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The Heart of the Bush

4. There is a Maoriland in the Mountains

4. There is a Maoriland in the Mountains

The next part is ‘The Hidden Vale’, and opens with a glossary of seven Maori words used in this second part of the novel, suggesting that there might be some Maori presence in this section. It is this part of the novel that is concerned with the ‘quest’ aspect of the traditional romantic trope. Strangely though, there is little mention of the original people of the land. The traditional tohunga of Maori tribal life is removed and replaced with a grizzled, old, white man. The connection that Grossmann makes clearly through the character of Aidie is that the mythology of the Maori is easily equated with ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and the folk and fairy tales of medieval Britain, and has little actual bearing on the reality on real people. Mostly her plan is to discover her husband in nature, in his elemental state. Terry Goldie has suggested that the process of settlement in literature is managed most efficiently through a two-step process.28 First, the settler takes ownership of the indigenous subject matter, mythology, history, custom, and this ownership is allowed because there is no longer a native present. Second, the settler narratives show the settler in the empty landscape, taking on the characteristics of the native. Put simply, the native has disappeared, and the settler has gone native.

The section documents the beginning of their honeymoon trip to find the source of the Wainoni river and is the culmination of an adventure begun in childhood. As such, the journey carries a significant weight of meaning for Aidie. She uses fairy tale and myth, using Spenser’s The Fairye Queene as a template, to create a ‘Bower of Bliss’, from ‘impenetrable bush’, to invoke the ‘Maoriland God of Love’ (166), seeing her husband as a barbarian to be tamed, and civilised in the future. She would be embarrassed for Dennis, if it wasn’t for the fact that he himself is so unconcerned by his ‘natural’ state, declaring to herself that ‘Nature is much better than Art’ (169), a clear refusal of Horace Brandon’s much earlier statement of a preference for culture and art. Stafford and Williams suggest that Aidie’s perception of Maoriland is a ‘saccharine fantasy’29 and as such bears little relation to the colonial society that she lives in.

Stafford and Williams go on to say that representations of Maori were partly formed through the idea of the noble savage, and also inflected by associations with Celticism, so much so that Maori became the ‘Celt of the South Seas’.30 This is made explicitly clear in an earlier chapter, where Grossmann writes that:

‘Dennis was by blood and birth a barbarian, of a race that had come from the wilds of the Highlands and the Isle of Achill, and had rooted itself here in the still more savage country amongst the Alps of Maoriland.’ (99-100)

The association between the two races is clear, and yet, Aidie’s face burns, (with shame? Or is it something else?) when she defends Dennis from Horace’s accusation that he is a half-caste. Clearly there is some kind of preference for being a local of a certain type. The character of the tohunga acts as a foil of sorts for the satisfaction of story – he is not Maori, and has been living rough in the mountains for some time. He serves, in Aidie’s description, as ‘better than a fairy pantomime; it would be playing a part in an original and living legend of Maoriland’ (180). The tohunga is discovered by the honeymooning couple and it is implied that he has a Celtic background because of the songs Aidie was singing. Dennis and the tohunga replace Maori who now exist in this story only as ghosts.

This section is dense with stories and mythologies; not just the presence of the Celtic and Romantic poetry and song of Aidie and Dennis’ education, but also of dream and imagination, the Greek and Roman pantheon, Maori myths and legend and European fairytales. The titles of the chapters in this section appropriate Maoritanga to good narratorial effect; the old man in the mountains becomes the white tohunga, gaining a priestly and mystical aspect; the revelation of what is tapu and sacred in the tiki that the tohunga gives to Aidie; Hine-nui-te-po, is the goddess of death and the underworld, from whom Maui stole the gift of fire for mankind, as Aidie finds herself on mortal danger; and the return to light which is how Aidie returns to the land of the living. It is mythology that is at the heart of this section. Dennis and Aidie tell each other stories. He tells the Maori legend of Tawhaki, she responds with a story from Greek legend. Dennis ends with a tale of a fairy princess married to a poor herdsman, making a not very subtle comparison to his marriage and the disparity of their relative situations to each other (183-85). It seems that Dennis fully understands that he is a part of Aidie’s narrative, which is directed by her overarching desire to civilise her husband.

The absence in the novel, and most explicitly within this part, is the tribe of people who were the original inhabitants of the land. They appear as a vanished tribe who were slain by a northern tribe, from whose graves the tohunga offers Aidie the gift of a tiki. This gift triggers a dream that is also a warning to Aidie; a bird leads her through a house, and the tohunga appears with the grand answers to her questions – Life, Love, Time and Death. Her feeling is that the dreams are visionary, but not enjoyable – their honeymoon is put under some strain as the couple misunderstands each other and their desires – ‘something had gone subtly wrong’ (201). The journey continues and Dennis reveals that the tiki is tapu, holding some inherent power which is most likely bad luck for them. All the omens announce that something bad will happen, and so it does. Her life hangs in the balance, and the dramatic fall and eventual rescue which conclude this second part are declared by Aidie, in the end, the best part of the honeymoon adventure. Aidie recognises that she has come into her husband’s world, and that she does not quite belong in it; ‘It was beautiful, but it was terrible’ (204), and she will not be able to find a place for herself in it without significant compromises.

This section of the novel is both the busiest and the quietest part of the novel. So much of the intellectual and psychological work is being done through the ‘negative’ space: the dreamscape of the natural environment and its previous occupants, the ghostly apparitions of Aidie’s nightmare, the ‘high-Romantic’ concerns of literature and the deeply unsettling melding of Celtic and Maori spirituality. The ‘Hidden Vale’ is, both literally and figuratively, settled completely within the heart of the bush.

28 Stafford, Jane and Mark Williams Maoriland. New Zealand Literature 1872-1914 Victoria University Press, Wellington. 2006. 171-72.

29 Stafford, Jane and Mark Williams Maoriland. New Zealand Literature 1872-1914 Victoria University Press, Wellington. 2006. 192.

30 Stafford, Jane and Mark Williams Maoriland. New Zealand Literature 1872-1914 Victoria University Press, Wellington. 2006. 174.