After the UN Rapporteur Supported Maori Customary Rights
If it was tattooed in Maori there’d be an indigenous Universe
in this curvy groove—but it’s a problem of bleeding translation,
to spit the worldview from a disembodied tongue, no shy body language,
no pauses and swaying—a tongue like a paintbrush over eyes, face, hupe–nose
and wide toes, broad brow (is that me you’re picturing, eh?), but
Maori prose—that first named the land—is almost wahangū, muted.
The verbs, nouns, adjectives, tenses, all the key teeth thrown
on the table are English played with by the ancestors of Westminster
and Trickster, scribbled by Councillors and Scrabblers, ammo for Radical
and Stately mouths, chucked around by cartoons of Ewen Me. English
has boxed on for 13 centuries since Caedmon like here’s your fish and chips love;
cuppa tea love; where’s my CliffsNotes on The Odyssey, darling?
English was broadcast from the moon, is spoken by our family, plus
it’s orbiting Saturn! Yet Maori liberty is still recognized by Earth.
Hupe = mucous
Wahangū = mute, quiet
LISTEN to ‘After the UN Rapporteur…’ by Robert Sullivan
Honolulu-based poet Robert Sullivan is of Kāi Tahu, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Raukawa and Irish descent. He is currently an Associate Professor of English at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where he is Director of Creative Writing. His sixth book of poems, Shout Ha! to the Sky (Salt, UK) will be published in September 2008. He has won several New Zealand literary awards.
Sullivan comments: ‘This poem comes from a section of my next book devoted to the recent controversy surrounding Maori customary use and local Maori ownership of the foreshore and seabed. A simple majority in Parliament removed these property rights built up by Maori tribes with coastal access over 800–1000 years. The main right removed was the one to advocate in Court for these ownership interests (where advocacy is the right to speak effectively, to argue within and not outside the acknowledged conventions of the legal system). The poem refers to Caedmon, English history, and European literature, in an attempt to draw Pakeha readers’ attention to their own literary and customary heritage. One should not explain poetry though.
In New Zealand currently there are few checks and balances on its one–house legislature since a simple majority, with the signature of the Governor General, might suspend or remove many privileges and rights of citizens without independent binding review. Luckily there was one extra check that the government could not suspend, via a United Nations Special Rapporteur who briefly embarrassed the current government by issuing a critical report in support of Maori.’