Hiwa: Contemporary Māori short stories edited by Paula Morris and Darryn Joseph (Auckland University Press, 2023), 284pp, $45
He aha te tikanga o tēnei kupu, Hiwa? In her well-written Introduction, Paula Morris refers to ‘Hiwa-i-te-rangi, the ninth and final star of the Matariki cluster’ and uses Rangi Matamua’s definition: ‘The word “hiwa” means “vigorous of growth”. As such, Hiwa epitomises the yearning for one’s ambitions and aspirations to be fulfilled, to prosper i roto i te ao o te mārama, te ao o te whakatupu. This anthology represents: ‘yet another time of growth for Māori writers and writing’.
However, Morris never states exactly why this anthology has been collated and published at this time. A number of anthologies of short fiction written by Māori appeared in 2023—including Te Awa o Kupu, which I co-edited with Kiri Piahana-Wong for Penguin Random House, and which was announced as part of a comprehensive update of the Te Ao Mārama series from 25 years ago. A new volume in the long-running selection of short stories published by Huia—number 15—also made an appearance as a further volume in their series designed to showcase new Māori writing. Hiwa, however, seems to have no such anchor, no set agenda other than to present a diverse array of tales by some kaituhi Māori. Co-editor Morris, in fact, acknowledges that: ‘This anthology does not pretend to announce a new wave.’
There are 27 short stories in Hiwa, varying in length from Jack Remiel Cottrell’s three brief encounters with absurdity to Anthony Lapwood’s long fantastical and transgenerational bromance. The genre diversity is very noticeable. Morris comments on this aspect: ‘Hiwa represents a gathering of Māori writers, of different styles and points of view … Scholars will … identify genres like realism, crime, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and so on.’ Agreed, multiplicity is the spine of this volume, but is this a book just for scholars?
There are also binaries, such as urban/rural, realistic/surreal, comic/tragic, historical/current, throughout, both as ngā tohu of separate and distinctive tales, and sometimes coexistent within a single story, that complicate this anthology. But rather than using thematic sequencing to create a sense of connection or cohesion between pieces, each is arranged alphabetically according to writer surnames so that if one reads from front to back, or vice versa, you come up against constant differences between ēnei paki poto. An example? Both Whiti Hereaka’s ‘Cicada’ and Emma Hislop’s ‘Scarce Objects’, following one another in Hiwa’s tight alphabetical sequencing, are set in the past. The former, however, is a clever and deliberate exploration of ‘the impact of structure and format on meaning’. To me, it feels remote from the rugged shared life experiences of the wāhine Māori depicted in the latter historical tale, who seek utu against ētahi Pākehā. So, to go from one to the other is to leap from an esoteric literary formalism to the lived experiences of ngā tāngata Māori. Examples of such quotidian or realist narratives are sprinkled only sparingly throughout the anthology, where the emphasis is more on Māori as expatriate, experimentalist, eccentric—and sometimes, as in the case of David Geary’s laconic and lunatic actors stooging through his bizarre humourist contribution, somewhat silly.
The time and place settings of the stories also vary markedly, for by no means all are set within contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand, or are written by Māori resident here. ‘Paradise’ by Colleen Maria Lenihan takes place in Japan, while ‘The Kiss’ by Patricia Grace is set in Italy. Geary, Aramiha Harwood and Nick Twemlow all reside overseas, and Twemlow was born in the USA. With regard to the latter three authors, given that they identify as Māori, they do not return to Aotearoa New Zealand often, or even at all. Inside Twemlow’s angry, raging torrent of words, any reference to this country is muted as the central character fights their way out of a melee that is set in Topeka, Kansas. In this anthology, then, these writers register as Māori estranged from their tūrangawaewae. Similarly, Lenihan’s debut collection, titled Kōhine, contains many stories located in these islands, yet the story selected here situates Maia, the protagonist, far from the motu: he wahine Māori ngaro who becomes a stripper in central Tokyo.
