Over the summer my family lives by the ocean. It’s a lovely place, a community where my mother spent her summers growing up, and now a place that my siblings and I have come to love. This summer, as I walked home from my friends’ houses, I would stop by the beach. I would walk to the edge of the boardwalk and look out at everything I saw during the day. There is something about the ocean at night that moved me. The crashing waves. The thick clouds in the darkness. The light of the moon reflecting off of the navy sea.
I remember one of the last times I went there before coming back to Loyola. I felt comfortable at home, not ready to embark on another year at Loyola, and afraid of what would come afterward. Suddenly I was overcome by all of this emotion over what I didn’t know: My future, the instable state of the country, my grandmother who needed to go to the hospital, and my worried mother that would take her there the next morning. I cried. For a reason I can’t pin down or clearly articulate. I let the darkness embrace me. I looked out at the sea, and knew that I was the only one looking from that angle at that moment. Although I sat there all by myself, I didn’t feel alone.
I think that is what joy is, and now it is presented throughout Potiki. The ability to be surrounded by pain and worry but keep moving, knowing that the ground is still there, your stories are not forgotten, and taking the opportunity to embrace more stories in the future. It’s not something we see or feel all the time, but if we are willing to wait in the darkness, we will be able to find the reason for our pain, and be able to grow from it.
The idea of finding reassurance in darkness came back to me as I read Potiki, in particular the in one of the beginning scenes with Riomata. After she returns to the homeland after twelve years she decides to wait to see Hemi and Mary:
“Before rounding the last corner I sat and rested as night came. The bag was heavy after all, and anyway it would be easier to arrive in the dark—easier to discover, under the shell of night, if there was still a place for me” (24).
Her thoughts are clear at this moment, as she has very little sensory images to take in. She is one with her thoughts, and all she can hold onto are her past and present experiences, which mold into one. In this solitude she feels the ground beneath her, and that is all she needs.
This idea of darkness comes back later on in the book, after Toko has died and the Urupa flooded. So much of the people’s identity has been taken away from them, yet they are still alive, and they must keep going. The voice of the unnamed woman, who talks of gulls, expands upon this idea, stating:
“But the dark, the dark is a gift also because in the dark there is nurturing. These things are known to the earth as well as the sky… and the watchers know it, waiting, and believing that what is not seen will one day be seen. The waiters know that the earth will give its gifts, and that the sky will too” (174).
The people have to accept the things that they cannot control. They have to accept the pain and the hardship in order to feel the joy afterward, and to know that love comes from the most trying situations. This is not easy, and it is evident through the text that the characters struggle to accept the circumstances of their lives. Riomata and Toko ask on several occasions, if this comfort is enough. In the end, their homeland rests within themselves, through the love they have for each other and the honor they pay to the past ancestors. They must hold onto themselves as their physical homeland breaks around them, and know that what is represented in the land, the poupou, the urupa, and the wharenui, take root within themselves.