Authors: Alan Duff
YOU'RE TOO HARD ON HER,
Henry, my war buddies kept telling me after
we came home. All right for them, they don't have a living reminder
resident in their homes. Have to hear his name
echoing in my home
patch. Easy for them to say I'm too hard.
Not that my wife was the only one: a few others had flings too, just no
children came of it except when an unmarried village girl had a child to a
Yank. No one gave that kid a permanent name reminder.
The biggest day of my life spoiled — felt as if my officer's rank was
also rendered worthless. I was the senior man. My heavy responsibility to
stand in the meeting house and read out the names of my killed relations
and mates, with no sign of my wife, the daughter I hadn't seen, my mother
averting my questioning eyes. Responsibility claimed me; I had to stay at
the party at least till the last of the formal speeches was over. A sick feeling
in my gut.
What a shock. This kid in the house I and my late father built for
and Lena's children. What am I supposed to do, celebrate? Sign him into
As for her, Lena. How could she? I could have beaten the bitch to
death, not just given her a hiding. I felt like throwing her into a hot
pool, and her kid. Lord, I never knew such anger and hurt. All the deaths
of a brother, close friends in that war didn't compare to this. If I had
been asked to imagine the worst possible thing to happen in life, this was
I went into my shell for months, could barely function, not even the
big plans I had to improve life in our village were enough to pull me out
of the gloom. I even contemplated suicide for the first time in my life.
Couldn't speak to Lena and if she'd dared open her mouth — even in
apology — I would have put a fist in it. The kid by association was on my
hate list. And yet I love children.
Time is a kind of healer. Except my wound felt permanently infected:
I couldn't get rid of it, kept festering there in my mind my heart. Even
thought I might go crazy — my emotions were like one of our boiling
pools, never going to cool.
A man has to work though. The Waiwera Hotel as good a place as
any. Got on well with the Irish publican; we knew we were good for each
other. I could handle the drunk Maoris. I was soon running the show, the
public bar first, then the private bar after hours which was as much social
for me and the owner, drinking with hotel guests who legally could drink
beyond the hour of six o'clock, and our inner circle of mates, including
my close army buddies. But back at home things weren't good.
I just couldn't stand the sight of the kid, the damn name the village had
given him, public declaration my wife had slept with a Yank. My public
shame personified in the kid's very existence, my manhood mocked by his
every living moment. Took years to learn to live with it.
We slept in different beds, Lena and I. Naturally a man has sexual
needs but damned if I was going there with her. Found my release in a
few other women over the two years of my anger. But I'm no womaniser:
I prefer a settled home life. I wanted my kids to grow up in a stable home
environment. But in our situation?
One night I walked into her bedroom to find her undressed and lust
— maybe vengeance — took over. She just took my breath away. It was
over pretty quickly, bordered on savage. Yet I realised I still had a spark
for her and that she was mother to our daughter, even if Mata was gun-shy
from her very first encounter with me.
Ended up sharing the marital bed again. On far sides of the bed to
each other but the inevitable did happen. Not saying I was lover boy
extraordinaire. Just that sexual activity did take place and so did another
child come about. I called her Wikitoria, after my mother.
Mum lived a few doors up the rise and never graced our house on
account of her refusing to forgive Lena. Couldn't blame her. Our girls had
open invite to go to their grandmother's, and of course the boy didn't.
Nor could he have expected it. Not his blood. To hell with him.
In my mind I'd think, you want your grandparents, boy? Then fuck
off to America. My spiteful, nasty side. But we all have one. I hardly ever
hit the kid unless he'd done a wrong that couldn't be overlooked. Greed
a quality I hated and so if Yank ate more than his share he got some hard
face slaps from me. As well he should. Us Maoris are brought up to share.
Greedy people don't fit in our community. Funny how I never saw him
as a complete Waiwera boy even though he knew no other place. But I
didn't have too much of a problem with him — as long he kept out of my
way. Not much to ask in your own house, is it?
Lena and I were never going to claim back our marriage, not how it
used to be. Pride on my part, no denying. I am a proud man, always had a
stronger sense of pride than most. From a little kid I couldn't stand anyone
trying to take away or deny me my pride. At school if a teacher talked
down to me I'd fly off the handle. When bigger, older boys bullied me I
attacked, my own safety be damned, with fists and curses even if I lost a lot
of the fights. I did win the wars though. Bullies left me alone after a while.
And as I grew I picked off every boy who had bullied me and never let up
till I beat each one. Everyone knew, never mess with Henry Takahe. I was
never one to look for it though.
