Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Patricia Grace’s novel Potiki introduces a fascinating perspective on homelands that we have not yet seen in this course. The novel also offers different takes on aspects of homelands that we have examined in previous weeks. One theme that becomes very apparent throughout the story is the importance of time to the Maori culture, and how their understanding of time differs from a traditional linear conceptualization of time. This difference in understanding is clearly evident in a discussion that takes place between Mr. Dolman and the members of the village that comes under threat from developers. Mr. Dolman perceives the villagers as being resentful for events that occurred in the past between the Maori and Europeans, even when they claim that they are worried about the present. “Blaming is a worthless exercise,” they state, because “[t]hat would really be looking back. It’s now we’re interested in. Now and from now on.” Mr. Dolman is perplexed, as he wonders, “[w]hy the concern with what’s gone? It’s all done with.” “What we value doesn’t change just because we look at ourselves and at the future,” they reply. “What we came from doesn’t change. It’s your jumping-off place that tells you where you’ll land. The past is the future” (Grace 94).  This exchange epitomizes the clash of culture that occurs in the novel. Mr. Dolman and the villagers experience great trouble when trying to communicate with each other, largely because Mr. Dolman and his “Dollarmen” lack a basic understanding of essential components of Maori culture such as their apprehension of time. For the Maori, where they come from and where they are going all contribute to their place in the world at the present. While Mr. Dolman’s grasps time as progressing linearly, from before, to during, to after, the Maori comprehend time as much more interconnected, with their pasts and their futures all contributing to the exact moment in time that they are experiencing right now. This concept also contributes to how the Maori define themselves. Their ancestry is very much a part of who they are, and is not just a memory in the past. For example, as Mary shows Toko the gathering house early in the novel and points out specific carvings throughout the building, she is able to point out both herself and Toko in the woodwork, and even caresses the wooden man as if he is her husband. Mary’s actions and words show how they believe that their ancestry continues on within them, and not only contributes to who they, but actually makes up who they are. This reinforces their belief that the past, present, and future are essentially synonymous. Grace sheds a great deal of light into Maori culture in her novel, and perhaps no aspect of their culture is more interesting than their understanding of time and its relationship to them all.

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