The novel Potiki by Patricia Grace is a scathing critique of colonialism and its effects on the Maori people of New Zealand. Via the lens of a Maori community, Grace tackles the intricate concepts of colonization, resistance, and identity in Potiki. The novel highlights a central theme – the crucial importance of keeping ties to the land. Through Maori cultural traditions, Potiki delves into the spiritual and communal significance of the land and how it shapes individual identity. Grace’s decolonial efforts prioritize preserving and revitalizing indigenous customs while questioning the West’s perception of land as a source of financial gain. The land serves as a foundation for this mission. To combat the lasting effects of colonialism, Potiki outlines various strategies of a decolonial nature. Grace highlights the importance of togetherness and collaboration in the battle against injustice as she portrays various characters’ marginalization, cultural obliteration, and forced migration ordeals. As a means of regaining cultural identity and countering colonial narratives, the novel also highlights the value of education and the transformative potential of storytelling. Potiki provides a powerful critique of colonialism and various decolonial strategies for combating its lasting effects.
Potiki addresses the crucial matter of utilizing cultural traditions in a decolonial approach. The book paints a picture of the Maori community stripped of their ancestral customs and how they might retaliate by reclaiming them. To manifest their resistance, the community builds a marae, making it a pivotal act of defiance. The narrator describes the marae as the heart of the community and where the ancestors were honored. This ceremonial ground also represented resistance, Maori pride, and self-respect. Rueben insists, “We want land for our meeting-house and our marae” (Grace 79). The family is recovering their Maori heritage by constructing the marae and reaffirming their place in contemporary Maori society.
Grace engages in decolonial resistance through the fictional characters of Potiki. Hemi symbolizes the Mori people’s strength in the face of adversity. As a respected leader in his tribe, Hemi opposes the colonial rulers’ attempts to appropriate Mori customs and values. He argues for safeguarding the Mori language and culture and highlights their significance. Hemi’s attempts to establish the marae, a fundamental Mori institution, demonstrate his dedication to Maori culture. For instance, Hemi supports the idea that their children should stay home to learn about the Marae way of life. Roimata clarifies this by stating, “Then I realized that nothing needed to be different. There is nothing else we require. Everything we could want or need to know is right here. I told Hemi, but he already knew it” (Grace 38). Hemi’s dedication to the Maori tradition is emblematic of the possibilities for decolonial resistance among Maoris. Like William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this has the potential to be a decolonial act of resistance. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban personifies the colonized Other who suffers at the hands of colonial power. Caliban represents resistance because of his affinity for the country and contempt for imperial norms. He says, “I must eat my dinner. This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother” (Shakespeare 28).
Grace’s linguistic choices are significant to her portrayal of decolonial resistance in Potiki. Even though Potiki is written in English, she incorporates key Mori concepts and terminology. Grace employs words to express the Mori people’s resistance to European colonization and their traditional identity. The book’s consistent usage of the Maori language is just one illustration of this. Grace’s frequent use of Mori phrases and terms within the English text mirrors the Mori people’s language and underlines the significance of their culture. This linguistic option also contests the preeminence of English and promotes the independence of Maori culture. The novel’s extensive usage of Maori language features strongly suggests this. The novel focuses on the Tamihana family tree, described using the Maori word ” whanau” (Grace 41, 59, 61, and 98). According to Eva Rask Knudsen’s essay “On Reading Grace’s Potiki,” Grace’s use of Maori terminology like “whanau” in the book’s early chapters “establishes the Maori worldview and structures the narrative world.” The story becomes more believable and authentic because of the use of the Maori language, which also highlights the importance of Maori culture and viewpoints (Knudsen 7).
The struggle of the family to hold on to their ancestral land is another example of the novel’s depiction of the possibilities for decolonial resistance. They see the land as essential to their identity and legacy and are fighting to keep it out of the hands of developers. As an example of the necessity of land rights in the fight against colonialism, Grace cites the struggle of the family to make her point. For the Maori, the land is more than just a physical location – it holds great spiritual and cultural value. Reuben explains that their meeting house and marae require land, indicating the importance of securing it (Grace, 79). Their rich cultural history in the region empowers them to resist colonization and hold steadfast. In Potiki, the Tamihana’s battle to maintain ownership of their land and culture is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. The novel pertains to the importance of seclusion and self-government for women (Woolf 9). Like Woolf’s character, Potiki’s protagonist struggles for personal freedom and control. The narrative also highlights the value of rallying as a community amidst colonialism. The family has the backing of their neighbors and the rest of the Maori community in their time of need. The community’s ability to unite and fight against those who would bring them down depends on this sense of togetherness and solidarity. Community members can stand up for their rights and safeguard their traditions.
Preserving and promoting Maori culture and identity is another potential form of decolonial resistance in Potiki. Throughout the narrative, Grace stresses the value of maintaining Maori customs and beliefs despite the prevalence of Western culture. Roimata, a strong and proud Maori woman, and her bond with Mary’s child Toko are excellent examples. Roimata instructs Toko about the ways of the Maori people and urges him to take pride in his heritage. “There is a story about Te Ope…. The old part of the story has been told to us by my other mother, Roimata,” Toko says (Grace 71). Grace demonstrates through Roimata that valuing and honoring Maori customs can be a potent act of defiance against colonialism and cultural assimilation. When preparing the house for the meeting of the development building, Roimata challenges patriarchal norms by voicing her opposition to the suggestion that a table be brought in for the money man’s plans and papers, as well as a chair for the man to sit on. She suggested we “let the man be like someone else because that would be good psychology” (Grace 100). The importance of women’s voices in literature and society is also emphasized in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which challenges patriarchal norms. One interpretation of this is as a type of decolonial opposition to the established Western canon.
Eva Rask Knudsen, in her piece “On Reading Grace’s Potiki,” highlights that academic conversation on Mori literature has mostly concentrated on its political viewpoint, overlooking its particular cultural elements like its ontological roots and oral tradition, which may be one reason why Grace is hesitant to label herself as postcolonial. Despite their centrality in the Mori literature study, scholars and critics must pay more attention to these features (Knudsen 3). According to her analysis, Grace’s defense of traditional values in the face of colonialism and modernization is a powerful form of resistance.
In conclusion, Potiki by Patricia Grace provides us with a potent instrument of decolonial resistance. Basic ideas of utilizing cultural traditions in a decolonial approach in the face of colonial violence are presented in this story. Many novel protagonists fight for their rightful place in history and territory. Grace uses symbolism and imagery to emphasize how the colonized might challenge oppressive systems and reclaim their rightful place in society. Virginia Woolf discusses the requirements for female fiction writers: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (Woolf Para 1). For decolonial resistance to be effective, individuals and communities must have the means to exercise their autonomy and challenge oppressive systems. Thus, Potiki is a powerful illustration of how literature can motivate and equip people to fight against colonialism.
Grace, Patricia. “Potiki : Grace, Patricia, 1937- : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive.” https://archive.org/details/potiki00grac/page/118/mode/2up?view=theater&q=force
Knudsen, Eva Rask. On Reading Grace’s Potiki. Vol. 13, Purdue UP, 2019, docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1745&context=clcweb.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tempest | Folger Shakespeare Library.” The Tempest | Folger Shakespeare Library, 11 Oct. 2022, https://www.bauerverlag.eu/downloads/shakespeare-tempest.pdf
Woolf, Virginia. “A Room of One’s Own.” Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/work/1315615-a-room-of-one-s-own. Accessed 7 May 2023.