witi ihimaera - like coming home!


They say (you know how 'they' are always saying things) that the joy of travel is in the finding of difference-the alien and the exotic. If you keep away from resorts and star hotels, that is. And I would, in the most, agree. There seems little point in going halfway round to world to find one self at home. There must, however, be something wrong with that thought, for it completely fails to to explain why Witi Ihimaera's stories have been so engrossing when they feel like a homecoming!

Ihimaera's stories revolve around Waituhi village, with occasional excursions into Wellington. The lines are fairly clear- Waituhi is Maori and Wellington is European, and many of the stories speak of the tension between he two cultures. While there is a sorrow at at a dying way of life, there is also a recognition that the new ways are very attractive. Ihimaera's stated claim, in the early stories, was to acquaint 'Urban' Maori with the old way of life and its values, and to help them understand their roots. This gradually moved to a more political stance, and sharper criticism of the effects of European colonisation and the struggles of Maori in the present.

What I found striking, though, is the constant feeling that these stories could so easily have been set in the North East India (an artificial unity I stubbornly cling to) that I grew up in. The experiences of the characters could as easily have been mine, from being a tribal in a world that didn't think much of tribals, to the struggle to succeed in a system one did not quite understand, even the easy laughter, sense of belonging and claustrophobia in a 'close-knit community'. It is strangely comforting to recognise characters in the book, from the dominating figure of the Matriarch to the kid torn between the old world and the new.

The setting and style of the stories beg comparison with R.K Narayan's Malgudi, though Ihimaera's writing is much more politically loaded, and much more accommodating of what has variously been called mystical, magical or superstition. They are however as pleasantly easy to read as Narayan, with none of the twisted complexity that afflicts a lot of literary writing today. One of the books has also been turned into a rather engrossing film. Very strongly recommended!

9 comments:

ruolngulworld said...

Ihimaera - must remember that name so i can look for his books next time i go to a bookstore. and the movie is next on my list :)
i agree with you about how certain books/stories make you feel that they could easily have been set in the NE, how you recognise many characters from your own experience and how the the experiences of the characters could easily have been one's own.

Peer Gynt said...

i love the fact that you stubbornly cling to it :) and the way you've drawn parallels with the NE is so irresistible that i looked him up - this is what i got: "Witi Ihimaera considers ‘the world I’m in as being Maori, not European' and his fiction develops out of this perspective. He creates imaginative new realities for his readers..." yup me goin book-hunting now :)

And now i know the perfect gift for me gay friend's b'day (Nights in the Gardens of Spain) and who incidentally is also learning Spanish! :D

feddabonn said...

if it's any help, i loved whanau 2, which is a complete rewrite of whanau. i could also send out scans of a coupla short stories if you'd like (in line with general library guidelines allowing 10% copying for personal purposes).

Peer Gynt said...

that'd be really really nice of you fedd! and thanks for the tip...will get Whanau II for my own reading :)

Calliopia said...

Hmmmm perhaps there's something in it then for research study on the parallel between the two cultures. I know for a fact that there's one scholar working on the parallel between Mizo cradle songs and those of Australian aborigines.

feddabonn said...

@peer: gotted yore email from a-u mos-a, shall be scanned and sended. soon soon to be.

@calli: wow! that'd be fascinating! will this research be available once its done? though i don't know much about the aboriginal tribes, their concept of 'dreamtime' is *quite fascinating.

trying to talk (bully) a friend in shillong into doing some research on WI's short stories. hopefully that'll bring out interesting associations too!

Gauri Gharpure said...

your blog is like a window to so many worlds... it was nice reading up the links

feddabonn said...

thanks gauri!

Peer Gynt said...

can't find it aaanywheres out here :( best to place an order for it.