As Alex and I had previously mentioned in class, we spent some time in Vanceburg, Kentucky during Spring Break of last year. I could not help but retrace my memories of experiencing this incredibly tight-knit homeland as I read the second section of Potiki. The effects of puncturing, altering, and chipping away at that natural space in which a community dwells can be dire and often come with economic or cultural depression. In Kentucky, I experienced a microcosm of Maori-equivalent individuals, who had been trampled on and abused by corporations seeking to seize their land for monetary gain while somehow exhibiting joy and cultivating their community.
My favorite day of that week was spent at a day center for individuals with serious social disorders, anger problems, and/or depression. These individuals had clearly felt the effects of their steeply declining economic climate. In Kentucky, many owe the poor economic situation of many rural areas to the imposition of mining practices, specifically fracking, which put people out of jobs, destroy land, destroy homes, and in turn, often propel many towards depression or unemployment. So, these individuals had been displaced, raised in poor conditions, and more than often abused. They seemed to have no where to call a “traditional home.” The more I spoke to them, though, about their experiences with addiction, rape, incest, and poverty, the more I saw the goodness they had created for themselves in this makeshift home that was New Beginnings. Two teens who both had social anxiety disorders as a result of ill treatment at home were in a loving relationship, one girl, a victim of incest and other forms of abuse, used her go-getter personality to inject life into the white walls of the day center—teaching us how to dance and making us laugh.
What I experienced was a rebuilding of a homeland. Like the Maori people, these individuals had seen their land literally stripped away and witnessed their families fail them countless times. What was supposed to be “home” was not home to them. As the Maori people begin to plan their new construction and design plans for their new sacred house. I found Toko’s description of all they’d incorporate into the house to be especially poignant. He observes: “Some of the patterns and designs followed the old ones, these being already part of ourselves. They were etched on the memory and were patterns of the stars and the sea, of the fish and the birds and plants, and also of learning and relationships, conflict, sorrow, and joy. But there were new patterns too, of flooding and fire, roads and machines, oneness and strength, and work and growth” (143-44). What I think is so unique about Toko’s observation here is that he says that they are able to apply all that is good from their old stories and “patters” to this new home, but they also recognize new things that they have endured an encountered.
Roimata, especially, seems to own that which has been dealt to her. She is such a strong woman, as we saw in the first section, and she loves her people and her family, but Grace allows Roimata to still recognize her new home as a genuine one while allowing her to feel pain. She is not necessarily remedied in the end, either. But she stays strong because she recognizes the pain she feels and faces it head on: “At another level was pain. We had not forgotten what had happened, what had been done. We could not ignore the falling rock, the leveling of land, the arrival of materials, and the new yellow colour of the sea” (152).
This really makes sense when sized up with the people I met at New Beginnings in Kentucky. They felt, understood, and recognized their pain, but they decided to make New Beginnings a home. All the while, pain doesn’t have to be fixed, rather it just lingers and becomes a part of the edifice, the etchings on the walls.