Academic journal article Hecate

Freedom and Responsibility: Narrating Maori Women's Lives in Patricia Grace's Cousins

Academic journal article Hecate

Freedom and Responsibility: Narrating Maori Women's Lives in Patricia Grace's Cousins

Article excerpt

This paper will carry out a reading of Patricia Grace's novel Cousins in terms of mana wähine, a movement supported by a framework of Matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) that works towards further recognition of Maori women's rights and responsibilities. This reading will approach the text through a consideration of Maori centered ways of understanding the world, Indigenous rights, mana wähine, and the innovations to Anglophone literary traditions developed by writers like Patricia Grace.

Cousins was published in 1992.1 It tells the story of three cousins Mata, also called May, Makareta and Missy, and their families, and is set mostly after World War Two, at a time when Maori movement to the cities increased at a rapid rate. A story of both continuity of traditions and of change in a rapidly modernising world, the novel describes a period when Maori women had, in some ways, an increasing freedom of choice which brought with it responsibility both to uphold ongoing traditions and to thrive in the changing conditions of mid-twentieth century Aotearoa New Zealand.

Themes of Mana Wahine

Patricia Grace's fictional texts develop syncretically in terms of genre, theme and language. They combine Maori oral storytelling traditions in which, like the marae environment (now reproduced in media such as television and radio) so central to Maori community life, there are multiple points of view, with family history and mythical narratives. Grace approaches this fusion of genres from specifically female perspectives. Courtney Bates' thesis 'Taki Toru: Theme, Myth and Symbol in Patricia Grace's Cousins' reads the novel as an exemplary text of Indigenous women's writing in its particular mixture of autobiography and realism, and she identifies a number of repeated Maori centered tropes and patterns in the writing.

The structure of Cousins, (is) like a tukutuku panel's complex web of interwoven threads that echoes the criss-crossing of relationships. There is also an association with tutaki, to meet; to shut; to join together, which in turn is related to taki toru, meaning to gather in groups of three.2

She notes a number of significant triple patterns and pinpoints the various ways in which they are signified through characterization: the three kete of knowledge - kete-uruuru-matua - peace, goodness and love, kete uruuru-rangi, karakia and ritual, and kete-uruuru-tau, warfare, agriculture and crafts, also described as Ritual, Occult and Secular knowledge, three orders of reality - Te Taha Tinana (the physical plane), Te Taha Hinengara (the psychic plane) and Te Taha Wairua (the spiritual plane), the three tiers of the universe - Te Korekore, the potential world, Te Po, the world of becoming and Te Ao Marama, the world of Being - and these tiers as indicative of time - past, present and future. At times Bates associates particular elements of the pattern of three with a specific character, yet it is a vital aspect of the novel that the portrayal recognizes some interchangeability between the characters, as well as between the dead and the living - the signification of character is represented in terms of specific aspects of time and place, represented in Maori terms.

Like Grace's novel Potiki set a generation later than Cousins, the 1992 novel does not refer to European markers of time; events are indicated principally in a Maori framework of time marked by arrivals, births, departures, deaths, returns and marriages at the intersection of mythological i.e. ancestral and linear historical time. Both ancestral and linear historical time are marked by signifiers in nature, yet 'natural' signs also take on mythical qualities and become less fixed as they function in narratives about ancestry. Missy for example, sees herself as 'skinny and toothy and scarry-legged with multi-coloured hair' but in the eyes of the families whom she brings together in accepting an arranged marriage (taumou) she becomes 'Tall like the tipuna, with eyes like Ava Gardner, they said ancestress and actress' (224). …

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