Vaughan Rapatahana in kōrero with Marino Blank
Marino Blank: I am a descendent of the tribes of Ngāti Porou (my grandfather) and Ngāti Kahungunu (my grandmother). My mother, when quoting her descent, includes Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki. I was born in Taumaranui. My parents, Arapera and Pius Blank, were teachers. I spent my first seven years of life in Punguru on the Hokianga Harbour before my parents moved to Auckland in 1968. They bought a home in Beach Haven on the North Shore. My mother was born in Rangitukia No Rangitukia ahau. (The translation of Rangitukia is ‘where the sun strikes the sea’.)
My hoa tāne is Larry Penetito. We have one daughter Arapera Blank-Penetito. I have one sibling – Anton, my brother.
MB: My mother Arapera was a poet. She introduced me to the love of words. My father taught me how to read. Vocabulary, words, letters surrounded my early childhood. My father, a photographer, spent many hours in the dark room. I joined him developing pictures. It fascinated me watching the black and white pictures come to life in the developing fluid. My parents valued creativity.
I have a vivid memory of my mother doing the haka in the living room. She had finished a poem about man’s inhumanity to man. She wanted to celebrate. Writing was introduced to me as a normal activity. I scribble constantly. I always travel with a notebook. When I don’t have a notebook, I use my phone.
My first book, Crimson (Anton Blank Ltd), was published in 2014. Larry and I travelled with him to the Frankfurt Bookfest where it was proudly displayed on the shelves alongside my mother’s work. My mother’s book For Someone I Love included my father’s photography. My brother published his book of short stories in 2018 Global Roaming. The vision was to present a family of writers. We are that a family of writers.
MB: I started Te Reo Māori classes in 2018 at AUT. Te Reo Māori has and is a wonderful journey of self-discovery. My poetry before the courses were always in English. When in the flow of the genre the English was inadequate. I would drop reo Māori into the poem to complete it.
Te Reo Māori gave me my why. Why the rhythm of my words fit a pattern. It explained my connection to the landscape, why I take breath as I do. The eloquence of the pause. Te Reo Māori healed my core.
In 2019 my niece signed me up for a Karanga course at Carrington Unitec. I had studied the language for a year, in the doing of karanga my reo Māori poetry was birthed. My goal is to translate my first book of poetry written in English into Te Reo Māori.
MB: “I enjoy words that sparkle, whether they be Māori, my mother tongue, or English. What a privilege it is to inherit and to appreciate a language and enjoy another equally…” Those were the words my mother quoted in the forward of her first book of poetry in 1986. I want the sparkle my mother spoke of. My experience of te reo Māori happened later in life. Writing in te reo Māori brings balance to my world. It closes the gap; the language connects me to my why.
Te reo Māori is the language of Aotearoa. Speaking and writing in the language of the land builds nationhood.
I have written a vignette which puts context to the themes which surfaced in response to your questions.
Tūrangawaewae: A vignette.
Waitangi Day 2019
The best calamari salad @ Poppy’s in Whakatane
The best sweet corn pancakes @ The Emerald Hotel in Gisborne.
The hotel room looked out to the pool.
The landscape speaks, serendipity I read ‘Massey University Press publication by Deborah Shepard The Writing Life Twelve New Zealand Authors interview with Witi Ihimaera in the hotel room. His photograph displayed in the foyer. Witi, spent his school years in Gisborne the connection.
I walk the main street. Memories come to life with the scent that drifts from the sea. Lists of provisions are discussed in Rangitukia with my grandmother. I am seated on a high stool in the kitchen. She is seated at the table, with my mother. My brother Anton, mother Arapera and I stay with my grandmother in the summer holidays. The kitchen at Whataamo bustles with life. My mother, her eleven siblings and cousins filled my grandmother’s kitchen, breakfasts served in five sittings. Whataamo, seventy hectares of pastoral land edges to the sea. The lists of provisions are to be bought in Gisborne a two-hour drive away from Rangitukia. It was hot, it was humid, it was busy.
I am awake in the night. Stirred by an energy, the energy of belonging, the energy of knowing, the knowledge of being.
The scent of the landscape lingers on the drive to Te Puia Springs. My brother Anton and I are visiting to my Aunty Keri who lives there at the hospital, iwi owned. We visit, she is seated, she is well, she is dressed to greet visitors. There is dignity, there is laughter, there is wit. Seated with my Aunt in the porch, a breeze flows, the spirit of my ancestors feed my soul. I am whole.
[Tūrangawaewae – place where one has rights of residence through kinship and whakapapa.]
This vignette fits with the poem ‘Memory’ (below) which was written after I read the book Tohunga. There was a section that talked about the tohunga for Ngāti Kahungunu. The voyage to Aotearoa was accompanied by the tohunga familiar, an owl. That is the foretelling described in the poem, and why the owl in this poem is associated with the sea.
I have sunk myself into the world of nothingness
It is here that I move on the whisper of wind.
I have sunk myself into the colour of nothingness
the call of the morepork travelling the ocean
the sound foretelling
the sun’s first strike at the sea
I fly the world of nothingness
carried in silence
on wings fashioned by the breath of the beginning
I began in the world of nothingness
The world before dawn
Within the consciousness
of knowing the first child
I return to the world of nothingness
Before the beginning
Before the electricity of life that pricks my fingers