He Mihi: ki a Christine Harvey, tohunga tā moko 2014.
There have been many changes in this process for me, none more so than seeing a story emerge onto my arms from within; from the day I sat down with John that afternoon last year and the conversation turned to his tatau, to this day when mine will be completed. I knew as I drove out to the studio at North Beach that this was when we would make an end to what was begun on my skin several weeks ago; but also, what was beginning for me, now I had become a member of the skin talkers, people who say something about themselves, for whatever reason, by submitting to tatau/moko/tattoo.
I am very much aware of fashion and its ebbs and flows; of self-harm; of narcissism; of all the many objections that can be raised against the marking of one’s body with permanent images and words. But I know too that sometimes, when we least expect it, a door opens and we have decide, will I go through? It did open and I have entered. For me, it is a similar step to when I adopted my middle name, “Paparoa”, living in London in 1993, wanting to acknowledge my Pākehā identity and my deep subliminal debt to Māori over an immigrant life lived from the age of three to forty as part of the culture of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Tatau was another embrace: a mihi to tangata Pasifika, a recognition that as a waka person, a child who had sailed across the Atlantic in 1950, through the Panama Canal, across the South Pacific all the way to Wellington to these islands, I was a Pacific person too, Palangi and Pākehā, English, Welsh and whatever else my genes made me in the whare tangata, in my mother’s womb. I am sure more will be revealed along the way, but for now, this is enough. The pictures tell the story of the last day with Christine and her marvelous whānau of home-schooled tamariki.
I look back on this twenty four hours and a new life later, from the first words: tatau. I know this will be part of me now until I die. Christine Harvey is a great artist and I cannot conceive of having anyone else do this work on my body and into my soul. We had some marvelous kōrero over the time, and yesterday was especially sweet. I told her she is ngawari: gentle, teachable, open to experience and ideas, yet firm in her determination. Whaia te maramatanga, e hoa, kihai i mau i te pouri – follow the Light of the World, my friend, the darkness has never overcome it.
Now I leave this part of the journey with the taste of pikelets made by her daughters for the after-time when we talk and laugh around the table; with the furry feel of Theo the rabbit, offered to me for a cuddle; with the knowledge that this whānau is standing strong in their Māoritanga. Tama tū, tama ora, Hine tū, hine ora!
I leave too with a renewed vision of my parents, especially at this time, my father, who came unsuspecting into this world in 1922 and left it bruised and battered by life fifty years later. E te papa, haere rā, e te heremana, rere atu rā!