Chapter 2



The wailing kuia are dressed in black and their heads are adorned with crowns of woven leaves.

The women cluster outside Te Niho-o-te-Atiawa and call with graceful sweeps of their hands, shaking branches of kawakawa. The leaves tremble, dropping dew as if they hold tears within. Across the paepae the people of Parihaka invite the manuhiri to join them.

The breeze picks up the call and carries it above the heads of the mourners, sweeping through the trees, over tussock-grass and up the mountain to dance with the diadem of cloud around the mountain peak. It balances on the snow-tipped pinnacle and hovers before sweeping down the ranges and out to sea, where it rides the waves’ whitecaps and curls in to the shore. The call slips up the coast and returns to Parihaka.

Inside Te Niho-o-te-Atiawa kawakawa leaves cling to branches that are the colour of congealed blood. The branches hang at the entrance to the wharenui and around the windows. They are also laid around the casket. Blood-like fluid runs through the arrow-shaped membrane connecting every leaf to its stem. Sophie can smell the kawakawa on the skin of the tūpāpaku: woody, eucalyptus, cinnamon, antiseptic, pungent and leafy.

Earlier that week an entourage of 10 cars carrying the coffin and heavy-hearted travelling companions had arrived at Te Niho-o-te-Atiawa. When the entourage had arrived it was as if the world drew in a breath then released it with the banging of car doors.

Hāre had been grey and drawn. His eyes swept over the mourners but saw nothing. He closed his eyes and the sun brushed his eyelids and shimmered off the graying hair at his temples. With an effort he pushed his stooping body from the car and joined those who were designated to lift the casket and carry it to its resting place. Each man carried his part of the burden with stoicism, moving in to the warm embrace of Te Niho-o-te-Atiawa.

With their arms around each other and eyes looking down, Mere, Serena and Sophie followed. Beneath their feet the grass absorbed their footprints then sprang back. Just before they entered Te Niho, Sophie looked to Mount Taranaki and stumbled. Mere lifted her. Then it was Mere’s turn to stumble. Serena and Sophie held her close, their touching bodies acknowledging the generations separating them. For each one there was a new layer of softness.

'Auē e tangi nei au,' Mere moaned, her lips touching Sophie’s ear, her breath whispering against Sophie’s skin, soft, feathering. Their embrace intensified and they entered Te Niho-o-te-Atiawa, which was like a cocoon that embraced them with its coolness, its salving coolness, and its wairua.

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