He Hononga : the launching of “Once were Pacific” by Alice Te Punga-Somerville

Last Thursday I headed across to Waiwhetu Marae, to attend a new phenomenon – a “launch without a book”.

Alice’s book – “Once were Pacific : Māori connections to Oceania” has already sold out both here in New Zealand and also in Australia. What an achievement, Alice!

However, all is not lost – come to Wellington City Libraries – hooray – we have two copies, but only one for lending.

A large crowd of Te Punga whānau renewed their turangawaewae, friends, whānau, fellow-workers from Victoria University, and students of Alice came to support and farewell her, and right there in the mix was a group of overseas students (passers-by who came to experience a ‘marae visit”).

Ka nui ngā mihi atu ki te hau kāinga mō te pō whakangahau. – he kahurangi nō mātou a Alice, hei uri o tēnei marae.

So we gathered to tautoko Alice and her overview of indigenous literature –“ texts of poetry, fiction, theatre, film and music” , alongside “instances of performance, journalism and scholarship” (back cover), which build on the connections of Māori as indigenous people, not only to the land, but, also (here’s a new thought) to the sea – the Pacific Ocean, and hence the connections to the Pacific people, both overseas, and in New Zealand.

(Aha – note that subtle play on words – “Once were Pacific” v. “Once were warriors”).

It was fitting that Tupaia has a place in this book.  It was he who guided Captain Cook to the Pacific Ocean for the Transit of Venus, in 1769, and became a unique interface – a Pacific connection –between Māori and European.

Included in this book are Pacific-based writers such as Vernice Wineera, and Evelyn Patuawa-Nathan, and Aotearoa-based works, writers, collaborations and connections with – Whale Rider, Hinewirangi, Ihimaera, Chantal Spitz, Apirana Taylor, Patricia Grace, Karlo Mila, Alistair Campbell, Rongo (newspaper), concepts of Nesians, Polynation.

On the night of the launch, strands of hononga, resting safely in the skilful hands of Rawinia Higgins and Hugh Karena were extended by the skilful kōrero of Rachel Buchanan and Alice, herself.

Aspects of Alice’s strong personality were revealed in kōrero from Lydia Weavers, the Mafileo boys brought us to attention with a passionate haka, Megan, sister of Alice, read a taster from the book, and Michel Tuffrey described his artwork on the cover.

I was swept along on Alice’s journey, and sorry when she eventually finished her presentation, but wish her well as she departs (shortly) in the footsteps of (“Na to hoa aroha”) Peter Buck, across the Pacific to the University of Hawai’i, Manoa.

Go well, Alice.

Whaia e koe ki te iti kahurangi : ki te tuohu koe, me maunga teitei

Seek the treasure you value most dearly : if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain.

Ann Reweti


(Photographs by Nick Sevian)