Why the editorial decision to include such exotic locales in Hiwa? Kāore ahau he mōhio. It’s not clear from the Introduction. Perhaps there is an intention to situate Maōri as international, independent, yet increasingly indeterminate as Indigenous to this land? I found myself seeking an answer to he ui makihoi (a rhetorical question): how many ‘local’ Māori will find congruity with protagonists who travel to Italy, Japan, and also Germany—the final destination being the setting for Witi Ihimaera’s tale, ‘Der Traum’? Kāore ahau he mōhio anō. Despite my question, I recognise that, of course, Māori do depart from Aotearoa more and more frequently nowadays.
Fifteen of the included stories have been published elsewhere, as listed on page 268, some as far back as 2006. My question is: why reach so far back in time? Is being published earlier in an individual short story collection, such as Small Holes in the Silence (2006), somehow a signal for inclusion in a ‘contemporary’ collection in 2023? Is this perhaps part of an underlying agenda that I sense, namely, to concretise a hierarchical structure of who should be mounted higher in the display case of short stories written by Māori, whoever and wherever and whenever. Particularly when the editor confusingly allows: ‘Thirteen of the stories in this anthology have never been published before.’ This equates to several authors being preselected. And if we subtract the three unprinted te reo Māori versions, as adjudged by the otherwise rather invisible co-editor Darryn Joseph, we also learn that only: ‘Ten of the English-language submissions were selected from the writers who answered the open call.’ And this call elicited ‘over a hundred story submissions’.
Just four of those chosen are written in te reo Māori. This is sadly indicative of what Morris—in echoing a key point from the Witi Ihimaera-inaugurated Te Ao Mārama in 1992—notes and quotes as the ‘struggle for a bilingual literature’. Sad because, for me, expressing oneself in one’s own language involves voicing concepts and concerns that another tongue does not necessarily have an equivalent for, as indicated incisively by the short stories penned in te reo Māori included here. For example, Atakohu Middleton’s focus on the spirit world in her ‘Wairua’ and Zeb Tamihana Nicklin’s on the preternatural in ‘Te Whāriki Rere’ speak to me far more convincingly, precisely because they are in te reo Māori. I would go further and state that te reo Ingarihi actually acts as a form of sentinel against Indigenous languages, as was pointed out by Hirini Melbourne in the 1991 book Dirty Silence: Aspects of language and literature in New Zealand: ‘If Māori are to assert their cultural identity as a people, they must do so in their own ancestral language.’
Which leads me to wonder why Morris has deliberately not selected any short stories from the Huia series. In her Introduction, she says about Hiwa that, ‘unlike the biennial Huia Short Stories anthology, it includes more than emerging writers who were finalists in a competition,’ which strikes me as somewhat elitist, especially when neither is anything included from the impressive Ora Nui collections, nor from the plethora of new online and print compilations such as Stasis, Tupuranga Journal, Awa Wahine, Te Whē among others. As such, several newer or ‘emerging writers’ are not present in the pages of this anthology, though Morris does allow that: ‘Many good writers, including established authors, submitted work that did not make it into the final selection.’ Perhaps Hiwa could have been even more representative of current short story crafting by ngā kaituhi Māori? After all, as the Introduction itself notes, the visceral meaning of the word hiwa is ‘vigorous or active or robust growth’.
That said, Hiwa contains much visceral prose, from intense gang brutality (Alice Tawhai’s ‘Charlie Horse’) through to the delineation of both outright and latent racial discrimination, such as in J. Wiremu Kane’s haunting ‘Polypharmacy’ with its lines such as ‘“You don’t look like a doctor” or “You don’t look Māori”. Odd because I am a doctor, I am Māori, and this is what I look like.’
Kane’s character’s observation returns us to Paula Morris’s remarks about story selection choices in her Introduction, where she states that ‘writers should not be excluded because their work does not enact a set of fixed expectations about Maōri experience and culture.’ The reality is that very few of the selected stories do invoke or approach what Morris adumbrates as kaupapa Māori. She goes on to say: ‘we grew up in a colonised country … the bonds with our marae and iwi may have loosened with time and dislocation … for generations we have lived urban lives … we were adopted as children or raised by families where Māori heritage was rejected or invisible or unknown … we are not fluent in te reo Māori.’ Hiwa could perhaps have been more confrontational about these issues, given that some do touch on them, including the editor’s own rather clever contribution, ‘Isn’t It’, in which contemporary Māori encounter contemporary Pākehā—and where the cultural gap is a chasm.
