The Eyes of Tāwhirimātea

The story and the story behind the story

“Whaea?” Ataahua whispered the word directly into her mother’s ear, afraid the bad men would hear, even over the storm, even from outside their small, one-bedroom house. She pressed her tiny body against Whaea’s back, feeling safer as arms tightened around her.

“Yes, Ataahua?”

“Why does Tāwhiri send so many storms?” The child flinched as another clap of thunder followed quickly upon an arc of lightning.

“A good question,” her mother answered. And a distraction from her fear, she thought to herself. “Come, let us sit. The bad men will not come tonight. Not in this weather.”

Gathering her daughter up into her arms, she sat, cuddling her close. “Matariki—Tāwhirimātea’s many eyes—watch over us all. They see the evil ways of those who no longer revere him.”

“Like the bad men?”

“Yes, child, like the bad men. Tāwhirimātea sends the lightning to show his anger, to warn us all to return to the old ways.”

“What about the rain?” Ataahua asked.

“Ah, the rain he sends to tell us he still loves us. The rain brings life to all living things. It is his promise to us that he will never forsake us.”

Ataahua sat, mulling this over, as she did everything her mother told her. Finally, she pronounced, “Just like you, Whaea. When I’m bad you punish me, but you still tuck me in and kiss me goodnight.”

“Just like me.” Whaea hugged her daughter tight. “Just like me.”

I decided to share a story—and the story behind the story—for this Sunday’s newsletter. I wrote this in response to a call from Flash Frontier, a quarterly fiction publication whose issues are always themed.

The theme to which I responded was Matariki, based on the Māori celebration of the new year. Alas, I missed the part that restricted entries to New Zealanders. I was quite gratified, however, when the magazine contacted me, trying to establish any connection to New Zealand. I think they liked the story!

My error means you are the first to read this tale. Here’s a little more about Matariki, which I discovered as I researched the word in preparation for writing my contest entry:

The Māori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand. Matariki is the Māori name for the Pleiades star cluster, which, according to Wikipedia, rises mid-winter and signals the new year.

Tāwhirimātea (Tāwhiri ) is the name of a Māori god. Matariki is a shortened, and much easier to pronounce version of Ngā mata o te ariki o Tāwhirimātea, which translates to The Eyes of God (or little eyes).

With that information, how could I not write a tale based on Māori mythology?

*Whaea is the Maori word for mother. Here’s a link where you can listen to the correct pronunciation: Whaea.

Photo Credit: "The Pleiades Star Cluster" by StephenGA is marked with CC0 1.0


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