Saturday 4 January 2014

Albion to Aotearoa

THE LITTLE GIRL in this picture is my maternal grandmother Lois Florymel Thorn Hunter (née Shutes), with her parents Elsie and Arthur (and a bear). It was taken a century ago in 1913 in Cornwall where my great grandfather was mining tin. Lois was born in New Zealand, as was my mother. And now I write from just outside a Stannary Town in the West Country where the mined tin would have been brought to be weighed and valued, preparing to make a journey of my own to the other side of the world where it is summer now, to the land of my mothers - New Zealand!

This is how I remember my grandmother Lois; she died ten years ago aged 93, and her ashes were scattered off the headland of the subtropical idyllic Northland coast she lived on and loved so well, and where I remember blissful days swimming as a girl when our family visited her there.

This will be our first holiday together, a celebration of Tom's graduation - his long studies in acupuncture having taken him every week of our relationship away to Reading, and at the end of it now we carry a huge backlog of deep tiredness. Our usual trips away involve lugging heavy damp canvas, driving the A-roads, storytelling, stallholding, a vanful of muddy belongings, and returning home tireder than when we left. Perhaps I've reached some mysterious age when you suddenly yearn to swim in turquoise seas and warm your cold moor-drenched bones with tropical sun. But also, this is a journey for me to see half of my family - antipodean cousins I last saw when we were children, and aunts and uncles and all the long-reaching southern circle of my family's web. It is to be an adventure and a rest and a re-weaving. I sit by the fire in this cottage on the edge of Dartmoor as the winter rains and winds lash these hills incredulous and nervous and excited about our long leap to other greener summer hills in less than a fortnight. We also travel from Middle Earth around the earth to Middle Earth, as these beloved Dartmoor rivers, tors, forests and mossy undulations were direct inspiration for our artist neighbour Alan Lee's conjuring of Tolkien's world. And for the last decade almost he's been in New Zealand re-conjuring Middle Earth for cinema, from which have grown new generations who now think of New Zealand as land of Hobbits and Elves. So we'll find both a familiarity and a strangeness in the land where my mother grew up on a remote and wild farm under the watchful volcanic presence of Mount Taranakiher mountain.

We have my great aunt Una and uncle Ed to thank for the wonderful gift of this unimaginable adventure, as they paid for our flights, hoping to see me again whilst they're still on this earth! Una is Lois's younger sister, and a valued reader of this blog! We cannot thank them enough for this gift of a journey.

And we go too to the land of the people who were there living in relationship with it before my ancestors arrived to take it from them, and who are also now fighting against the fracking of their beloved land as we are here, even in the beautiful national park and underneath that incredible mountain Taranaki. 

Captain Cook's map of New Zealand from 1770, with Maori-sounding names for the North and South Islands
(actually Te Ika a Maui for the North and Te Waipounamu for the South)
, and English place names
A map of the two islands of Aotearoa - artist unknown

My name has roots in this far off land - Rima is Maori for five or a hand:

1 Tahi
2 Rua
3 Toru
4 Whā
5 Rima
6 Ono
7 Whitu
8 Waru
9 Iwa
10 Tekau

We will be away for two whole months, stopping in Fiji on our way back to visit my mother's sister and her family who live there. I imagine I'll not be online much, though an occasional blog post may sneak through depending on internet and inclination.  My etsy shop will be closed until I return (in the spring!) when I plan to reopen it stocked with new wares. I'll take my camera and sketchbooks with me into the land of Pohutukawa tree and Bellbird, of white sand and blue water, of volcanic mountain and hot spring, of ancestor and adventure...

I leave you for now, with a handful of questions to those of you living in New Zealand...
We'd be very grateful for any recommendations of interesting artful and wild places to visit, eco-communities, artists, storytellings, activists, multi-bed acupuncture clinics, festivals and the suchlike... I also have an accordion-dilemma: I don't think I can take my accordion with me as it won't fit in my hand luggage and I don't want to risk putting it in the hold, but I'll be bereft for two months without it. This is an extreme longshot, but do any of you know where/if in NZ I could borrow or hire a B-System chromatic button accordion such as I (and the Russians and Yugoslavians) play?! 

This beautiful carving is a Maori door lintel or pare, carved in c. 1850 for the door of a meeting house. It shows a typical lintel-image of the Earth Mother Papatuanuka giving birth to all the gods of the land and sky on which she stands.

We go now through this mother-doorway from Albion to Aotearoa - land of the white cliffs to Land of the Long White Cloud...