Beats of the Pa 'u
Written by: Maria Samuela
Te Herenga Waka University Press
Reviewed by: Margaret Austin
Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection of stories that pulse with the experiences of a myriad of characters living through the 50s to modern day New Zealand.
First and second generation Cook Island New Zealanders faced particular challenges on coming here – and not only in their quest for work. In The Promotion, Kura, a long-lost son, journeys to New Zealand to start a new life with an estranged father. His poignant attempts to find employment are punctuated by a forced attendance at church, his first taste of a good ol’ NZ pie, awkward encounters with family members, and clandestine visits to pubs. Similar situations were faced by the formerly estranged father, and these experiences alternate with, and enrich, the narrative. They also provide a moving explanation of the story’s title.
Especially delightful is Love Rules for Island Boys, a wry poke at how to get and keep the love interest of a girl. “If she’s an island girl, find out who her brothers are,” is telling. As is the order in which to feed her the chicken you’ve cooked. “If she’s a white girl, find out who her father is,” signals a whole other ball game. The observations here are justifiably sharper, and act as salutary pointers for the astute reader.
The last story, eponymously titled Beats of the Pa‘u, centres on a mother’s concern for her daughter – a theme that incidentally pervades the whole collection. It opens with another pervading theme – religion – or at least churchgoing. We can picture Father O’Shea leading Raro Mass. Stand, sit, kneel, pray is the mantra here – contrasting sometimes amusingly, sometimes startlingly, with the behaviour of the congregation once freed from Father O’Shea’s strictures! Katerina and Luana are young women with typical urges and preoccupations – and these must be experienced in a cultural and social context different from their own.
Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection richly dipped in nostalgic reflection – served with a sprinkling of irony, warmed coconut cream, and taro.