This is a story about a boy who is Māori. His name is Kotahitanga. He is ten years old and lives in the Urewera. He hasn’t had much exposure to tauiwi, which is the name people give to those who came second to this land.
One day a Pākehā hunting group arrive and set up camp. Kotahitanga and his friends gather around to watch. The Pākehā get out their kai and a part of that kai is a loaf of sliced bread, wrapped in that cellophane stuff they used to use in those days. Kotahitanga’s eyes are riveted to the spot.
And there is was – magic! Kotahitanga’s heart lurched right up into his throat. He swallowed noisily, his eyes trying to take it in. A loaf of bread. Wrapped. Through the cellophane he could see the bread. It was already cut into slices, each slice a perfect match for the next. He couldn’t believe his eyes – how could somebody manage to do that? Was each piece measured, or what? – what sort of knife did those Pākehā have to use for that? Auē, man, would he ever love to possess that bread.
He gulped. A plan, that was it. That was what he needed.
The Pākehās wanted to go hunting. Would Kotahitanga and his mates come tomorrow and show them the places to go?
‘Āe, we’ll come first thing.’
Five o’clock in the morning, on the very next day, Kotahitanga and his group arrive. Ha, what’s that noise? Sounds like snoring. They open the tent flap and peep in – and there are the Pākehās, flat on their backs, mouths open, empty whisky bottles nearby.
The boys kick the ground in disgust.
‘Koretake – useless – come on, we’ll go and shoot us a poaka.’
This day they are lucky and manage to shoot two pigs. They sling them on their backs and ride back to camp.
It’s nine o’clock, ehē! – the Pākehās are only just beginning to rise.
‘Hullo, what you got there?’
‘Ngā poaka. Oh, couple of pigs – you want them?’
‘Yeah, sure, thanks – we’ll take them off you. Anything you boys would like?’
Kotahitanga tried to quell his noisy intake of breath. He shuffled his feet and gazed nonchalantly at the ground. Cleared his throat.
‘Oh well, if you fellas don’t want that bread that’d be okay.’
Auē, then came the words – mana to his taringa.
‘Sure thing, mate, help yourself.’
The parāoa, his taonga, his treasure. The joy of his mana knew no bounds. His heart soared up to Ranginui and down to Papatūānuku at the same time. Truly he was blessed.
He and his mates took the bread and rode off to their special place. They opened up the packet. Kotahitanga’s share was four pieces. He patted the bread. He measured each slice against the next. He lay down on the ground and held the bread up to Ranginui. He placed the bread on the grass to show Papatūānuku. He smelt the bread and held it next to his mouth; but never, never did he take a bite.
He then placed the bread in his tin. His mates? Well, they scoffed their bread down pretty quick.
Kotahitanga? Every day he opened his tin and studied that bread. It grew mouldy. Then it went black and then it crumbled into dust and disappeared.
And still now the mana and the joy of that taonga lights up the eyes of the koroua, the old man who recounts it.