Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Death and Homeland in Potiki

Patricia Grace’s poignant and tragic novel, Potiki, examines cultural changes in New Zealand, particularly pertaining to the Maori culture. The story circulates around a detailed description of homeland. Using imagery, sounds, songs, and different character perspectives, Grace gives the reader a haunting picture of a land and culture that cannot and does not exist any longer. Within this work, the sea and death is mentioned often. There are consistent references to the shoreline being dead: “The shore is a place without seed, without nourishment, a scavenged death place. It is a wasteland, too salt for growth, where the sea puts up its dead…Yet because of being a nothing, a neutral place—not land, not sea—there is freedom on the shore, and rest” (Grace 18). This homeland seems to worship and even revolve around death. Death and a sense of nothingness give the area its own unique sense of identity.

            Another place where death is mentioned comes when the characters are attending a memorial service, and a song is sung to commemorate the dead: “You have gone/As the song bird/Flown,/But my foot is caught/In the root/Of the flower tree./You have gone/And here I am/Alone,/The flowers fall/Like rain” (Grace 28). Here, there is another connection between death and nature. However, this death pertains to a person, not the land. Yet, there is still an inherent connection between the dead person and the land. Nature is clearly extremely important to the Te Ope people, as flowers and rain are mentioned in the song. In addition, there is a noticeable sense of deep mourning for being left alone by the deceased. At one point, Roimata even says that only Hemi, her true love, can save her from being doomed to remain in purgatory; only he can set her free. This is an interesting concept because not only is the land considered home, but the people that inhabit the land are also home. Without the love and care of other people in the tribe, the homeland is wasted. This can connect to our modern understanding of the concept of home. Many people associate family and friends with home; certainly, a geographical area can be called a homeland, but for many it is the people and memories that constitute a sense of home.

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