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Words of a Kaumatua by Haare Williams

Edited by Witi Ihimaera


Haare Williams grew up with his Tūhoe grandparents on the shores of Ōhiwa Harbour in a te reo world of Tāne and Tangaroa, Te Kooti and the old testament, of Nani Wai and curried cockle stew. Haare left this world behind when he learned English at school and moved to Auckland.


Over the last half-Century, through the Māori arts movement, waves of protest and the rise of Māori broadcasting, Williams has witnessed and played a part in the changing shape of Māoridom. Through his poetry and prose, in both te reo Māori and English, he has a unique ability to capture the wisdom of te ao Māori and the transformation of that world.


This book, edited and introduced by Witi Ihimaera, brings together Williams work to create a sort of biography of the man and his times.


As Ihimaera states in his introduction, Williams is one of our great elders, "a singular bellbird among our native language speakers, able to articulate our concerns to all who live in Aotearoa".


Williams writing allows the reader to view our reality through the dual prism of te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā. His essay On the Word Pākehā should be required reading for all.


This collection is a testament to Williams's mana and wisdom. With just a few lines he transports readers into familiar memories - Moko, a seemingly simple poem about a kuia and a small boy lying awake is magical, memory-evoking, and deeply moving.

As well as allowing us a glimpse into everyday experiences, Williams's more intellectual work is also included. Whether it's a letter to an American professor about matauranga Māori, Williams's answers to questions raised by doctors at a wananga, and his keynote speech to a group of psychotherapists about retirement, every piece is full of knowledge.


The book acts as a guiding light. Williams lights the path for all of us to do more, to be more. There are urgent calls to action to nurture our tamariki, our mokopuna. A call to "give them the star quality that can only come if they are born and brought up within our own culture here at the end of the world". Dear Te Makahi Robert - a letter to Williams grandchild on his first birthday - is simply stunning.


Notes at the end of the book offer little insights into the way Williams wants his writing to be read, or presented.


Williams writes in his acknowledgements that education "is the only antidote I know to deal with fear, helplessness and failure". Words of a Kaumatua is a master class from a kaumatua we all should all be not only listening to, but emulating.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Auckland University Press, RRP $49.99

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