Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Blood in the Kava Bowl - Epeli Hauʻofa

In the twilight we sit drinking kava
from the bowl between us.
Who we are we know and need not say
for the soul we share came from Vaihi.
Across the bowl we nod our understanding
of the line that is also our cord
brought by Tangaloa from above,
and the professor does not know.
He sees the line but not the cord
for he drinks the kava not tasting its blood.
And the kava has risen, my friend, drink,
and smile the grace of our fathers at him who says
we are oppressed by you, by me,
but it’s twilight in Vaihi and his vision is clouded.

The kava has risen again, dear friend, take this cup.
Ah, yes, that matter of oppression—
from Vaihi it begot in us unspoken knowledge
of our soul and our bondage.
You and I hold the love of that inner mountain
shrouded in mist and spouting ashes spread by the winds
from Ono-i-Lau, Lakemba, and Lomaloma
over the soils of our land,
shaping those slender kahokaho and kaumeile
we offer in first-fruits to our Hau.
And the kava trees of Tonga grow well,
our foreheads on the royal toes!
The Hau is healthy, our land’s in fine,
fat shape for another season.

The professor still talks
of oppression that we both know,
yet he tastes not the blood in the kava
mixed with dry waters that rose to Tangaloa
who gave us the cup from which we drink
the soul and the tears of our land.
Nor has he heard of our brothers who slayed Takalaua
and fled to Niue, Manono, and Futuna
to be caught in Uvea by the tyrant’s son
and brought home under the aegis of the priest of Maui
to decorate the royal congregation and to chew for the king
the kava mixed with blood from their mouths,
the mouths of all oppressed Tongans,
in expiation to Hikule‘o the inner mountain
with an echo others cannot hear.

And the mountain spouts ancestral ashes
spread by the winds from Ono-i-Lau, Lakemba, and Lomaloma
over the soils of our land, raising fine yams,
symbols of our manhood, of the strength of our nation,
in first-fruits we offer to our Hau.
The mountain also crushes our people,
their blood flowing into the royal ring
for the health of the Victor and of Tonga;
the red waters from the warm springs of Pulotu
only you and I can taste,
and live in ancient understanding begat by Maui in Vaihi.

The kava has risen, my brother,
drink this cup of the soul and the sweat of our people,
and pass me three more mushrooms which grew in Mururoa
on the shit of the cows Captain Cook
brought from the Kings of England and France!

Epeli Hauʻofa (1939 – 2009) Tonga (born in Papua Territory)
Source: Project Muse
  • This poem was originally published in Mana Review 1(2) (1976):21–22.
  • Tangaloa and Maui are well-known Polynesian gods
  • Vaihi (Hawaiki) is the legendary ancestral homeland.
  • The kahokaho and the kaumeile were long yams sent as first-fruit tributes to the Tu‘i Tonga, the semidivine ruler.
  • Orators refer to the monarch as the “Hau.”
  • Takalaua, the twenty-third Tu‘i Tonga, was killed by two men, whom his son caught, took to a special kava ceremony, forced to chew the dry roots of the kava plant for the king’s kava bowl, and then had butchered for distribution to the assembled chiefs of the realm.
  • Pulotu, the paradise, was presided over by Hikule‘o, the goddess of fertility, whose earthly representative, the Tu‘i Tonga, received (on her behalf) the annual first-fruit tribute.
  • To Pulotu (and hence to Hikule‘o) went the souls of dead chiefs, and from Pulotu came the great long yams—the sons of Tonga.

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