Pride, I know, is both good and bad. Maybe I was guilty of being
unable — or unwilling — to forgive and forget. But the same confident
streak gained me captain's rank in that drawn-out war. Pride in being
a Maori with intelligence and leadership qualities who resented his
European inferiors getting promoted in other battalions, awarded medals,
and damned if I was going to be left behind. Took my complaint to our
commanding general himself.
I asked him respectfully, why are Maoris not considered good enough
for officer material, sir?
Taken quite by surprise the general said he didn't know such inequality
existed, hadn't given it a thought. But since I had confronted him with it,
he'd recommend me for instant promotion to lieutenant, just as long as my
commanding officer agreed.
But I said, sir, that's half the trouble. The man you're asking to
recommend me is the man who won't.
In that case, Sergeant Takahe, I shall make the recommendation myself.
But God help you if you prove to be all complaint and no delivery.
I delivered. Ask my men. In every battle and skirmish I led from the
front. Good enough for my men, good enough for me. Won their respect,
same time I realised we couldn't be the same mates as before: there had to
be a separation. Out of which I learned heightened responsibility, as if I
owed far more than just the unit under my command.
Pride in being Maori meant we Maori soldiers didn't stand for being
called niggers by a bunch of Southern Yank GIs in a bar in Italy when
we had a couple of days' leave. We hoed into them and gave the racist
bastards a hell of a hiding. Maoris are no Negro slaves, we're slaves to no
one. Pride is what you show every person and in your own village it sets
an example, indeed a standard, for young people to follow. Pride is what
pushed me to cleaning up our community, hounding the town council to
install full electricity and sewerage services, so we the village in turn could
lift our living standards and with it our dignity.
In that war I learned to appreciate liberty, understand the layers of
democracy and how it is worth defending to the death. I went from an
ignorant young man just wanting adventure and a fight, to understanding
that our German enemy must be defeated at all costs or they would rule
the world with an iron fist. We saw their acts of retribution, executing
every second male in a Greek village to avenge the deaths of a mere few
of their own. Admittedly, we came to respect them as a worthy foe that
could fight almost like Maoris, with ferocity and cunning and guile. But to
want to rule the world is just madness. And when we found out after the
war what they did to the Jews, naturally we felt proud at having done our
bit to defeat Hitler and his Nazi henchmen. The Japs, they were more the
Americans' and Australians' to deal with.
As for an unfaithful wife, a soldier would rather be dead than come
home to what I did. That the guy was American seemed to make it more
hurtful. They were our allies, same side. I'd never do that to another man's
wife, especially not a soldier on the same side. Never.
Of the kid, all right I didn't know much about him. Didn't feel guilty
either. Heard him sing, though, and he was pitch perfect. Normally that
shared musical ability might have been enough to get on with the boy. But
in the circumstances, it wasn't possible and nor was I inclined. He was in
his own world; his mother spoiled him but I was indifferent to what they
did. He was not my son.
The kid was inseparable from Chud, whose father Ted was a big-time
regular at my bar: a real low character I'd banned more than once for
fighting, hated by everyone except the company he kept, same ilk, men
not from here. I could see plain as day what the parents were making of
Chud, felt sorry for him even if he was Yank's best pal. He didn't stand a
chance with those hidings his father and mother dished out to him, all the
Kohu kids, poor little blighters. They'd grow up and do the same.
But I couldn't go and bash Ted stupid or next I'd be minding everyone's
business. Fix the village problems first, I thought, then I'd start cleaning
out the handful of undesirables, as well those shameless women who'd get
drunk opposite the pub, Shirl Kohu one of them.
The war taught me a higher sense of duty. I wanted to look after my
family and serve my community. Perhaps one day at a political level. Not
saying I'm perfect — I have flaws like every person. But in my essence I'm
a good man. I trust myself. And the boy was not my blood.
POOR NAIVE VILLAGE MAORI BOYS.
High school robbed us of our innocence.
We cut it physically, sure, but physical didn't count for much in
the eyes of our white peers. Or not in the B class I was streamed to. Even
though I was no rugby player, I came from the robust outdoor world of
the river, our baths, the mountain; everything of life a physical adventure
and experience, a world I'd expected to continue on much the same — till
The streaming system tore friends apart from starting day. Not one
Waiwera boy got into the A class, only me and one other in B. Most of
the rest were in the dunce H category, including Chud. Low levels ceased
talking to higher levels. It was like we suddenly spoke different languages.
High school shook us rudely awake to find ourselves lost, confronted
by sons of fathers with jobs we'd never heard of. Surveyor. Accountant.
