When Darkness Stays by Paul Moon
Updated: Aug 30
Hohepa Kereopa and a Tuhoe Oral History.
Opening this interesting book is like overhearing a quiet conversation between two close companions, just beyond your view. The time spent in silent introspection is interspersed with extracts and reminiscences as Hohepa Kereopa shares his knowledge of the Waimana area in the Urewera forest. The author and the raconteur travel around with Hohepa sharing concepts as they pass through places. Sometimes there is conversation, other times quiet contemplation as Hohepa presents his thoughts with true Tuhoe humility and compassion.
Some snippets of history unfurl as they share thoughts about mauri, wairua and the requirements of tapu with modifications for modern day living. These are continuations of ancient traditions for the Tohunga which extend back to old Polynesia. Hohepa Kereopa was a renowned Tohunga and healer who shared his knowledge with those who were seriously searching for understanding. If serious intentions and genuine desire to understand was present then once the knowledge was held, a deeper understanding would follow, in his opinion.
This book outlines his thoughts about the need for traditional knowledge to remain important and relevant for today’s people. Concepts were shared in retrospective conversations in such a way that they were not intrusive and dogmatic but none the less powerful. Traditional practices were created for a reason: mostly to make everyday life easier and safer for the individual. When these practices (i.e. Tapu) no longer served a useful purpose it was possible to circumvent or discard them but all important community cohesion required a balance in everything undertaken. Hohepa was realistic in his view of his local society.
Comparison between ancient customs and modern day living, together with a reasoned debate for their development or replacement is presented in gentle discussion. Throughout this dissertation there is humble expression of respect for all creation and the mauri within. The elements of Mauri and Wairua are basic tenets required for understanding the stories.
Moon listened to his friend weave stories like an aunt recounting family traditions interwoven with true facts and faded fictional memories. The dissemination of knowledge took several turns: from the oral history of historic Waimana happenings to methods of teaching gardening to those returning home from the city. Emphasis was placed on the value of the state of mind of the individual during any interaction with the environment. Balance was vital…
Balance and respect for the mauri of the garden or the forest or the river. The principal of being a kaitiaki (carer) in the process brought a reminder that there were consequences and effects if sufficient care is not taken when gathering flora and fauna.
As the two men wandered through the forest points of historical interest were hinted at, with an indication of the continued importance of Maungapohatu to the Tuhoe. Hohepa gave sound reasons for the strong link between the Presbyterian Church and the Ringatu religion of the Iharaira. He mentioned the passing of Te Kooti and the evolvement of Rua Kenana as he grew to become Mihaia (Messiah) which showed the Maori combining spiritual tradition into modern liberation.
What matters, said Hohepa, is what YOU believe in within yourself: that which you have to find for yourself. In time this becomes a cultural negotiation and intellectual compromise since everything requires constant learning, moving between tradition, religion and intellectual curiosity. For some, this book will ask as many questions as it answers. It was clear that the author was searching at times for answers he could not find because he was looking on from a different culture. Hohepa Kereopa has left much for us to contemplate.
Dr Paul Moon is Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology and is the author of many books on New Zealand history, including several involving the Tuhoe Tohunga, Hohepa Kereopa.
Reviewer: Sonia Edwards
David Ling Publishing