Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Chathams

We are here! It took 27 hours of travel time, but we finally landed on the misty isle and ran directly from plane to van in the sideways rain and slammed the door shut. It's cold and wet, but most of all, it's windy. Just as I had expected! Our room is in an old inn built in 1870, but the windows and bathroom are new--which turned out to be good, since the wind howled and screamed and tried its best to sneak in through gaps. By morning, after a good, long sleep, we woke up to...fog and wind and rain.

Yesterday, our first real day here, we went to the Kopangi Marai (the meeting house of the Moriori). I had no idea it existed until on our way here, so I was excited and nervous. We were welcomed by the only Ieriki (Chieftain and Elder), named Mana, who first welcomed us, brought us to the long post in the center of the octagonal room, and began chanting in Moriori. He welcomed us to the House of Peace, as it is called, and then spoke to the ancestors on our behalf. The entire time, I tried to imagine him as an Ieriki in the 1830s, dressed in an albatross feather cloak, singing out a welcome. Then, Mana took us to a wooden plank hung vertically in one corner and told us about himself and the building. Then he gave us a chance to speak, and I told him about why we were there (for my book, naturally). Then he took us around the room to each plank in each corner, and told us about the styles of carvings and how each represented a long-gone ancestor (and in a few cases, some ancestors yet-to-be). We spent hours there, talking. Well, actually, Jim and I were listening, Mana was speaking, and Elizabeth was running around the place with a large plastic robot she found in the toy box.

Today, we rented a car and drove around the island. We had planned to go to Te Awapatiki, the mouth of the big lagoon, but it's a 6 km trek across peat, and since it was still raining, our hosts kindly suggested we forego that idea. So we drove around and saw the island. It's easier if I list what we saw:
1. rolling green hills, polka-dotted in sheep (and nearly half were lambs)
2. black swans (not native birds)
3. a tiny Anglican church built 150 years ago or so
4. lots and lots of wetland, peat, lakes, and streams
5. wind-beaten ocean waves in turquoise and lapiz
6. doubled-over evergreen trees
7. a grove of kopi trees, and a dozen or more dendroglyphs
8. basalt colums beaten by the sea
9. Hokopoi (a crucial hill in my novel)
10. Whangaroa Harbor (where my heroine is from), nestled by cliffs and protected from the wind a bit
11. a serene beach with sky-blue waves (too bad it's a frosty day)
12. a rusting minesweeper left to rot in the inlet
13. the grave of the last Moriori and his statue

Then we rushed back to the hotel and had tea. It's called tea, but it's actually dinner, which was a bit of confusion the first night.

Tomorrow, I plan to stay inside and read read read the historical books I've found in the inn's library. (They have out-of-print books with critical anthropological and historical info that I can't find anywhere else.) Then, with Elizabeth and Jim outside, I'll sit at my desk and write write write. There are some things I've got to change, now that I know better.



Anonymous said...

yay! i'm so thrilled you got ther safely and are soaking it all in for the novel. we met today at my house and thought about you! happy travels! can't wait to read more and see fotos. cindy

Kelly said...


This trip is right up your alley- a fascinating adventure! I hope the weather got better for you. Wind and rain and cold are never good combos- it's not unlike England in the Winter time. When do you return? I was thinking you might be back already. Miss talkin to ya.