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Aria by Jessica Hinerangi

Reading Aria is like opening ones eyes for the first time. Being able to experience the world fresh and new again, to ‘see’ past what is directly in front of you and to apply a lens to that which we had previously taken for granted. Such is the joy of experiencing (both the good and the bad) writings from different perspectives.

Despite being of Māori decent, it was a revelation to read these lines with that indigenous mindset and to recognise the process of colonisation in a new and distinct way.

As in the poem Reading Ranginui Walker in rāhui

‘Don’t forget to Reuse Reduce Recycle,’ we were told

in school assemblies, while the government reused

our koru, reduced our reo, and recycled our people

into a workforce that rubbed away at their wairua

like sandpaper on the tongue

(Reading Ranginui Walker in rāhui)

At the back of the collection is a ‘kupu Māori’ section which acts as a kind of glossary for the words used in te reo Māori in the poems and the meanings therein. It is not meant to be a direct translation - and te reo Māori is much more nuanced than that at the best times - but it assists in the meanings of the poems.

Many of the ideas presented in this collection are grounded in a sense of displacement. A longing to rekindle what has been lost by Hinerangi, and indeed many other modern Māori. It is about seeking and finding, of looking and exploring, of holding on and letting go. The disconnect that she feels in the stories that she tells will have a resonance with many, Māori and non Māori.

In curating these thoughts and concepts, Hinerangi is imploring others to follow her on similar journeys of discovery. To use matauranga Māori as a guiding principle, one which encompasses all heritages. Without doubt it is one of the more powerful debut collections in Aotearoa New Zealand poetry.

One stand out is certainly Land Back which, through a repeated chorus of ‘Land Back’ explores what it means to be tangata tiriti in modern Aotearoa New Zealand, and sets a wero (a challenge) to those who may not be able to comprehend its meaning:

Can you name the local iwi?

Land Back.

Do you talk to the local iwi?

Land Back.

Signs at tourist hot spots explain gold-mining history

but don’t mention whapapa Māori

(Land Back)

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Auckland University Press


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