Doctor. Lawyer. Banker. Chemist. Landlord. Pilot. Scientist. Sheep,
cattle and dairy farmers. Businessmen of description endless. Engineers in
different fields. Sellers of every imaginable service and product.
It hurt to see the different
that rubs off on the sons, what
they talk about, how much they know, how they apply themselves to
study while we, the Waiwera boys, feel like dunderheads straight out of
the backblocks who can't apply ourselves to anything of the mind. Alien
beings of limited ability from planet Waiwera in outer space just a thirty-minute
bus ride from high school.
Just a few of us woke up, Chud not one of them. He and the others
latched on to a term picked up to blame: the
Being white man
superiority, anti-Maori. I'm not sure it was any of that. Three Waiwera
boys were expelled for fighting. Throughout the year Maoris dominated
in detentions and canings, academically but a few of us and then not at the
top level. We'd just arrived like at a rugby match to find better-prepared
opponents, fitter and smarter, and in a different game. I might be Waiwera
through and through, but I wasn't blind and deaf.
I looked at these people and reminded myself I was a chunk of white
on Mum's side and white with maybe a bit of Spanish, given the coppery
complexion, on my father's side. If I was going to play this game then I
better know the rules. There must be some advantages us Waiwera boys
had through our unique growing up.
The very time I needed a father who could help steer me through this.
I looked at my Waiwera mates and peers reeling, saw how more and more
resorted to fists to even things out. I knew if Henry was on talking terms
with me he'd advise me to take the Pakeha boys on with my fists. But he
wasn't and I was not a person like that.
If I just focused on my music, got to know my father through letters,
I might be all right.
SITTING IN THE MUSIC ROOM.
Our music teacher informs we're about to
hear one of our classmates, Nigel Blake, play electric guitar. We assume
he's rich because his parents have bought the guitar, just as I assume being
Maori our race is musical and rarely does a white person have the talent.
In an amphitheatre school classroom Nigel has a full set-up
for us to peer down on his performance, like cruel judges who have already
made up their minds. Nigel Blake is a scruff who pushes the hair length and
style rules to the limit, can somehow make his school uniform look like a
fashion statement, but doesn't say much and he's hardly noticed.
Well, I don't know how long he played for, only that my own ambition
to be a lead guitarist in a band was over. I could never be so good. Never.
So was my attitude about Maori musical superiority changed. Music is just
I suggested to Nigel he and I join forces to form a band, fearing he
might have a better voice than me too. We were inseparable after that
performance. At school and neutral places, though, not our homes. Even
if I was the more self-confident and probably more dominant personality,
his race ruled and my race were the darkies of the country, a minority too.
Their right to issue invite, our privilege to receive.
His father was average, musically, Nigel's talent from his mother's side,
she of a family of gifted musicians, though Nigel said she was more a
frustrated performer and confided he often heard his mother and father
arguing over what they had done with their lives.
Nigel's influence on me was big. As I couldn't afford to buy equipment,
we messed around after school in the music room sharing Nigel's guitar,
and I sometimes got to borrow an acoustic guitar from Toby Taita, who
lived up the road from us and could play anything. We used the school
microphones and so I got to learn when to be close, to move away, which
sounds reverberated, which notes were vulnerable to being easily lost.
We'd go for hours till the caretaker told us time to go home.
We went for long aimless walks, maybe into town, or wherever,
talking music artists, different styles, our own ambitions. Often after being
with Nigel several hours I walked the three miles home as there was no
bus scheduled. Would sing the whole way. First year of high school soon
became the second.
I ran into jealousy from Chud; he accused me of switching sides
and forgetting who his real mate was. Not mates — mate. And why didn't
I invite him to the music sessions? Because knowing someone most of your life
you know if he's musical or not. And Chud wasn't. Just as I couldn't play
rugby. We were in different streams at any rate, so we mainly saw each other
on the bus to and from school; post-Nigel only to school.
Out of the blue I got a late reply letter from my father, but with an
astonishing surprise: money.
Fifty pounds in the form of a money order, a fortune.
Who better than Mrs Mac to arrange a savings account with the post
office? She warned of the dangers of temptation and that I must resist at all
costs or the money would be squandered.
Naturally I wrote back to Jess and sent it with hugest thanks and
hoped it hadn't made him short. Discovered a selfish, greedy side too
when thought of telling my mother was too much in case there came
expectation to share it. Told myself, if my father had meant it to be shared
he would have asked.
This was my fast ticket to becoming a musician. I withdrew ten pounds
and put down a deposit on an electric rhythm guitar. Could have paid in
full and still had money left, but seemed this was rare chance indeed to get
ahead, young though I was at understanding life.
I would make monthly payments of two pounds for eighteen months,
then both instrument and amplification equipment were mine. Now Nigel
and I needed a drummer and a bass guitar player. We were on our way, me
thanks to the man magnificent in America. Especially when he wrote less
than six months later sending
To have such money enough to send me I figured he must work
in the oil industry, or have a good business. I'd write and ask. Though for
some reason distractions kept putting my reply off. And I got this sense of
awkwardness, as if our relationship was being forced, by his money and the
expectation I be thankful. Wrote him a half-hearted response and it took several
months to get around to.
Had my reply to Jess been the following year, just a few months closer
to enlightenment via countless hours spent analysing with Nigel Blake, I
would have written to him about music.
Of the social revolution born of modern music. Of not knowing who
started it, just taking my place in the line for my turn to be swept along
by a universal force. From Nigel I was filled with this sense that
We, the whole listening, changing world, owed musical artists for
helping shift evolution itself.
Little Richard, Nigel said we owed him big-time. He set his own
standard that other artists followed. A crazily outfitted and behaved Negro
who, Nigel somehow had discerned, dressed and acted like an effeminate
clown so white Americans couldn't put a label on him and therefore would
let him be. Way ahead of me, Nigel was one of those types with bits of
seemingly inside knowledge on all manner of subjects.
Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and a few others must have got the
ball rolling too. You just picked up on whoever was the dominant figure
of your time. So we thanked Elvis Presley; he influenced the world. Every
big city and small town in his home country, every country on the planet
even Africa, he had an effect. He could have been Jesus Christ he was so
important. But with quite a different message.
Seemed impossible that an American singer could change a society so
distant and so irrelevant and totally unconnected to his. But that was what
Elvis Presley did: changed tiny, obscure Waiwera; changed Two Lakes;
changed our entire tiny nation of two point something million, stuck way
down in the lower Pacific — three, four years after the rest of the world
had been transformed. Changed Yank Takahe: make that Yank Hines.
Elvis liberated our dancing limbs; pulled away the masks so we could
openly express what had previously been vague, sometimes troubling,
emotions and thoughts. He said it was okay to show off, good to strut
He gave girls permission to be overtly sexual, in dance and in the tone
of his sultry voice that said he was coming after them. His photographic
images transformed bedroom walls and festooned shop windows and
picture theatre billboards.
He informed, enlightened us we'd been hoodwinked about life and
social conventions and it didn't have to be this way. Not any longer.
We could be whatever we chose to be. His musical phrasing sent us into
raptures, me in particular. I could mimic his every note and tone, his
unique phrasing. We wore his cowlicks, his confident half-smile; made
our eyes project a melting quality just like his to the girls; stood around
with legs astride a symbolic world, ready to turn our crooked smiles into
sneers of contempt for the older generation, at any peer who would dare
mess with us. The man made us cry — and not ashamed in secret, but
He came like a letter from America, addressed
Dear Young World . . .
I, Elvis Presley, give you permission to be whatever you want.
He could have written:
Dear Yank, I, Elvis Presley, give you permission to
rise far above Henry's ignoring of you and become a big star like me. Just go out
and do it, son. Get yourself all shook up, turn yourself loose. Then watch big Henry
reduce to a tiny little man of no consequence. Drive past him in your big limo, park
it right outside his hotel, picture his face when he sees who's riding in back.
The cult of Elvis was on every radio wave, he played himself in movies
that seemed to come out monthly, we packed every seat and sat gob-smacked
in every aisle unable to get enough of the King, unable to believe
such a person existed and yet he was ours, we could purchase him for the
price of a theatre ticket, price of his long-player or single records, if we
owned a record player, play him for a few pennies on the milk bar juke-box,
hear him free on the radio waves.
Single-handedly, Elvis Presley rocked society yet brought something
breathtakingly exciting, of true meaning. It felt unbelievable.
Nightly we sat with ears glued to radio speakers waiting to hear his
voice, to become what we had no idea we'd been craving deep inside.
Yes, even kids. Every growing one of us cheered and proclaimed Elvis's
latest number-one hit song on the Hit Parade and had the lyrics off by
heart days after hearing it, with numbered hand-written charts on every
bedroom and living room wall confirming Elvis's supremacy.
In one fell swoop Elvis unlocked every cell on the listening planet
Earth and set the hearing world free.
The magazines told his fans he came from the South, a town called
Tupelo in Mississippi. My father came from that same state, could well
have similar qualities. Imagine: Jess and Mark Hines, unique father and son
combo performing to adoring audiences throughout America. Imagine.