Stories > He kōrero iti.

We live in a town, but many of my husband’s whānau live in the valley where he grew up about 40 kilometres away.  My husband and his brother are renowned for a number of things—one being how they extend the life of their cars and vans using highly technical items like string and wire—another how they share these vehicles for a variety of tasks such as moving furniture or transporting relatives, building materials, tractor parts, rongoā, eels, vegetables, dogs and pigs (dead or alive). They are renowned for being people of the people, the ones to call on in times of trouble and death, the ones who will solve the problem and make the plan.  They travel to and from town, to the coast to dive for sea food, to endless meetings, to visit whānau—along the many kilometres of dirt roads in and around the valley, through flood or dust depending on the season in those patched up, beat up, prized cars.

There are a number of things to know about the valley—one is that the last 33 children in the world of their hapū ririki to grow up and be educated on their own lands go to school here, despite government efforts to close the school.  Another is that the valley is known to outsiders and insiders as ‘patu wahine’—literally meaning to ‘beat women’ and this is not said as a joke.  The mountain for this valley is named as the doorway spirits pass through on their way to their final departure from this life.  This valley is also the valley where my husband and his siblings were beaten at school for speaking their first language.  It is the valley their mother sent them to so they would be safe from their father—back to her people.  It is where they milked cows, pulled a plough, fed pigs but often went hungry, and were stock whipped, beaten and worse.

My brother-in-law still lives in the valley, in a group of houses next to the school.  So it’s no surprise that one of our cars would be parked by these houses—right by where the children play.  Perhaps also not a surprise that while playing that time old international game of rock throwing our eight year old nephew shattered the back window of the car.  If I’d been listening I probably would have heard the ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ of the other children that accompanied the sound of glass breaking from town, and if I’d been really tuned in I would have heard the rapid, frightened heart beat of ‘that boy’ as well.

His mother is my husband’s cousin—and she was on the phone to us right away.  She was anxious to assure us ‘that boy’ would get it when his father came home.  His father is a big man with a pig hunter’s hands who hoists his pigs onto a meat hook unaided.  He is a man of movement and action, not a man for talking.  Those hands would carry all the force of proving that he was a man who knew how to keep his children in their place.  Beating ‘that boy’ would be his way of telling us that he had also learned his own childhood lessons well.

So before he got home we burned up the phone lines—sister to sister, cousin to cousin, brother-in-law to sister-in-law, wife to husband, brother to brother.  This was because my husband and his brother know that there are some lessons you are taught as a child that should not be passed on.  The sound of calloused hand on tender flesh, the whimpers of watching sisters, the smell of your own fear, the taste of your own blood and sweat as you lie in the dust—useless, useless, better not born.  This is a curriculum like no other.  A set of lessons destined to repeat unless you are granted the grace of insight and choose to embrace new learning.

So when the father of ‘that boy’ came home and heard the story of the window, ‘that boy’ was protected by our combined aroha and good humour, by the presence of a senior uncle, by invitations to decide how to get the window fixed in the shortest time for the least money.  Once again phone calls were exchanged with an agreement being made on appropriate restitution.  How a barrel of diesel turns into a car window is a story for another time.

Next time my husband drove into the valley it was to pick up the car, and ‘that boy’ was an anxious witness to his arrival.  My husband also has very big hands, hands that belong to a man who has spent most of his life outdoors.  These were the hands that reached out to ‘that boy’ to hug not hurt.

A lot of bad things still happen in the valley, but more and more they are being named and resisted.  Many adults who learned their early lessons there will never return.  For tangata whenua this is profound loss—our first identifiers on meeting are not our own names but those of our mountains, rivers, hapū and iwi.  To be totally separate from these is a dislocation of spirit for the already wounded.  This is only a small story that took place in an unknown valley, not marked on many maps.  When these small stories are told and repeated so our lives join and connect, when we choose to embrace new learning and use our ‘bigness’ to heal not hurt, then we are growing grace and wisdom on the earth.

Di Grennell

(Adapted from the transcript He koreo Iti available from StoryTelling & Organizing Project (STOP)