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Navigating the stars by Witi Ihimaera

Witi Ihimaera is an accomplished author, who listened all his early life, to his Nanny telling stories from the past. The anecdotes presented here are bigger than children’s tales told to keep children happy. These stories, like those myths from European countries like Denmark and Norway, tell of the accomplishments of the fore fathers through times past, creating images to show cultural origins. There is an element of history, and element of warning, and also threads of truth, wound together to explain the development of the universe. These stories are part of New Zealand culture, today.

This is a book the author felt he was meant to create. He spreads out a rich blend of fact, fiction, and imaginary tales, including religion and much philosophy. There is nothing stilted or stiff about the writing. It is a very contemporary view of the Creation Myths of Maori, from an authentic point of view. The book is written like a script. It is easily followed, offering opinion and philosophical answers. It invites questions and offers answers to the source of the origin of Maori from Hawaiiki.

The book reads rather like an open discussion where one can interrupt, to offer different opinions, but it outlines throughout the pages, the understanding of the basis of culture, from a modern, intelligent point of view.

Witi Ihimaera has presented the “myths” for the 21st Century, for modern readers (or listeners).

He has contemporised the themes of Maui, of Rangi and Papa, into lessons for the future. He shows how they illustrate the politics between men and women, and outlined tribal differences, and cultural practices. Environmental themes relevant to problems of today are clearly interwoven. Maori relish discussion always, and Ihimaera presents this book as an ongoing debate. He discusses the creation myth and interprets the outcomes with modern vocabulary. Little asides are typical. Describing the war between the children of Rangi he says “Things were about to get a whole lot messier.” He unashamedly presents his verbal images to illustrate points from many and varied sources. Gods from Easter Island, Kumara figurines, show interwoven thread between cultures. He covers the whole of the Pacific in his “travels.” “If you want to know where you are going you must follow the stars, for the true direction.” This is not a heavy read. It is light hearted but provocative, carrying a depth of feeling and many messages. It will appeal to younger readers, better than previous heavy tomes about the “Coming of the Maori.”

I recommend this to readers who want a fresh view of traditional Maori myths and legends, interpreted for the modern mind, as they try to understand their place in the world. The author, Witi Ihimaera, has always outlined a sense of the natural place of Maori in the islands of Aotearoa. His earliest books Pounamu, Pounamu, and The New Net Goes Fishing, were the first books putting everyday Maori experiences before the children, so they could read about themselves. He has produced successful novels which have been made into films, such as The Whale Rider.

He has been a diplomat, a teacher, worked in theatre, film and television. These skills assist with the presentation of his work here.

Reviewer: Sonia Edwards

Penguin Random House


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