Mahi in this anthology that stood out for me include Aramiha Harwood’s evocative ‘a.k.a’, which is both a search for tīpuna and a quest for personal identity in both Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. ‘Some of this story is made up. Some of it is true. Like my names, the border between truth and imagination becomes blurred,’ states the narrator, who is, in fact, mostly Aramiha Harwood herself.
Kelly Ana Morey’s contribution, titled ‘Faithful and True’, is an excellent depiction of the promise of Maungapōhatu as it tells of a young girl’s encounter with Rua Kenana. This story evokes both a sense of the impending threat from Pākehā and the hopes and aspirations of Māori in te rohe Tūhoe in 1905. ‘Pai’ by Rawinia Parata is a based-on-life portrayal of the vicissitudes of being a solo matua wahine Māori dealing with bureaucracy. In Tina Makereti’s ‘Gravity’, a mother is similarly isolated, this time by the pragmatic realities of a lack of money, a lack of tautoko. Airana Ngarewa’s updated version of ‘Pātea Warriors’ is splendidly farcical. The author self-describes his rugby-playing prowess thus: ‘And speaking of me, I wear the #15, deep in the backfield. You’ll know me by the fierce white shine of my chicken legs and the way I cower under the high ball.’ Earle Karini captures concisely the argot of the unmacronised ‘authentic oral style’ of te reo Māori, in his distinctive ‘Te Whakamaatautau Poutahi’, which is replete with colourful expressions such as: ‘Eii, i tooku ake toto?’ (‘Aiee, my own blood?’).
To conclude, despite my criticisms, it is great to see this anthology published. Let us reflect on what the protagonist in Witi Ihimaera’s elegant story ‘Der Traum’ postulates: ‘a story is a gift. It does not have to have merit or meaning.’ Nō kōna, he koha tēnei pukapuka, nē rā. It is also great, and important, to see other recent anthologies of ngā tuhituhinga Māori published. Te Awa o Kupu rāua ko Ngā Kupu Wero (edited by Witi Ihimaera) interestingly, share eighteen of the writers represented in Hiwa.
There should be no need for critics to generate competition between titles amongst this swell of contemporary fictive writing by Māori, either, given that, of course, we ensure their components display ‘excellence and diversity’ as Morris emphasises. And what do I envisage as excellence and diversity? I believe any such anthology should at least be authentic to lived experience as Māori regardless of locale, potentially but not necessarily autobiographical, faithful to tradition and tikanga, sometimes subversive of middle-class Pākehā values and historiography, and thus ‘distinctively Māori’, which I do recognise is a somewhat amorphous criterion. But one aspect of such specialness must be our sui generis sense of humour, as so wickedly employed in Hiwa in Pamela Morrow’s story ‘Alternate Realities’.
Ultimately, Hiwa is a welcome celebration of writing from te ao Māori today, as aptly invoked by Alice Tawhai in her feral tale, ‘Charley Horse’: Tukua kia tū takitahi ngā whetū o te rangi (Let each star in the sky shine its own light). Indeed.
Haumi ē, Hui ē, Tāiki ē.
Tēnā koutou katoa.
VAUGHAN RAPATAHANA, Te Ātiawa, writes in both te reo Māori and English, and his work has been translated into multiple languages. He has published eight poetry collections and has a PhD from the University of Auckland (a thesis on Colin Wilson). His collection Atonement was nominated for a National Book Award in the Philippines (2016). He was awarded the inaugural Proverse Prize in 2016. He was the Series editor for two new anthologies of Māori writing, Te Awa o Kupu and Ngā Kupu Wero, published by Penguin Random House in 2023.