Te Whiti and Tohu
On the last morning of his life
Te Whiti fed corn to his pigeons.
Tohu was buried on top of his coffin
smashed in a dozen pieces.
Tohu had his left hand middle finger
shot away by a bullet. Te Whiti’s
right hand middle finger was torn off
by a millstone. They married sisters.
At Tohu’s death a canoe-shaped cloud
with a figure lingered for three days.
Te Whiti spoke of ko manawanui: forbearance
the canoe by which we are to be saved.
Elizabeth Smither was born in New Plymouth in 1941 and has worked as a librarian there for many years. The current Te Mata Poet Laureate (a biennial apointment), she has published many collections of poetry, including The Lark Quartet (Auckland University Press, 1999), which won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2000. Her work has appeared widely in Australia, Britain and Canada.
Smither comments: “‘Te Whiti and Tohu’ is one of a series of short poems — 12 little poems about Parihaka, commissioned by the Wellington City Gallery as part of the historic exhibition, Parihaka: the Art of Passive Resistance, 26 August 2000 - 19 January 2001. I had previously written a series called 7 Little Poems About Canada and I had this in mind when I was asked to write something for the exhibition. The number 12 was chosen because the bell at Te Whiti’s house was rung 12 times to summon his followers, in honour of the 12 apostles. The 12 little poems touch on a number of subjects, both Maori and European, ancient and modern. ‘Te Whiti and Tohu’ assembles some of the odd synchronicities of the two leaders of Parihaka, who lived in opposite and very European houses. In life and death, their lives had many parallels.”