His Koru, Her koru
The place is so majestic that we’ve been walking around for hours. We’ve seen lakes with the weirdest shade of pale neon green water, watched as a geyser was made to erupt, found the Champagne pool with the bright orange edge, and I stared at it for so long while Em was taking a thousand photographs.
We are nearing the end of the tour as we reach a patch of native forest. There are little signs with the name and description of some of the trees and plants, and I read them all as we make our way through the narrow path between them. The trunks are covered in moss, from bright green, to deep ivy, and there’s also all kinds of mushrooms and lichen growing around the trees. The place feels magical, and I think it’s all so fascinating, that I keep finding myself staring at things like a piece of bright orange lichen covering a tree branch, or a tiny red mushroom that I find hidden between the shrubs of the understory.
There are also ferns all over the place, the most commonly known plant of this nation. It’s also the one used as a symbol of the country. Around them, there’s plenty of cabbage trees, which are some sort of short palms with spiky tops. They make a good pair, as they seem to always grow one close to the other. The sign tells me they’re called Tī kōuka in Maori.
There are plenty of different trees, and I read the signs for the Totara, the Kohekohe, the Rimu and the Tawa before I find one about the Kauri: “Agathis Australis. This is the largest coniferous tree of New Zealand, and is among the most ancient trees in the world.” I run my hand down the smooth trunk, thinking that something about it feels oddly familiar. That's when I remember why.
“This tree is named like my grandad,” I tell Em. “Well, I guess my grandad was actually named after the tree,” I correct myself.
“Oh, wow,” Em approaches me and reads the sign. “Your grandad was named Kauri?”
“It was his middle name, actually, his full name was Mikaere Kauri Tutaki.” I explain.
I look at the sign for a little moment while Em reads, and then we start walking away slowly, resuming our tour around this majestic landscape.
“I wonder if Mikaere is the name of another plant or something,” I say as I daydream a little. I’ve found myself looking up the meaning of so many maori words in the last couple of days that I feel like I might have been a little obsessive about it.
“I can look it up,” Em says as she pulls her phone out.
She starts typing, and I can see she's doing an online search. As we keep walking, she looks back up at me.
“This is pretty cool, it says that Mikaere means ‘who is like God’.” Then she frowns as she keeps scrolling.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Oh, I’m just trying to understand this, I looked up Kauri as well, and it’s showing me pictures of the tree and stuff, and then I read Tane’s name,” she says as she glances at me.
“Uhm,” I try to pretend like she doesn’t fully have my attention for mentioning his name as I keep walking and letting my eyes dart around the forest. But after she doesn’t say anything else for a moment, I can’t stop myself from asking, “So?”
“It just picked my attention,” she says as she shrugs, “I’m running a search on that now, give me a moment,” she explains, and I lean over to look at the screen over her shoulder. “It looks like there’s a huge Kauri up in the North of the Island,” she reads. “Which is the biggest one of them all, and they call it Tane Mahuta. That’s funny, that Tane is named after a tree, or maybe a tree is named after Tane,” she comments.
“Uhm,” I say again.
She keeps scrolling, and I try not to make it too obvious that I’m trying to read over her shoulder. I’m tempted to get my own phone out and look it up myself, but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? I’m sure it’s a super common name.
“Oh, listen to this,” she says after a minute. “So, this tree is also known as the God of the Forest, or Lord of the Forest. And do you know why they call it Tane Mahuta?”
She looks at me, and I shrug as I lift my palms up. “Dunno,” I say.
“Tane is the name of the God of the Forest, and the tree was named after him for being the biggest one of its kind.” She explains.
“Well, that’s pretty interesting,” I say begrudgingly.
We keep walking along the trees, and I think we’re almost nearing the end of the tour, but I can tell Em’s still distracted with her phone, and I don’t think she’s researching anymore, as she’s typing a lot.
“What are you up to?” I ask as I poke over her shoulder again.
“Nothing!” She yelps as she twirls so I can’t look at her phone.
