Potiki – Patricia Grace

Chosen by Suzy

Potiki tells the story of land developers who have their eye on coastal Māori land for commercial development with no understanding of the community’s needs or of their strong connection to the land.

The multi-narrator tale details the growing concerns of Māori and their attempts to quietly refuse the developers. Several sets of eyes offer different perspectives, from a jobless man who trusts in the land to provide all he needs, and his spiritually connected and disabled son, but mainly via his wife Roimata who documents events in a calm and reasoned manner.

This family is just one part of the loving and supportive community that is the crux of the book. Whatever their skills or status, strengths or weaknesses, no one in this extended whanau is insignificant; everyone is valued.

The book’s power in relating myths of generations past to modern political realities still resonants with readers today. Yet when released in the 1980s the book was considered controversial, in part because of its unashamed and untranslated use of Te Reo.

Potiki won the NZ Book Awards prize in 1987, the same year Te Reo Māori became an official language of New Zealand.

We have known what it is to have had a gift, and have not ever questioned from where the gift came, only sometimes wondered. The gift has not been taken away because gifts are legacies, that once given cannot be taken away. They may pass from hand to hand, but once held they are always yours. The gift we were given is with us still.

Potiki was a beautifully written novel and while it had a gentle rhythm that really pulled me in, there were acts of extreme violence amongst the depictions of family unity and community togetherness. It was a very grounding read and somewhat of a balm amongst the pre-Christmas busyness. – Suzy.

❝ Our painful racist history is a theme in Potiki but it’s the strength, resilience and aroha of the whanau that is heart warming and inspiring in this story of a seaside community and their strong connection to their land and determination to keep it. I was reminded once again about the importance of land to Māori. The spiritual aspect was interesting with Toko being a sort of prophet for the group. Patricia Grace has a way of making you feel like you are there in the garden, by the sea and in the wharenui which provides a nice bit of escapism when you can transport yourself to another place. Hard to believe it was so controversial when it was released as it seems to tell an important story related to common events of the time. – Jo

Potiki is an attractive book to read because of its power of connection, to whanau and friends, to the spiritual world but in particular to the whenua. It’s a very New Zealand book in terms of its relationships and calm considerations to hierarchy and power. Rather than have a focus on appointing blame, Grace instead gives affected parties a voice and encourages the reader to determine their own position on a topic that has and will continue to make headlines, for connection with and ownership of land is a powerful force. Potiki is a timeless tale and should have been required reading in secondary schools from the time it was written, as far as I’m concerned. – Rachel


Published 1988
Penguin Books
192 pages

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