Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 4, December 2011

Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand



cutting flax
for weaving
a tattooed Maori
sharpens knife
and machete

My friend and I spend the morning preparing and when he arrives the wheelbarrow is positioned beside the garden, together with spades, forks and buckets. It all looks like a picture. When he's finished his work in the garden, he cleans the knives and loads the flax onto his trailer. His mother-in-law helps us make tea and spread scones with butter and homemade strawberry jam as we gossip about people we know and family connections.

almost summer
a flock of sparrows
fossick for worms
in the newly dug patch
beneath the flax

between leaves
in a beam of sunlight
the buzz of insects
among scented purple
lavender heads

The old kuia tells us she is related to my friend's husband as she is a descendant of Captain Gilbert Mair, a Scottish soldier who fought against her ancestors in the Maori Wars. When fighting broke out at Tauranga in 1867, Mair volunteered. He took a leading role in campaigns against Te Kooti and was promoted to captain. Later he commanded an irregular contingent of loyalist Maori which became known as the "Arawa flying column." Mair affectionately referred to the flying column as his "forty thieves." During his military career, Mair displayed initiative and reckless courage. He was particularly skilled in guerrilla tactics. He had many children, several by Maori women. She tells us their names, tracing out the constellations like a dot-to-dot puzzle.

We search through my friend's family tree which is kept in a book about Gilbert Mair, with photos of him with his various wives and children. The lady is also related to the Frasers, a Scottish clan from Banffshire. I've a connection with the Frasers as I've a friend from the same area who emigrated to Canada.

She promises to return one day and continue having a "chinwag" and invites us to come and visit her marae some time soon, where she will show us her woven kete, flowers, knapsacks, birds and hats.


Kuia—old woman

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki (Gisborne, New Zealand, 1832–1891)—a Māori leader, a guerrilla warrior, and later founder of the Ringatu religion.

Marae—meeting house


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