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  • Vārua Tupu
  • Robert Sullivan (bio)

for Albert

The equivalent Māori phrase to the Tahitian is wairua tupu, spirit of growth. Beautiful beautiful Mā‘ohi people, tāngata whenua.

I see their images in a journal, a photo of Henri Hiro who calls on the tāngata to write! Write in English! Write in French! Write in Tahitian! Which reminds me of Ngũgĩwa Thiong’o’s challenge to change the world and of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Ogoni star dancing in the blackness of heaven and of Haunani-Kay Trask’s sharkskin rhythms calling out Pele in her people and Albert Wendt’s spiraling caul of liquid fire.

We connect ourselves with poems of struggle, hearts hammering like Martin Espada’s father, fear embraced and set free by Joy Harjo. I serve Cervantes. He sat down on his back step near 60, one-armed, two whole teeth in his head, and began to write Don Quixote, said W S Merwin as he began a reading here. Allen Curnow recited to me “I the poet William Yeats” and Robert Kroetsch read with the heart of a young man, while Margaret Atwood’s eros poems rested their wings with me. Write out the lives, write them alive, write till the fire strikes, another fire, a torch, a whakaaraara warning cry kia hiwa rā! kia hiwa rā! kia hiwa rā ki tēnei tuku! kia hiwa rā ki tēnā tuku! 1 Watch every terrace of the fortress, there’s an enemy climbing up, a blaze from heaven, kia hiwa rā! my friend. [End Page 283]

So I light a fire here in this stanza, my small room with large windows, carried from the fires on the hills and the haka fires in the poets from the processions of mysteries and lamped freeways, from history sourced in gin of the Fleet Ditch and Gordon Riots, and James Cook’s golden narratives to our own kōrero neherā, our oral bodies caressed tuku iho tuku iho down to present hands cupped to mouths as we plunge and rise in the ancestor ocean shield our eyes from bullet-train rays and think of our father Māui who planted himself and his brothers in the East who caught Tamanui the Sun after the night at the crater of the creator our mother the Earth.

Poet Henri Hiro in brotherly spirit I embrace you. Je t’embrasse. Ka awhi au i a koe e te tuakana. Moe mai moe mai moe mai rā e te tama manawawera, te tama ngākau mārie hoki. He waiata aroha, he mihi mīharo nā te kitenga o ō waiata, ō whakaaro painga mō ngā tāngata moutere. Ka haka! I turn back to the flame of life. Ka oriori au: tīhei mauri ora! 2

This poem also appears in my latest collection, Shout Ha! To the Sky (London: Salt Publishing, 2010). Vārua Tupu is the name of the French-Polynesian special issue of the American literary journal Mānoa (17:2, 2006) in which the late Henri Hiro’s work, and other indigenous Mā‘ohi writing, can be found.

Robert Sullivan

Robert Sullivan (Ngā Puhi / Kai Tahu / Galway Irish) has published seven books of poetry, a graphic novel (illustrated by Chris Slane), and a children’s book. He coedited with Albert Wendt and Reina Whaitiri the award-winning anthology Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English (2003). He is Head of School for Creative Writing at Manukau Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.


1. Be alert! Be alert! Be alert at this terrace! Be alert at that terrace!

2. I embrace you. I hug you older brother. Rest here, sleep here hot-hearted son, son of peace. A song of love, an astonished greeting at the sight of your songs, your blessed thoughts for island peoples. I haka! I turn back to the flame of life. I chant the breath of life! [End Page 284]



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pp. 283-284
Launched on MUSE
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