I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.
Here's the fourth batch, from Team Aoraki, on Patricia Grace's Potiki:
Ryan leads off:
I had studied in New Zealand last year and from that was immersed in Maori culture and history. The entire nation is bent on informing everyone about the Maori people, European Colonialism and present day racial struggles. Although New Zealand is still far from being a perfect example of cultural inclusion and race relations, they have gone to great efforts to inform both travelers and themselves of their history.
Having such a readily available wealth of knowledge while in New Zealand, I was surprised by the lack of information here in the United States. There were no critical essays relating to this specific novel of Patricia Grace’s. There was also a lack of information on the Maori people in general that left me resorting to old notes and books that I had acquired while in New Zealand.
Having noted this lack of information, I think what I learned most from this activity was that each country is very much concerned with the specific cultural and racial tensions that exist in each society within that country. The issues of a specific arena of race relations may not be pertinent to one country as they are to another. Giving Potiki the proper context for a reader who is at best vaguely familiar with the struggles taking place in New Zealand is difficult. The themes present in this novel--family, tradition, land and community--are universal but the context they take place within are wholly unique to the people grappling with these issues in Potiki. Although this lesson served as an introduction to “place” and identity in New Zealand, it also served to show just how difficult it is to create a dialogue when the material is very foreign and drenched in cultural nuances that can never be fully explained or taught.
By reading Patricia Grace's novel Potiki, I was able to better understand how it would feel to have your own home and culture be taken away from you. The novel did not seem as much directed towards the sense of conflict and ambush, but more towards the sense of culture and its people. Grace expressed to us what life was like for this small family or group of people. Roimata took the motherly role, encouraging others to tell their stories. Many details that were shown throughout the stories of these people included bites of the New Zealand culture. For example, Toko told the big fish story which directly relates to a spiritual story of the New Zealanders' past time, and also stories during the prologue express a variety of beliefs pertaining to sculpture and maturation among this culture. Grace allows us to easily access the personalities, and whole-to-part feelings about this place as a whole. She shows us that we also have connections with the people from this place. We can relate to some aspects of these people's lives, and that to which we have a harder time relating she has given us readable, or translatable, yet precise wording to let our minds seep into the lives of the characters. To further our experience with this book, she has not only let us into the minds of the characters and their culture but she has also indirectly asked us to question our own personal beliefs. Grace suggests that we contemplate whether or not we feel that places where cultures have been born and lived should be destroyed for more luxurious things. Is it right for people to destroy something that is of grave importance to another culture just so that they can enjoy themselves, and their own culture, better?
Reading Patricia Grace’s Potiki and focusing on the aspect of storytelling in the novel opened up a vast array of ideas to me. From the focus on this subject, the reading changed for me, looking at what the author may have wanted to do in presenting her material the way she did. I not only focused on the content of the novel through this, of which storytelling is a major theme of the entire novel, but also the form and storytelling aspects Grace herself used, in order to possibly bring the reader into a more storied approach to the novel.
Looking at the three sections of the book, I made out three distinct parts of the story itself, and that Grace broke up her novel into these three distinct categories changed the way I read Potiki. The novel’s three parts can be looked at in two distinct ways. The first is birth, life, death, following the life of Toko from his inception (with a small back story before his life), through his life, and ending with his death (and a short bit on his story from the afterlife). The other is birth, death and resurrection, following the small village that Toko is born into, from its first relation to the reader (birth), its destruction through fire (death) and finally its rebuilding (resurrection) with the help of others around the area and around the world.
The story also focuses around the initial pole of the Wharenui, beginning with carving of one who is not long passed, and ending in one who touched the lives of the entire village, but also had a special feeling about him, mainly based on his “special knowing.” The story begins in the prologue explaining how this post came about, was carved, and why, and states that it will be finished, but the time is not upon them yet, but there will come one who does fulfill the prophecy and will be carved into the pole. We as readers are led to believe that the carver did initially also have a knowing that led him to this, but we cannot know if he broke with tradition in order to make sure that this coming person would be able to be carved into the pillar, or if it was only a pre-knowledge of the one who was coming, that deserved to be carved.
Preparing to teach on the subject of storytelling, around which the novel is very tightly wound, helped focus exactly on that, the main theme of the novel, and opened up many possibilities for thought and different things to focus on throughout the text. It was also very interesting to see how Patricia Grace went about telling her story, her form of writing and narrating, and her ability to get her ideas across. As the book deals with local customs, traditions and myths, it is impossible for us to separate Patricia Grace and the story she tells, but it is enlightening to see how Grace manages to tell the story, creating stories nested within the story.
Next up: Team CHAcolate on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee.