On the Trail of the Waitahaposted on 11 Jul 2017
On the Trail of the Waitaha by Tim Willcocks
This fascinating travel book tells the story of the Waitaha people who have, in all likelihood, lived in Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand) for something like 5,000 years. I knew absolutely nothing about them before reading this book and was somewhat relieved to find out that I was not alone in my ignorance, because it was not until 1994 that their history, traditions and teachings were first published in The Song of Waitaha: The Histories of a Nation.
Written in the first person as a personal adventure story over several years makes this an engaging mix of facts, myths, memories and travelogue backed up with plenty of informative footnotes, appendices and interesting colour photographs. The author explains that he had an early love of travelling and a personal family connection inspired him to make his first trip to New Zealand in 2009. This first journey provides us with a note-like, easy to read summary of various locations and people met along the way. Clearly a memorable experience, it seems that he was also inspired by a strong feeling of belonging that meant he felt a compulsion to return as soon as possible. Encouraged by various friends he returned a year later to further explore more of the islands in his camper van and to delve deep into their intriguing history.
This is much more than a physical journey as the author has a keen interest in spiritual matters, therapy, and the paranormal which increasingly defines his experience. He aptly describes this:
I was beginning to realise that for me there were at least two worlds in New Zealand, the world of " How yer doin mate!" , and another which I seemed to be inexplicably tapping into, offering an insight into a different dimension.
His eventual journey to Te Miringa, an ancient temple site was a life changing pilgrimage where he and his travelling companion ' felt a strong healing energy' and ' experienced memories seeming to come from a distant shared past'.
As he travels further he meets many more interesting people and learns more about the ancient wisdom and lore of the Waitaha including Maui, a man who seems to be a kind of shamen figure whose revelations he organises into four distinct narratives as a framework for better understanding the culture.
I found chapter seven entitled Creation, Legends and Spirals to be the most interesting part of the book because it indicates the authors fascination with traditional storytelling across many different cultures. Here he also includes lots of links to real world events and how these were interpreted and interwoven through explanations of the stunning physical landscape.
He continues to explore the islands on two subsequent visits and is equally enthralled with the richness of the place. He concludes that he has only begun to scratch the surface of a compelling and complex story. I learnt a lot that I didn't know although found the texture of the book rather complicated. I think this structure reflects the authors evident enthusiasm and excitement about his discoveries and his determination to convey as much information as possible. In this sense it is a good example of a detailed personal diary that might enthuse others to pick up the trail of the Waitaha.