Waitapu: excerpt

Hineraumati from WaitapuWaitapu front cover
by Helen Waaka


Mum takes me to Jo’s place on her way to night shift at the works. It was Jo who told the Youth Aid guy about the course. Mum said it was better than doing nothing all day. I peel the spuds, bring the washing in, then watch TV and wait for Jo to come home from working at the kohanga. When she arrives, her house is like a circus – kids, noise, laughter all over the place. She speaks to her kids in Māori.

After tea, she drops me off at the course. I wait outside the office and text my friend Lisa. Wt u up 2?

I’m waiting for an answer when I see this dude wearing brand-new sneakers come in the door. I know they’re new because they’re white as – the colour of toothpaste. His hair is dark brown with blonde and pink streaks. He looks cool with that pink in his hair. He smiles all the time as though he can’t help it.

‘Got a smoke?’ he asks.

‘Yeah,’ I say. We go round behind the office and light up. We stand there saying nothing, just passing the smoke backwards and forwards.

‘Better go fill in those forms,’ he says, taking a last drag. His eyes are the colour of cooking chocolate – the stuff Jo uses to make biscuits. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking.

There’s an older guy sitting by the office with a name badge on his shirt: Henry. He strums a guitar and it feels like his music is sucking us into the room. A few others turn up, some in flash cars. A woman with streaked blonde hair pulls up in a red sports car. An older woman with tats on her chin arrives.

WTF. I text Lisa again. Weird!

This sucks. An old guy turns up. His hair and moustache are covered in grey streaks. Heaps of old-as people. He sits down next to that Henry guy. A girl comes in and sits beside me, texting. Looks like she doesn’t want to be here either. The tutor comes into the room. He’s younger than the old ones and older than the young ones. If I’d seen him in the street I wouldn’t have looked twice, but here everybody looks straight at him.

‘Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome,’ he says. Henry plays a song on the guitar. A hīmene, he says. Some of the others know the words and sing with him but the rest of us stand looking at each other or the whiteboard. The tutor says a prayer in Māori. A karakia. At least I know that much. I look at the floor and say ‘Āmine’ at the end. Jo always says a karakia before meals at her house.

‘Hope you like art work,’ he says, ‘because over the next few weeks you’ll be doing a lot of it. And I want you to keep a journal. That way you can look back and see what you’ve learnt. See how far you’ve come.’

This Sux I text Lisa under the desk. Hav 2 keep a jurnl Dumb as

Told U Lisa texts back. Wot U up 2 l8r?

The tutor talks to us in Māori. Can’t understand a word he’s saying. Then he tells us about himself in English and goes on about mountains and rivers and other dumb stuff. He says his name is Anaru. Anaru Tihema. Then he tells us we have to do the same. Boring.

‘Don’t worry about the reo though,’ he says. ‘Just tell us a bit about yourselves. Where you’re from, who your whānau are, why you’re here.’

Stink. I don’t know any of that stuff and I hate talking in public.

‘My name’s Ngaire,’ one lady says. I’m doing this for my moko, Emere.’ Her eyes go all misty then like she’s going to cry.

A younger chick gets up. Celia someone. She’s here because of her son, Tāne. Dunno who I’m here for. Nah. I’m not doing it for anyone. Some of the others get up and know heaps about who they are and where they’re from, even the Pākehā ones.

Then it’s the guy with the pink in his hair. ‘I’m Paora,’ he says. ‘Been in a bit of trouble,’ he looks down at his desk. ‘I live with my koro. He made me come to this course.’

Cool as, someone else who doesn’t want to be here. I hate this shit. My knees shake when I stand up. ‘My name’s Mereata. I’m from here. From Waitapu. Yeah. Don’t know much about my tribe or anything. Nah. I’m here cos I’ve got nothing better to do.’ I sit down again. Feels like everyone is looking at me. I pretend to write something in my book so no-one can see how much I’m shaking.

