Thursday, July 1, 2010

Book 13, the Cook Islands: "Return to Havaiki" by Kauraka Kauraka

Surprisingly, I liked this.

I wasn't expecting to, after the disappointment of "Hingano". This one's another grab from the NUS Library - a slim book of poems in Manihiki and English (the first such bilingual book ever, according to the inside info). Illustrations of gods and heroes on the inside, and a mix of love poetry, mystic poetry and anti-colonial poetry, exhorting us to snap out of our spells of video and New Zealand academic degrees and compete over husking coconuts, drawing power from the memory of the Polynesian ancestral land of Manuhiki/Havaiki, for crying out loud. (If this was written for any race with power out there, it'd be imperialist.)

But the spiritual grounding of Kauraka Kauraka (heehee, what a beautifully tautonymic name) makes up for it - his encomiums to gods ring true, as if he's still in touch with that fount of native culture which other authors like Albert Wendt claim their countries have lost touch with.

(There's also some very cute nursery-rhyme stuff that can only reveal its alliterative genius in Manihiki. "Slippery edible sea slug,/Do you want to eat sea slug?" originally reads as "Pahekeheke te patito,/Ka kai koe i te patito?")

But I think we have the translator to thank for a certain gracefulness of language, a certain wisdom that holds back where other translators would have been too effusive. And though a whole bunch of people are thanked for helping, it does seem as if K Kauraka himself was the principal translator. Hooray for him!

Incidentally, Manhiki words are italicised with footnotes, which is not the ideal solution but turns out to be pretty practical considering how much of such verbiage there is. Gods and goddesses and heroes and plants and animals. Untranslatable beings.

(Ooh, but it turns out that hingano/hinano is basically just pandan.)

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map

Representative quote:


Hey Maui-Pokiti! What are you doing?
I'm weaving me a basket.
What is your basket for?
I'm flying to Manuhiki.

To climb for some coconuts,
to t some puraka
To dive for clam shells,
To trap some titihi
And take them to the sun to be roasted
For the feast of the king of the sky

(Maui-Pokiti = a Polynesian demi-god and legendary hero
Manuhiki = the original name of Manihiki Island, the ideal Manihiki society
puraka = an edible tuber
titihi = the "Moorish idol" or butterfly fish, which is most abundant in August)

Next book: Celestine Hitiura Vaite's "Frangipani" from French Polynesia

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