Poem introduction

Waka 78 An historical line

Waka 78

In the New Zealand Wars,
among the lives lost - civilians
and fighters - among the torched homes,
brutalities, manhunts, relatives
turned on each other,
amid the creeping through lines on bellies,
captured and wounded,
the horror of soldiers at the injustices,
the shared and alien customs of war,
amid the tired feet of horses and men
hauling artillery down the Great South Road,
amid the teeth of men - the military diet,
talk, bare lips and beards and moustaches,
amid the Maori men and women
who fought for themselves
let alone their culture, amid the torture
of death for all people who are left
to cope with the departure of the dead,
amid the context of Grey’s second
governorship and his belligerent settler PM,
amid the context of a minor colony
draining Imperial coffers, Imperial forces,
amid the resistance of souls
to becoming the essence of souls,
the Empire took the waka.
They broke them where they confiscated them.
Burnt them. The iwi hid the old ones
we have today. Or built them again.
They had the psychological template.


‘Waka 78', from Star Waka (Auckland University Press, 1999), © Robert Sullivan 1999, used by permission of the author and the publishers. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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