‘Kei te pai,’ the tutor says. ‘Up to you to find out about your iwi, your hapū, your maunga, your awa and your tīpuna. That’s your mahi-kāinga – your homework. Ask your whānau, your aunty or uncle, to help you. And don’t forget your journal. Write it down.’ he says.

Yeah right. Can’t wait for this dumb course to end.



Dumb last night. Had to get up in front of everyone and tell them about myself. Had nothing to tell. Nah. Don’t want to go back.



Still dumb. There’s about twelve of us. Yeah. Mostly Māori. A few Pākehā. The tutor asked Blondie to read the karakia at the start this time. He did the closing one. That guy Henry sang a song on the guitar. Some of them, even the Pākehā ones, knew the words. Felt stink. Don’t know any of the words to any of those songs.


Got there late. Went to Lisa’s after Jo dropped me off and had a smoke then went back to the course. Mum’d go mental if I chucked it in. The tutor said we start doing art work next week and he’s taking us down to the river. Need to bring shorts and jandals. Boring. He told us the course will be full time in the holidays and we can come every day if we want to. Yeah right.



Didn’t go to the course yesterday. Stayed at Lisa’s. Mum went psycho the next day.

‘I’m responsible for what happens to you!’ she yelled. ‘Christ, I’m working my butt off and this is what you do.’

Least I didn’t go cruising the shops like Lisa wanted me to. ‘It coulda been worse,’ I said.

‘Just keep away from her,’ said Mum. ‘She’s nothing but trouble that one. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.’



Learnt about pepeha today. Might visit Aunty Lena. Haven’t seen her for ages.



Didn’t go yesterday. The tutor said if I miss any more classes I’m out. He said heaps of others wanted to do the course, but they couldn’t because there weren’t enough places.

‘If you don’t want to come, don’t,’ he said. ‘It’s not too late for someone else to take your place.’



Went to the river. Took our chairs down on the back of Anaru’s ute. He made us sit on them and listen to the river. Then he told us about the creation story. How Papatūānuku and Ranginui were stuck together until one of their sons, Tāne somebody, separated them. Afterwards he said nothing for ages. Just stood on the stones by the river leaning on the stick he had. The sky clouded over and the air smelled like wet leaves. We kept wait­ing for him to say something but he didn’t. All you could hear was the river flowing over the rocks. Yeah. That’s when I heard a whisper and someone’s breath like the wind on the back of my neck, but when I turned round there was no-one there. Looked like it was going to rain the whole time, but it didn’t.



Started my art work. Collected all these rocks and leaves and stuff when we went to the river. He wants us to make a model of the things that are important to us. Our marae, our mountain, our river. Whatever. Visited Aunty Lena on Monday night. She was pleased to see me. Hugged me so tight I couldn’t breathe. Haven’t seen her for ages. Asked her about my pepeha but can’t remember all the words off by heart. She said what I felt at the river was our tīpuna. Yeah. Lisa texted me again last night. She wants me to go hang at her place next week, stay the night then cruise the next day. Miss all the cool things we used to get up to.



Anaru is taking us to his marae for a weekend to learn about pōwhiri. Haven’t been to a marae since I was a little kid. Ages ago. Dad used to take us sometimes until all the shit happened and he took off to Oz. We have to learn waiata. Marama, the woman with the moko, and Ngaire are doing the karanga. Another tutor, Ngahuia, is teaching them. Anaru asked me to learn too in case one of them can’t make it, or if they forget on the day. Might go see Aunty Lena again. Ask her about karanga.



Got into trouble last night. Went to Woolworths with Lisa. Watched outside while she filled her backpack with stuff. Yeah. I was her look out and bumped into someone on purpose so she could get away, but she got caught. She’s in deep shit now. So am I. Don’t know what will happen.

Mum didn’t go psycho this time. She just went all quiet and said, ‘I don’t know what to do with you, Mere. I just don’t know.’

Dunno what’s gonna happen now. Might as well go back to the course until they decide. Nothing better to do.



Went to Aunty Lena’s again last night. She hugged me and said, ‘It’s good to see you, Mere. How’s your mother?’


