A Heke woman has a way about how she stands inside herself, I know this. Among our immediate own, it’s upright without lording it over one another. It’s strong without being tough as old boots and it allows others to come near to them without feeling somehow unworthy to. I dislike highminded behaviour toward others, it’s bad manners at their very worst.
As I stood in the doorway at Puriri House my karanga to the last of my mother’s sisters, Celia, left my lips filled with all the memories of times when. My Aunty C had passed away the day before in Wellington Hospital, a stroke compounded by the discovery of an aneurysm.
And yes, I know. Here in Ngati Kahungunu, the kawa (customs and procedures) prefer that family members don’t karanga to their own. It’s the ideal but it’s not always the reality. They say, it’s too much to bear. They mean that in a spiritual sense, that when you call, all the ancestors come. Yes, I understand that too.
Kaikaranga (women who karanga, a spiritual call through the passages of time, from women to women) are few and far between here in Central Hawke’s Bay it seems. I could hear Haami’s voice in my memory, “it’s not ideal but you have to look at the situation, sum it up, yeah yeah. And you’ll know!”
I smile inwardly at this recollection my memory makes of Haami’s words. It often puzzled me and not how he’d express seemingly unconnected thoughts as if he were between this world of the now and that world of the not-yet. If I didn’t know for sure they meant something, there’s a chance I might have dismissed them as incoherent ramblings, but they never were with Haami. He was deadly accurate with his summations at times.
For all my years as an HR Consultant where you learnt the skill of reading people with a degree of precision, Haami would have been right at home among the suits! And he would have got their respect too. Like I say, it’s a skill. I’m chuckling too because I can hear his voice as clear as a blue Bay day, “I’m not gonna waste my breath on those fullas, they never listen!” Listening is critical, particularly for how a thing is said.
Kaumatua (elder male members of a Maori community) and Kuia (elder female members of a Maori community) rarely say things for nothing but neither are they going to just hand you the explanation on a plate. That’s not the way of the old people. They tell us when they trust us. That’s a pearl of wisdom for the young today. They tell you when they trust you.
Back on the porch steps, with all the practice of my professional years, I summed it up in less than 3 seconds and I began to call to my aunty, my mother’s sister, the last one of six sisters, a karanga from the heart. My karanga, sent out from under the wisteria-framed porch of Douglas and Mary Anne’s home. Recalcitrant baby manu (birds) try to get in the last tweets while sighing mothers wish them to sleep.
The approaching dusk in Onga Onga ushers the body of my aunt through the narrow gateway at the front of Puriri House, passed the still wakeful cruciferae. Cruciferae, an old name, meaning ‘cross-bearing’, because the four petals of their flowers are reminiscent of a cross.
Passed the lavender bushes that lightly perfume the evening air, up a single step and across the wooden porch with its lifting first board. The porch where I’ve spent so much time in precious conversations with Mary Anne and Douglas. Inside to the sitting room where her casket was to remain open, watched over by all of us and that ‘great cloud of witnesses’. Haere mai Whaea (Aunty). Welcome back among your Heke women.