Te Taonga


Author: John Moffatt
Length: short
Publication Details:  Huia Short Stories 1995, Huia Publishers, 1995.
Setting: The site of an old pa, coastal New Zealand
Character(s): Pipito, Nga Puhi, old lady, Hoani, sister, father
Narrator: Hoani
Keywords: taonga, hideaway, drought, defences, battle, tales, ancestors, mere, loss, whanau, heritage.

Whatever your meaning or definition of taonga, be it treasure or possession, it most certainly means that the item or object is of significance and the value of it is priceless. The title leaves us guessing as to what is taonga? A place, an object or a person?

Te Taonga’s two plot lines follow the lives of Pipito and Hoani. As two different generations merge, two time periods merge when at the beach. It is a contrast of ‘then’ and ‘now’ and of a battle and peace.

From the outset, we know the young narrator, Hoani, is hurt down at the rocks on the beach whilst spearing cray and this provides a connection, “You have the same wound as your ancestor Pipito.” Further connections develop between the old lady and Gran (kuia)

It is one of nature’s ways that we often feel closer to distant generations than to the generation immediately preceding us. ~Igor Stravinsky

The opening description points to the course of nature, that is to say that everything has its time. Life passes. Book pages become sepia coloured, highlighted text turns dull and bodies groan when we stand up.

The location where Hoami collects crays is an area of conflict:  “fluted by the tides” and “sculptured by the wind”. The story transcends the present to the past The young narrator, Hoami, interweaves his present with his past through an injury in the bay where for the briefest moment both stories intersect at a crossroad. It is on this exact spot that Pipito battled with his foes, Nga Puhi. With the help of his gran, he becomes connected to his lineage sensing a bond with Pipito. The story opens: “There is a place where the beach and the cliff meet, a small secret place…” The meeting is between two generations. The secret place literally means the family spot on the beach but, in fact, this is foreshadowing the cave which follows.

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” – Frederick Buechner

Thematically, the story illustrates …

“For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.”
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

I first read this in 2014 when flicking through one of the many Huia collections of Maori short stories. It struck me as a very sweet story.


Theme(s): Grandparents need you, just as much as you need them. As something/someone departs, another arrives. You never really appreciate something, until it is gone (and found again). “Family is not an important thing, it’s everything.” (Michael J Fox).