“What are you hiding?” I ask.
“Nothing at all,” she says a bit too quickly. “Here, look, I was just reading,” she says as she shows me an article about Maori mythology.
“What is that?” I ask. “If you were really reading it, tell me what it is about.” I say as I lift up a defiant eyebrow. I’m so certain she was doing something else, I wonder if she’s texting someone.
“It’s the story of... the origin of the Universe... according to... Maori legends,” she says as she glances at her phone a few times.
“You have no idea what it says!” I blurt.
“Not true!” She yelps as she laughs a little, “It says that it all started with Ranginui, the father, and Papatuanuku, the mother,” she tells me, clearly reading from the screen. “When the world started,” she keeps going, “They were together as one, joined in an embrace so tight, that there was little light between them. The world was shrouded in obscurity,” she says as she tries to use a deep and dramatic voice that makes me laugh a little.
“You’re a dork,” I say as I shake my head. But Emma keeps reading in her narrator voice.
“And right there in between them, lay their children. Rangi and Papa had many children; all of them were male, and all of them would become... Gods! Uhhhh” At this, Em waves her arms in front of my face and then starts running around me.
“Stop it, Emma Alexandra! You’re being so silly,” I say, but I’m laughing so badly that I’m crying a little. Em composes herself and goes back to prancing beside me as she keeps reading.
“It says the brother’s weren’t all happy about this living situation, I mean, I know I would’ve hated living trapped in darkness. So they started discussing what to do… Oh, wow,” she adds as she glances up at me. “One of them suggested they kill their parents, and not surprisingly, he turned into the God of war. But it looks like they decided on separating them instead. The God named Tane was the one to do the deed.”
“Uhm,” I say once more, feeling like I’m turning into a humming machine. Emma glances up at me, and uses that deep melodramatic voice again.
“He laid against his mother’s womb, and using all of his strength, he pushed against his father with both of his feet. He strained, and struggled, but eventually, Rangi was pushed high enough, and turned into the sky. This is why he is known as Rangi, father sky. And Papa -Mother Earth- stayed where she was, lying on the bottom... The whole world was now between them.” She finishes with a somber tone.
Silence stretches between us, an eerie feeling pricking the back of my neck, until I can’t handle it anymore.
“That’s actually a pretty good story,” I mutter. For some reason, I find myself somehow drawn to it. “This is so much more interesting than the things we heard in school about Jesus and all that.” I say, making Emma laugh.
We’re almost to the end of the track, and then Em yelps again.
“Look, this here looks like your necklace!” She says happily.
There’s a photo of a spiraled pounamu, just like mine, next to an image of a fern’s frond. I read the text next to the images: A new unfurling fern frond is an integral symbol in Maori art, and it’s known as Koru. It symbolises new life, growth, strength and peace.
I let the words sink in as I absently trace my thumb around the surface of my pounamu. My Koru. I look down at it, and think about the peaceful effect that it has on me. It’s weird to finally know it’s meaning, so I reread the words once more, slowly, letting them all sink in.
Maybe this is a new beginning after all. I feel like this journey has already changed me in so many ways. I have grown to understand my roots a little better, even if not much yet, but being in the process of doing so already makes me feel better about who I am.
I remind myself that apart from being Samantha Sky, I am also Samantha Tutaki. A girl that was born in a magical looking country, full of amazing places like this one I’m standing on right now. With a rich culture that I’m so glad to be able to soak in.
A place with people that have made me feel accepted, part of something. Even if my interactions with locals have been few and scattered, there is one for sure that has been special... That has made something in my chest wake back up... That has made me want to try again, even if I’m still scared... Even if I’m still full of doubts.
Em’s words resonate in my brain.
You now, love doesn’t always need to last forever.
“Come on, Sam, let’s keep going!” Em yells from a few feet ahead.
“Coming!” I yell back as I turn away from the sign.
This time, instead of putting my Koru back under my sweater, I leave it out, and run over to join my friend.