The Invasion of the Sea

At first it was just a trickle.
Like unusual shells,
the strangers,
salted by their long journeys,
washed up with the tides.

The chiefs were keen to barter
what they had,
flax, food, women,
for the trinkets, the nails, the cloth,
above all, the muskets.

And every man who counted
soon had “his” Pakeha,
an invisible fish-line
to that cold world of iron.

The chiefs, one by one,
fell to its power,
grew bold and puffed up
in the eyes of their rivals.
With their guns they had
old scores to settle,

and soon the land
was caked in the black powder
and the Maori had undergone
the first tragedy
of their long, agonizing century.

And all the while
the strangers trickled in,
with books, bread, bronchitis,
but they waded into a Maori lake,
made islands, made terms.

Then, on the shores of Te Aro,
Te Wharepouri saw with astonishment
one thousand of these strangers
step off their ships,

and called it an invasion of the sea,
the salt water people,
who would rush into
the eddies of the Maori stream,
sicken the waters
of the green stone children.

But Te Wharepouri made the most of it,
did a brisk business with the new comers,
while they eagerly took,
and stayed like a congealed tide.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014