Woven by Water: Histories from the Whanganui River
The Mana of the Maori is by water. No one, here, carrying the same thing that I'm carrying today. --Titi Tihu
In living memory, before the Whanganui River became a tawny mass seeming to flow upside down, the river bed was clean stone and the water of the river tasted like kowhai. The trees used to grow over the river and drop into the water, and the water tasted like kowhai.
This is a book of many river people--a hidden prophet, living with over a thousand followers at a place now deserted; a Pakeha-Maori, making gunpowder using charcoal made from willows grown from cuttings taken from Napoleon's grave; a riverboat magnate, building a fiefdom on 'the Rhine of Maoriland'; a highly decorated soldier, fighting as a kupapa yet fighting for tino rangatiratanga; arsenic and flour poisoners--and always, the river itself.
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Woven by Water handles some otherwise awkward history in a genuine and respectful way. There are slight errors in the text, that one more intimately placed will recognize. Members of Ngati Rangi (from the Ohura District), will raise an eyebrow at the suggestion that the eponymous ancestor, Rangitengaue is female ! Also the repeated error that Hera Matahinewau was Te Kere's sister. She was in fact, his neice - the eldest daughter of Pea Ngataierua. Nevertheless, its an amazing overall narrative - and a humorous approach to some topics has been appropriate. On the whole, the book has given credit to the great work of Veteran activists, Titi Tihu and Hikaia Amohia - no doubt this is appreciated from the people of the river who can wholeheartedly attest to their unfailing commitment. I detected a slight bias toward Ngati Tu, though repeatedly the author has attempted to remain impartial. The chapter on the Holy War is perhaps my favourite, and I could not help but smile at Topine - the wife beater. I have emerged educated. A great book, which one might read a number of times.
Although a pakeha the author, through this work, confirms his enormous stature and thus remains one of the more influential in Aotearoa. This is in part due to the fact that this work palpably demonstrates huge respect for the mana and the maui of the tangata awa - the people of the river. Highly recommended reading, not only for the stories of the Whanganui, but also - albeit less directly - for the rest of the country.Get it read it treasure it and give it away to someone else to read. Then get another and start this cycle again because this book deserves multiple readings. Like all great books, this one belongs in a reader's hand and not on some dusty bookshelf.
- Gordon Webley
HE ARA WAKA