Thoughts on editing the Tangihanga entry

A tīrairaka, or fantail

A tīrairaka, or fantail

Editing an entry on tangihanga recently reminded me of the power of Māori poetry to evoke the experience of grief. The natural world was a vivid reference for Māori metaphorical imagery, and one of the thrills of reading and listening to Māori oral literature is the landscapes, birds, trees, seas and skies it describes are all here around us: beautiful Aotearoa.

It’d be a challenge for a lyrical poem in English to swallow a name like ‘bull kelp’, but rimurimu, its Māori name, is lovely. In a song written in grief for her dead child, an East Coast mother begins ‘Rimurimu teretere e rere ki te moana,’ describing the way kelp drifts and eddies on the tides, a powerful metaphor for the helplessness of grief.

In the last verse she compares her child to a tīrairaka, a fantail, a bird which flits about and is never still, a dazzling simile for the elusiveness of memory.

Another metaphor for the yearning of grief comes from the song ‘Tai timu tai pari taihoa e haere,’ which implores the turning tide to halt. This was sung to Māori troops heading off to the Second World War.

There’s an everyday poetry in te reo Māori which to me rivals the potency of Shakespearean English … why wouldn’t you want to learn it?

3 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Nancy || September 20th, 2010

    I agree Jennifer. There’s another example of a haunting lament at the end of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on Te Rangi-i-paea II. I can’t comment on the Maori language version of this (also viewable on the DNZB website), but the English translation is memorable.

  2. Comment made by Kerryn || September 21st, 2010

    This became very apparent to me when I was writing the blog on poetry in Te Ara a wee while ago. And Jennifer, I have to say that your post also makes very pleasant reading. Ka pai!

  3. Comment made by Fran || September 24th, 2010

    I was interested in your comment about making the link to Shakespeare and Te Reo Maori. A few years ago, Northcote Library produced a beautifully designed t-shirt around this concept with an image of Shakespeare wearing a bone carving. You can see an image of this on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website at It was a great way to promote Te Reo Maori!

Leave a comment

By posting comments you signify that agree to and accept the Terms and Conditions of this Blog.