The door we do not open – The Eye-eaters


Author Peter Wells has come over from Rotorua for his early evening book talk and signing organised by Books a Plenty in the cosy and inviting magazine and newspaper section of the Tauranga City Library.

I’m early (only because I’ve been doing something else around the town) so I get to see the presentation being set up. There’s a hushed discussion between the Library and Books a Plenty about where the chairs will be place and where the portable screen will go. A pile of red and white books appears from the medium-sized suitcase on wheels and all of a sudden there’s a display at the end of my table of “Journey to a Hanging” with an accompanying advertising brochure. A small side table has appeared and beakers of fruit juice appear. A little crowd starts accumulating – I move to sit in one of the new, trendy library chairs and not wanting to miss an opportunity I tell the captured group all about ARTbop.

A black clad Peter Wells appears. He’s relaxed and an obvious regular public speaker. He begins to enlighten us about the 1860’s events at Opotiki surrounding the untimely death of the Missionary Volkner which he says set race relations back 100 years. He mentions the reality of events not included in the film UTU – which apparently referenced the death of Volkner – eye eating was considered just too ghastly to include. He tells us about Marie Joseph Obere the Sister who provided support to the shortly to be hanged Kereopa. Fiat Justitia the defense of Kereopa written by William Colenso is referred to.

The power point images which accompany Wells’ reading from his work hiccup along and threaten to undermine earlier relaxed demeanour. It’s not an issue as we see the Opotiki Church, the area of the time and where the hanging tree had been. There’s a photograph of Kereopa adorned with William Morris wallpaper style “moko”. His eyes have the look of detached resignation as those of the “Chief” in my old enamelled New Zealand Insurance Co. advertising sign.

Questions are asked and we hear he’d been a good a caring man who had stayed during an influenza epidemic which plague like wiped out about a third of the local population. (I wouldn’t have thought the introduction of “the flu” would have endeared settlers and missionaries to local Maori.) Volkner was most probably the author of his own downfall; staying in Opotiki after circumstances changed – “he missed the clues”.

I haven’t read the book (yet) but Wells’ talk confirmed a number of my opinions. We started early convicting the wrong person – Mokomoko was hanged for something he didn’t do. I’m not sure if the image Wells shows us of two young female Maori visitors in the pulpit hands shaped in gestures is indicative of their understanding of missionary involvement if land acquisition and land confiscations or just the usual happy display of contemporary identification and allegiance. I ask Wells if considering the history of colonisation, land acquisitions and confiscations Kereopa might have got it right. No he doesn’t think so.

Peter Well’s book “Journey to a Hanging” is available at Books A Plenty, Grey Street, Tauranga.

PUANGA Star of the Maori New Year Sam. T. Rerekura
provides an addition to my knowledge of the stars, their spiritual and cultural importance to Maori and other Pacifica people; their calendar; cycle of life and production. Puanga (Rigel)the more significant older brother of the Matariki sister. Lots of images and suggestions including the origin of ethnicity and belief.


Spring – koanga is more and more here. We are in the ninth – tuaiwa month of our calendar year and yes it’s September – Hepetema or Mahuru. All of a sudden the hills around my home are full of new inhabitants – tiny little black lambs and the repetitive sound of hungry bleating.

Te reo Maori is woven among New Zealand English. There is a gourmet sheep’s cheese “Hipi Iti” – little sheep and another “Kahurangi” – a blue cheese. I recently read of a successful duvet business which has used the term moe – sleep to promote its products internationally.
Rosemary Balu


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