Academic journal article Hecate

Manawa Toa: Heart Warrior

Academic journal article Hecate

Manawa Toa: Heart Warrior

Article excerpt

The following extract is work in progress from Manawa Toa: Heart Warrior, third in the Cowrie novel series by Aotearoan author, Cathie Dunsford, Spinifex Press. Manawa Toa is the Peace Flotilla protest vessel which sails to protest against French nuclear tests at Mururoa and her crew hear stories of the effects of the tests from Maohi [Tahitian] survivors.

The passage across the southern Pacific Ocean is turbulent and squally. Most of the crew have been sick. Messages from other boats in the Aotearoan Peace Flotilla bound for the test zone reveal that two have been caught in the tail of a typhoon. They refuel at Rarotonga, where they are greeted by a large contingent of Cook Islanders who provide a welcoming feast.

By the time they reach the Tahitian Islands, all the crew look forward to setting their feet on land. The waka survived the journey with only a few dents and bumps in the heaviest seas. A mile from the Pape'ete harbour, the canoe is lowered into the sea with paddlers aboard so they can enter the harbour in traditional style. Irihapeti radios through to Oscar Temaru, leader of the Tavini Huraatira and Maohi are lining the shores to welcome them.

Sahara gasps at the awesome beauty of the towering pinnacles rising violently from the ocean below. She videos the entry into the harbour as the mighty waka leads them and is greeted by Tahitian canoes, outriggers, and a resounding haka from the shore. The harbour is dotted with craft guiding them in. As the waka reaches the shore, Tahitians move down the beach and shower the paddlers with bourgainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani lei. The colours of the flowers shine in the brilliant sun. There is an air of festivity that belies the solemn depth of the occasion. The Manawa Toa ties up to the wharf and its crew are festooned with flowers and waiata.

That night, the speeches of welcome before the feast outline the gravity of the situation. Former workers from Mururoa Atoll, who had to sign a secrecy agreement in accepting their jobs with the French Government to work at the nuclear test zone, risk their freedom by explaining how the military base works and the history of thirty years of nuclear explosions in the Pacific. They hand over diagrams of the nuclear plant which show extensive underground drilling has eroded several old test sites, and photographs which clearly indicate massive cracks in the surface of the atoll, visible from the water. Cowrie and the others have heard most of this before, but Sahara is shocked. `None of this has filtered into the European media,' she whispers, as the speeches continue.

`Who's going to make an enemy of France in the new economic union?' she whispers back. `Even if they knew this stuff, no government would risk peace with their neighbours for the sake of an island in the Pacific. You wait, I bet England doesn't denounce the tests. They're too close, with too much to lose.'

Sahara is silent, listening to the next speakers who outline the colonial history. Over the years, the Maohi people have been exploited by France, England, Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Peru and Russia. The one hundred and thirty islands of Tahiti, covering an area the size of Europe, have been subjected to colonial force and slavery, despite vigorous opposition. In 1797 the London Missionary Society sent a contingent of religious men to Tahiti but they were forced to move on to New South Wales. Then the French sent their missionaries. They wanted the islands to service their merchant, fighting and whaling boats. In 1842 they seized control establishing a government. Then the Brits and French fought over the islands until 1843 when hundreds of French soldiers took Queen Pomare's palace by force, ripping down the Tahitian flag and raising the tricoleur, which has presided ever since. Despite powerful Maohi resistance, they used material bribes and religion to take over the islands, then set up nuclear testing zones in return for schools and hospitals. …

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