A taonga returns home

Honi Tuwhare PoemThis week, when I fly to New Zealand on a family visit, I will have with me a small sheet of drawing paper. In a top corner is a drawing of a bird flying over a hill, with a delicate watercolor wash. The rest of the sheet contains a tiny poem, hand-written in beautiful calligraphy, and signed by the poet/artist, Hone Tuwhare.

The manuscript is one my treasured possessions. I have pangs of regret about parting with it, but know I am doing the right thing. In New Zealand Tuwhare’s work is considered a taonga, a treasure. He was the first M?ori poet writing in English to win widespread acclaim. His best-known book, “No Ordinary Sun.” first published in 1964, was reprinted ten times over the next thirty years, becoming one of the most widely read individual collections of poetry in New Zealand history. The title poem is a response to French nuclear testing in the Pacific. Many more collections followed. His work has a conversational tone and incorporates both M?ori and biblical rhythms; the subjects range from the political to the personal and often powerfully evoke the beauties of nature. He won several New Zealand book awards, and was poet laureate of New Zealand in 1999–2000. He died in 2008, at the age of 85.

No Ordinary Sun cover

Cover of the 1998 edition of “No Ordinary Sun”

The M?ori concept of taonga also includes the story that goes along with the item. My little manuscript was a gift from Jean McCormack Tuwhare, Hone’s ex-wife. She and my mother-in-law were friends. On a visit to New Zealand in 2000, I spent a delightful afternoon with Jean at Mother’s house discussing poetry and literature. Mother had shown Jean my first poetry collection, “A Place Called Home,” and later suggested I send her a copy. Enclosed in Jean’s thank-you letter for the book was the Tuwhare manuscript. Unfortunately the letter is lost, but as I recall, Jean wrote that Hone (with whom she was still close friends) liked to practice calligraphy and had given her several of these small pieces to dispose of as she wished. She thought I might appreciate having one.

[Update 6/2/1016: While in New Zealand, I learned from Rob Tuwhare, Hone and Jean’s son, that Jean herself did the calligraphy, and Hone signed her work.]

I am of an age when I need to make decisions about my stuff. Knowing that the manuscript could easily get overlooked among our mountains of paper and art works, I sought professional help. I told Malcolm Moncrief-Spittle of Renaissance Books (New Zealand) , who deals in rare and out-of-print books, that I thought my taonga should be returned to New Zealand. Which university or cultural institution in New Zealand already houses a collection of Tuwhare material and would be a suitable recipient? I asked. He recommended the Hocken Library at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

Staff at the Hocken Library responded to my query with enthusiasm. We’ve arranged a meeting on May 9, when I will hand over the carefully packaged manuscript. I know it will be a happy/sad occasion.

12 Responses to “A taonga returns home”

  • hi Maureen, Jeanetee Wikaira who works at the hocken library spoke to me of your visit and story. I am in Auck and would love to meet you. Mum Jean is here in Auck too 09 4836973. My ph is 027681557.

    Hope you are having a great trip. We are fixing up Dads crib for the first writers residancy in the home of a maori writer.
    If you have a chance have a look at our website hone tuwhare .org.nz

    Mauri ora
    Rob Tuwhare

  • Dear Maureen, it was lovely to meet both you and Tony yesterday on your visit to the Hocken Collections. We are absolutely delighted with your donation of the poem and it is a significant addition to our Hone Tuwhare papers. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in NZ and have a safe trip home.

    Kindest Regards

  • .Maxine Binning:

    Hi Maureen,
    By now you will be getting ready to go to NZ. I read this story with much emotion and appreciation for the man and remembered your sister Evelyn and her love for the Maori language and maoridom. My sister in law Carole Tioko Marsh would be so interested. I will contact her while in Tauranga and see you at the same time. Well done Maureen

  • Judi:

    What a wonderful gift you received and are giving!

  • Dena Mossar:

    an inspiring impulse!!! safe travels for you and your taonga!

  • We wish you a joy filled and memorable journey and a safe return.
    See you in June.

  • Karen:

    Thank you for sharing this poem’s life! May your journey be filled with many wonders (and time to write about them).

  • Miriam Frances:

    I am a New Zealander living in Auckland; the city’s population is now over a million.Here we say there is one degree of separation rather than six. Two days before I read this blog I saw a resemblance in a man sitting in the park, dejectedly to Hone Tuwhare. After apologising to him for staring at him (because he reminded me of both Hone Tuwhare and his son Rob),he said he was Rob’s brother.

    We will indeed be grateful for this fragment of Hone’s life. Thanks Maureen.

  • Sarah Brehm:

    What a lovely story, Maureen. It sounds like the perfect thing to do. Have a good trip. I think you will enjoy thinking of the manuscript in its new home when you are back in California.


  • Barbara Lee:

    This is an amazing adventure and they say you can’t go home again…phooey on that. While there is a melancholy tone to parting with stuff because of age, you provide a surge of new life for the words of a great poet from your homeland. Have a safe trip and abundant laughs; it so becomes you.

  • Terry Connelly:

    Maureen, what a wonderful story! It will be a gift to New Zealand, one which I’m sure they will appreciate.

    You remind me that somewhere in my house I have an original drawing and signed note from the children’s author, Eric Carle. I should do the same thing. Find some library, somewhere, that would cherish it. That would be better than being stuffed in a brown envelope in a closet next to light bulbs and Kleenex.

    Have a great trip!


  • Lovely, Maureen. Safe journey home ~ and back home.

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