‘Your mother works too hard,’ she said. ‘How’s it going on the course?’

‘Boring,’ I said, ‘but I like the waiata.’

‘Kei te pai. Just keep out of trouble.’

Had to do the karakia today. We have turns. Didn’t even know how to pronounce some of the words. There’s way too many to learn.



Paora hasn’t been for ages. His koro came looking for him today. No-one knows where he is. I miss his smiling face and his pink hair.



Saw Lisa last night. She’s going to Wellington to stay with her aunty. There’s a rumour going round she’s pregnant. When I asked her she said no, but she looked away when she said it. I’ll miss her if she goes.



My pepeha is going good and I got most of my homework right. Learnt the waiata for our weekend too. Hard as to remember all the words, but sounds awesome when Henry plays the guitar. A bit stink though if he’s not there. When we sing out of tune or get the words wrong everyone laughs. It’s like we’re all one big family. The oldies are always trying to help us. Everyone brings kai now and we take turns saying karakia before we eat.



Aunty Lena told me about karanga. ‘You have to earn the right to do it,’ she said. ‘You have to prove you’re ready. Don’t know why he’s getting you young ones to learn,’ she said.

I hope those others turn up because I don’t want to do it. Nah. Aunty Lena took me down to the park in town anyway – over by the river so no-one could hear us. She said a karakia then she did the karanga we’ve been learning. We walked along the river.

‘Your turn,’ she said. ‘Lift your chin and send your voice up and out.’ My voice shook, ‘Take small steps,’ she said, ‘and walk slowly.’

‘Kei te pai, e kō,’ she said afterwards. ‘That’s enough for today.’



Paora didn’t turn up. We practised our waiata again. Ngaire, Maria and Marama did the karanga. They sounded awesome as, even though it was only a practice.



Went around to see Lisa before she goes to Wellington. Her mother yelled at me before I even got to the door. ‘What are you doing here?’ she shouted. ‘You’re the reason she’s in all this trouble. Haven’t you done enough? You’re all the same, you lot. I wish she’d never met you.’ I saw Lisa standing in her bedroom window looking down at me from the second floor. I waved, but she didn’t wave back.

I went round to Aunty Lena’s after that – Mum wasn’t home. Ever since Dad left she does heaps of over-time to make ends meet. The ends might meet, but she’s never home. Nah. Aunty Lena said not to worry about Lisa’s mother – she’s upset. Lost her mokopuna before it was even born, she said.



Paora’s koro came to the course again tonight. Said Paora’s been hanging out with the wrong crowd.

‘It’s enough to break your heart,’ he said and blew his nose on his white-as handkerchief that reminded me of Paora’s sneakers.

Anaru asked if he would come to the marae to help Ahi with his whaikōrero.



I’m looking forward to our weekend away. Last time I felt like this was when I went to Rainbow’s End with my cousins. Ages ago. Nervous as because I was worried about the roller coaster, but excited too, wanting to try out the log boat that was ‘too much,’ my cousin said. The roller coaster was a bit like the karanga I might have to do and the log boat – that was like all the other things, our pepeha and the stuff we have to say in front of Anaru’s whānau on the marae.



Ngaire picked me up. We loaded heaps of gear and food on the back of her ute. You’d think we were going away for the whole week. There were tears in Mum’s eyes when she waved good-bye.

‘Jeez, Mum, I’m only going away for the weekend,’ I said.

We got to the marae early. Ahi was already there. Said he’d been up since four in the morning practising his whaikōrero and didn’t need his piece of paper any more. We waited for the others to arrive. Then the kuia started to karanga. That’s when I heard it again, the whisper behind me – like at the river – and I felt the wind like someone’s breath in my hair.

Haere mai, haere mai, haere mai rā…

I walked behind Ngaire, staring at the ground. My whole body shook. I could see her hands shaking in front me. I held my breath and said the words of the karanga I’d learnt in my head. If she stuffed up I had to do it, but she didn’t and I breathed again.

Karanga mai, ki ō mātau tini mate…