The silent waka glides over the water. There is static on the intercom. Irihapeti turns it full volume to decipher the voice. It booms out over the water: “I repeat. This is the HMS Tui. We have detected an underground nuclear explosion on screen. We are seeking verification from the New Zealand Geological Centre. This is an alert to all members of the peace flotilla. Please stay calm and radio in your positions. It is vital that we can account for eveyone. Manawa Toa, please advise if your waka is safe,” then more static. Irihapeti chokes back tears of anger. “Manawa Toa calling HMS Tui. Both boat and waka crew safe. I repeat. We are safe and positioned 12.5 miles from Moruroa Atoll, South-East of Tui.” “Thank you. Calling Rainbow Warrior, can you verify position of smaller craft…” The voices echo out over the water, piercing the night air, reminding them how vulnerable they are, how vital their contact is.
Later, surging waves created by the explosion send wash over the waka, blasting into the side of Manawa Toa. The paddlers struggle to maintain balance. Anxiety grips the crew. Then calm, as the waves subside. Suddenly, Pita rises and leads them into the most powerful haka Irihapeti has ever heard. It resounds over the water, is heard on the intercom by all the flotilla tuned in. Cheers of angry support and defiance surge through the microphones, out over the black waves, into every piece of floating seaweed, shell, whale and dolphin still alive after the nuclear underwater explosion. Their survival depends on the force of this haka.
As Pita blows into the conch to sound their defiance an orca whale responds, launching her huge body over the prow of the waka, sounding a haunting cry. The paddlers salute her with paddles raised to the heavens like spears. She responds with another mighty call, flinging herself back over the prow, then dives into the black depths. Pita smiles. It is a sign. Their haka has been heard. Rina Longfin said first there was an eery silence, then shuddering, as if the ocean was about to sneeze and spout her water everywhere.
A moment of stillness, not more than a wavelength, and suddenly the waters trembled, then erupted from the ocean floor upwards, sending all in their wake showering up into the dark heavens, hovering inside a grey cloud which reeked of human chemicals, then crashing violently back through the waves. She and the longfins were some distance from the explosion but could feel its force. All creatures caught in its violence were thrashed and ripped apart like a tornado on land, then flung back into the sea like discarded pulp. They were surrounded by fish flesh and octopus tentacles, broken seashorses, smashed coral, ripped dorsal fins and tail shards and guts. No living creatures within an atoll’s length of the explosion survived.
An unearthly call was heard from the canoe floating nearby, then the paddlers did a haka of angry protest, calling on Tangaroa, God of the Oceans, to enact revenge against such wilful destruction. Rangi Longfin, as if powered by an energy which had long left his ancient and huge body, dived deep beneath her then surged his mighty strength forward to the prow of the canoe. He launched himself at the heavens, crying a haka of defiance, screaming from deep within, and dived again to do another launch into the skies back over the bow.This time his call was like none ever heard before. Rina said, “he showed we had all had enough of this cruel and pointless holocaust. He bellowed as if a harpoon had entered into one side of his body and out the other, and beneath the waters, we all screeched in unison with him.” I needed to calm her down as she was still shaking as she told her talkstory.
I am furious beyond speech. I cry to Pele for revenge, to cover their houses in lava and put fire in their souls, make them angry enough to join the protest. Then Hina comes to me, tells me to send out love, that hate can never cause needed change fast enough, while love has an energy that multiplies like lusty mahimahi. I cannot bring myself to love the exploiters yet, for they still have the smell of turtle soup on their breathes. But I can send love to those paddlers who did the haka, for they are the pioneers of the new world, they are the heart warriors of change.
I karanga Pele to throw out lashings of hot lava to sizzle the slivers of their brains, fire some sense into them. Then a small child sees me floating in the Punalu’u Lagoon, wants to ride me into the waves, looks at me with such longing and I know there is still hope alive in him, the desire to appreciate rather than destroy. I am then melted instead of wanting to melt. I fin my way near to him and touch him gently. He looks at me in wonderment. I swim away, then circle round and touch him with my fin again. This time, I know he knows. This time, I reach him on the inside. Will he grow up to invent yet more weapons or will he plead for peace?
Time will tell, as the wind ripples the waters of the lagoon and the tide turns, warning me to head for the open seas before it is too late. From there, I will sing out to the Longfins, sing waiata of hope, guide them back into our ocean depths if their radar is not too distorted by the blasts. I, Laukiamanuikahiki, will never give up, so long as I have the strength to reach those who can work for change. That is my taonga, my gift, my blessing. My ancestors taught me that there is always a choice, that it is never too late. They who have suffered so much for so long, know what this means. We are of human and turtle clan. We are the rainbow bridge-builders.
Note the way they look at us from their canoes now, as if they are in awe of us, when a few decades ago they were capturing and eating us. Sunset is the most dangerous time. They know we rise to the surface to capture the last of the warm rays, that we are dormant and easy prey. But Punalu’u Lagoon is usually safe. We are protected here, ever since we gave them protection during the tsunamis. The raging waters destroyed their huts but we made sure the Kawainui mural was safe. After all, it depicted a time when people killed us only to eat for themselves. There were no oil spills then, and no plastic neck traps from beer cans either. I enjoyed that period, when you could at least see the danger coming if a spear was launched from a canoe. Now the darkness grips us before we spy it first.
Sometimes the light shines through the sea like jade held up to the sun. It’s as if you can see into the heart of creation. On these days, I love to fin the waves, feel their ripples finning me in return. Sharks nuzzle the reefs, squid dance in their wake, mahimahi leap with joy, flashing and splashing their tail flukes as if swimming on air, then diving swiftly, chasing the bows of boats, playing with saucy seaspray. Every part of me feels alive, from my shell to my fin tips. There is a buzzing beneath my skin, surfing all over my flesh, and the vibrations of the sea sing through me. I hear whale and dolphin songs, feel the tips of octopus tentacles tickling my insides, smell the sweet sea urchins breaking open to reveal their lucious interiors. Then I want to dance with the keening kelp, swing with succulent seaweed as they do an ocean hula to amuse the startled seahorses which cling to their branches, the males bearing the babies while the females search for food. On these days, I rejoice to be alive, to have the power to exist above and below the water, to see the best of both worlds.
[c] Dr. Cathie Koa Dunsford, Tawharanui, Aotearoa, 2007.
Pacific Haka comprises reworked text excerpts from Manawa Toa: Heart Warrior, Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 2000 http://www.spinifexpress.com.au
and revised text written for German publisher, Rogner and Bernhard, Hamburg, published [ translation by Dr. Karin Meissenburg] as Manawa Toa, now available from http://www.christel-goettert-verlag.de and in Turkey: http://www.okuyanus.com.tr
Dr. Cathie Koa Dunsford is author of 20 books in print and translation in USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Turkey, including the popular Cowrie novel series featuring strong wahine toa from the Pacific region. She is director of, Dunsford Publishing Consultants, which has brought 184 new and award winning Pacific authors into print internationally: http://www.dunsfordpublishing.com
She is recipient of two literary grants from Creative New Zealand Arts Council and was International Woman of the Year in Publishing in 1997. She tours the world performing from the books with traditional Maori waiata and taonga puoro. Contact: