Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Tangaroa’s Gift: Te Koha a Tangaroa Mere Whaanga

Image result for tangaroa's giftLast century Mere Whaanga created a whole new perspective of children’s picture books in New Zealand by her use of words and pictures to retell tribal stories in both Maori and English. Her self-published The Legend of the Seven Whales, became an instant classic, and its whales, with their elegant moko, are still highly recognisable icons. Redesigned, the book remains in print, a New Zealand classic.Nicely timed for Maori Language Week, Scholastic have just redesigned and reissued another of Mere Whaanga’s classics, Tangaroa’s Gift: Te Koha a Tangaroa. First published in 1990, this gracefully-illustrated picture book tells the story (in both English and Maori) of how the paua got its elegant shell.
It is a lovely just-so story, very Kiplingesque, which begins with the insignificant shellfish Paua feeling isolated and unprotected. “So Paua huddled under the seaweed, thinking sad thoughts and aching with loneliness.”  The great sea god, Tangaroa, takes pity on the sad little paua and its whistful tale of envying the speed and beauty of the other sea creatures. Tangaroa takes the blue of the sea, the green of the forest, the violet of the dawn and the pink of the sunset, and creates a beautiful shell for Paua.  The paua’s shell is so beautiful that all the fish come to admire it.
Unfortunately all the rubbing and scratching of the fish and crabs leaves Paua’s shell broken into pieces. Tangaroa makes the lovely protective coat again, but this time it is much stronger. Once again Paua is surrounded by envious sea creatures and is unable to get any peace. “I’m so conspicuous,” he complains.
Tangaroa takes pity on Paua and changes the shell around so that the beauty of the colours is concealed by a drab outer coating. That is why the Paua has had a beautiful shell ever since, but “he hugs the secret of its beauty to himself.”
Mere Whaanga’s graceful watercolour pictures create a charming undersea world for Paua and his over-persistent admirers. An author’s note tells how the idea for the story came to her, as well as providing some background history from the Mahia Peninsula area.
Ngawini Kereru created the Maori language translation.

Trevor Agnew

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