Similar to Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, Patricia Grace writes her Maori novel, Potiki, in a way that reflects the nature of Maori time. Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, think of time and life in a spiral movement, rather than the western linear model. In the Maori spiral model, evident within their art, the past and the future influence one another—connecting to a present moment. Grace not only addresses the importance of the spiral to the Maori people, but she writes Potiki in what appears to be a spiral movement. The novel’s plot jumps from past to present as different characters tell their stories. Although characters relay the same story at times, such as the birth of Toko, the story becomes distinctly different from their point-of-view. Through this style of writing, Grace is able to show how characters, events, and the past and future are all interconnected.
"And although the stories all had different voices, and came from different times and places and understandings, though some were shown, enacted or written rather than told, each one was like a puzzle piece which tongued or grooved neatly to another. And this train of stories defined our lives, curving out from points on the spiral in ever-widening circles from which neither beginnings nor endings could be defined" (41).
Similar in Achebe, oral tradition is extremely important to the Maori people. Although the stories found in Potiki span across several generations, they all seem to be “tongued or grooved neatly to another,” which allows Grace’s narrative to flow smoothly. Time can not be though of as linear with “beginnings” or “endings,” but rather a continuous movement of “ever-widening circles” This spiral movement is symbolic in Toko’s character, who is presented with a gift of foresight.
Toko is seen throughout the novel as having remarkable foresight. He appears to be more in touch with the Maori world than any other character. As Hemi notes to the Dollarman, “It’s your jumping-off place that tells you where you’ll land. The past is the future” (94). Toko has an innate connection with his genealogy—his whakapapa carved within the community’s Marae—which guide him in his Ngati’s future. The Maori cannot prevent the westernization of their homelands, the drastic effects of colonization; however, they can preserve their culture, their whakapapa, through stories. By embracing their past and continuing to tell their stories characters like Toko live on.
The immense power of oral traditions, like waiata and the recitation of whakapapa are clearly evident within Potiki. Upon the disturbance of the community’s urupa, Granny chants a waiata that is said to “spiral thinly upwards, linking the earth that we are, to the sky that we are, joining the past that we are to the now and beyond now that we are” (130). Song, or waiata, allowed Granny to embrace her ancestors and reconnect herself to important values in Maori culture. In the end, it is the stories that continue “well into the night…until the circle had been fully turned” (180). The stories told through Maori oral traditions and carvings preserve the Maori culture and Maori identity in a drastically dynamic and globalized world.