When she returned to her village,
a young bride of her forgotten people,
she was greeted by despair.
The light had gone out of them,
and they sat on porches,
spoke of nothing,
while the days abandoned them
for progress happening elsewhere.
The sweet honey had all gone
to feed fatter hives.
The people died of the smallest things,
a bottle of gin, a cough,
some simply fell in the rivers
and never surfaced.
And so she began her backbreaking work,
picked up the spade and the taiaha,
the shards of the land,
the fallen stories of the ancestors,
fallen from the elders’ lips when they died.
In the poverty stricken villages
of her people,
she began to speak like the old chiefs,
dug pits for food, dug seasons,
sent the men to fell trees,
and roused the sleeping carvers.
And soon there were things unheard of,
and great festivals of waka on the rivers,
the scent of fresh carving in the
There was something, at last,
in the breast of her people,
which aroused like early summer.
They held the fragile broken heart
of their centuries,
passed it from palm to palm,
rubbed it, warmed it,
till it beat again of its own accord.
And they all went down
to Te Puea’s new meeting house,
committing forgotten waiata to heart,
and even the old folk got off their porches,
followed the songs home.
Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014