tina Makereti’s short story, Shapeshifter, which was included in the Tales for Canterbury anthology last year. As you may know, Tales for Canterbury was put together by editors Cassie Hart & Anna Caro as a fund raiser following the February 22nd Christchurch earthquake. To help promote the collection I featured intros to some of the stories on my blog (you can find them here)—but I could only do a selection and didn’t quite manage to include Shapeshifter. But in fact it was one of my absolutely favourite stories in the anthology—I loved the twist given to the story of Pania of the Reef, the ocean maiden (the Maori equivalent of a Greek nereid) who was the lover and secret wife of local (Napier again!) chieftain Karitoki. I also love the way Makereti captures a distinctively Maori ethos in the story, yet someone who has never been in New Zealand could still read and completely “get” the story.
Anyway, those are three of my favourites—another story sequence I am aware of is David Hair’s The Bone Tiki and The Taniwha’s Tear, which I understand draw extensively on Maori sources, but as I haven’t read them yet (mea culpa—so many books, so little time!) I can only mention them here.