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Book: Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation

Introduction by Helen Rickerby, Managing Editor of Seraph Press

When I first started the Seraph Press Translation Series with co-editor Vana Manasiadis in 2016, our initial aim was to bring to New Zealand audiences fresh literature from other places and other languages. Vana had just returned to Aotearoa after living in Greece for almost a decade and she felt very strongly the loss of literature, especially poetry, from other languages. But we very quickly we realised that we also wanted to honour and recognise the indigenous language or this country. For that reason , the first two books, one translations from Greek and the other from Italian, also included a poem each translated into te reo Māori.

We wanted to take it further, and have a volume of poetry written by some of the many talented Māori poets, and have their work translated into te reo. We knew there was a hunger for something like this, and we wanted to help make it happen. But we couldn’t do it alone; we needed a collaborator and guide, and we were delighted when poet/playwright/translator Maraea Rakuraku agreed to join as co-editor with Vana. The two of them selected seven Māori women poets: Anahera Gildea, Michelle Ngamoki, Tru Paraha, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Maraea Rakuraku, Dayle Takitimu, Alice Te Punga Somerville and Maraea herself, and organised for one poem from each of them to be translated.

The result is Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women poets in Translation, a small, hand-bound bilingual volume, which presents the poems in English and te reo on facing pages. It isn’t a large book, but it feels like the seed of something, and it has definitely been finding an enthusiastic audience – we’ve already had to reprint several times.

These two poems are by Michelle Ngamoki (Te-Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou) and Dayle Takitimu (Te-Whānau-ā-Apanui), both poets based in Gisborne. The poets explain the background to their poems below. I chose these poems because they both start with traditional Māori forms, but turn them to contemporary subjects and contemporary purposes. A living language, a living culture.

You can You can find out more about Tātai Whetū on the Seraph Press website.

Michelle Ngamoki


Tai Pari, Tai Ope

Sister, will the land still remember You?
That She held You for a while,
above the rising tide.

Sister, will She still hear Your songs,
beneath the drumming of the waves.

Sister, will She shiver with her shame,
as her pandanus cloak is pulled aside.

Sister, will She still have her pride
while you waste away
Her taro soaked in bitter brine.

Sister, will the wind still hear 
Her pulse 
in the current of your voice.

Sister, will She long for the imprint
of your daughters,
as She felt your many mothers’.

Will she come again.
Will she know your name.


Tai Pari, Tai Ope

E te tuakana, ka maumahara rānei te whenua ki a Koe? 
Āra, i tauawhi Ia i a koe mō tētahi wā,
i runga ake i te tai pari. 

E te tuakana, ka rongo tonu Ia i Ō waiata,
i raro iho i te hāmama a ngā ngaru.

E te tuakana, ka wiriwiri tonu Ia i tōna whakamā,
i tōna kaitaka e kumea ana ki rahaki.

E te tuakana, ka mau tonu Ia ki tōna mana 
i a koe ka kōngengetia 
haruwai ana Tana taro i te wai tote. 

E te tuakana, ka rongo tonu te hau 
i tōna manawa e kakapa ana
i te au o tōu reo. 

E te tuakana, ka kōingo ia ki 
Te hāraunga o āu tamāhine,
Pērā i tāna i rongo ai i ō whaea huhua.

Ka hoki mai anō ia.
Ka mōhio ia ki tōu ingoa.

Translated by Jamie Cowell

Author’s note

This poem was written in acknowledgment of our pacific brothers and sisters affected by climate change. The rising waters are swallowing their way of life and essentially drowning the voice that is uniquely theirs.

Dayle Takitimu


The Yearning to Have You Back

The reclamation of hope (an incantation to return one to the physical realm)

My sister, come close again amongst us
In love; the sacred gift left by our ancestors who have drifted into our darkness
To you, the beloved grandchild of the mountain who (famously) would not be moved
You are Hikurangi; in your sacredness, in your spirit, in your absoluteness
Come, walk the pathway here to me, sacred descendant of Reporua
Bring with you your garden to nurture
To be nurtured, to be grown, to be formed
A guiding shoot for those who need hope, who need sustenance
That is you, who are of my heart
That is you, who holds the pulse of our ancestral homeland within you
Of our mothers before us
Of our sacred gardens
That is you, who nurtures the seeds that have been brought here to flourish
That is you, the-nurturer-of-our-sustenance, the gardener amongst us
The grower-of-love-infinite-and-divine
In your fingertips is the sustenance of the land; which is the sustenance of the heart
In your hands is the measured and ancient massage
It is you who practise the old healing
To you, Hine
Throw open (and keep open) the sacred veil of your peoples house of learning, of ancestral knowledge
To your Enchantress – Papatūānuku
Directly descending through an unbroken line of women
To us, to us gathered here
To us delving deep; it is you –
We beckon you, be renewed in all that you know
Return to us, be still
The yearning to have you back
You are me
I am you
We are each other, one being


Tau Mai Koe

Te whakamana anō i te ao wairua (te karanga hei whakatau i te wairua kia whakahokia anō ki te tinana)

E te tuahine whakapiri mai nei ki roto i a mātou
I te aroha mō ngā taonga o ngā tūpuna kua riro ki te pō nei e
E te mokopuna o te maunga e kore nei e neke, tau mai nei
E koe e Hikurangi; i tō mana, i tō ihi, i tō tapu e
Takahia mai nei e te raukura o Reporua
Mauria mai nei tō māra hei whakatipu
Hei tipu, hei tipu, hei tipu
He puāwai honore mō te pani me te rawakore
Ko koe tēnā, e taku tau
Ko koe tēnā e pupuri mai nei te mauri o te kāinga
O ō tātou kuia
O ō tātou māra tapu
Ko koe tēnā hei whakatipu i ngā kākano i tō mai
Ko koe tēnā te kaiwhakatipu māra
Kaiwhakatipu aroha
I ō matimati te oranga whenua, te oranga ngākau
I ō ringaringa te āta romiromi 
Te āta mirimiri mai nei
E Hine e
Whakatuwherahia mai nei ngā ārai tapu o tō whare wānanga
Ko tō Pou, ko Papatūānuku
Whakaheke iho mai nei i te kāwai kuia
Ki a mātou, ki a mātou
E keri ana – ko koe
Minamina mai koe, houia mai,
Tau mai nei
Tau mai koe
Ko koe, ko au
Ko au, ko koe
Arā ko tāua, kia tāua tahi e

Translated by Dayle Takitimu

Author’s note

This poem was written in the form of an ancient chant; I wrote it for my dear cousin , Keriana Barbarich, who is like a sister to me, who had suffered a major stroke and her life hung in the balance while the doctors prepared us for the worst. In our indigenous worldview she occupied the space between the living realm and the world of the ancestors. It is a known realm, and one we consider people can move through at will. Medically she was in a coma. We knew our ancestors were looking after her, but as time went on we were unsure she could find her way back to us. The chant is a call to her, to call her spirit back into her physical body and remind her of the pathway back to life. It talks of her ancient interconnection, of her sacredness and of the unique purpose she has amongst us. Despite dire odds our relation made her way back to health, and is on the pathway back to recovery. Our collective faith in her ability to heal never wavered.

Helen Rickerby is the founder and Managing Editor of Seraph Press, a boutique publisher based in Wellington that publishes high-quality literature, mainly poetry. She is also poet – her most recent collection, Cinema, was published in 2014 and her next collection, How to Live, is forthcoming from Auckland University Press later this year.

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