Essay from Jaime Mathis

Te Huarahi O Rongo Marae Roa

Jaime Mathis


Humanity has a common language. We all walk, in our minds, on our feet, and we all have sacred trails that we honor. Whether it is a path through nature or the morning race on Wall Street, we all carry a cadence that moves our bodies and souls. We all have stories that propel our lives and give them meaning. I want to build a library of these treks and take one step closer to seeing our sameness.

“There were people living on New Zealand thousands of years before the Maori set foot here.” Barry says, glancing at his partner Cushla. Her eyes remain on his face. She nods. Barry continues. “They arrived in their wakas and had faces like the rainbow.” His white hair is a cloud around bespectacled eyes. “Some,” he adjusts his right hand around a carved walking stick, “Were white skinned, some brown, others black, red, or yellow. Each person had a specific skill; navigating, building, steering, paddling.” His round cheeks inflate and settle, belly balancing over his waistline. I cradle my tea cup and scoot in closer. “They came seeking the stone of healing and peace to carry into the world. In the mouth of the Arahura River, the Waitaha discovered pounamou. They imbued it with love and strength on its journey into the world. The trail was guarded and maintained by women.”

I am too pragmatic to believe in magic. I spend too much time chasing it to convince others I’m beyond it. My guts shiver, legs shaking beneath the table. Te Huarahi O Rongo Marae Roa, The Way of the Peacemaker leaps across time and burrows into my lap. The words are strange as he speaks, so rich I almost need a pinch of salt to calm myself.

Will he give me his blessing to walk it? Will he agree to my project?

Barry is fluent now, the story pouring out of him as he sits like a stone before me. “The women sang their stories and protection into portals along the way. These doors still sing when people are walking the way of the spirit. I will arrange a guide for you.” He places both hands on dark wood and bows his forehead against it. The benediction is wordless, the promise cemented. I’m pretty sure I’ve just participated in an unrehearsed scene from Lord of the Rings.

My focus sharpens, then blurs around the edges, leaving only a stone periphery. This is the second time I have conjured my desires. I may have been mistaken about magic.

The Peace Trail is a seven day journey through steep gorges and vertical descents. My guide is a ginger haired pakeha named Ashna Anahata. I have no idea what his birth name is but he lives in a camper van and knows how to build cob houses. We will carry greenstone across the mountains and I will film it.

The footage is shot but the film never made. Occasionally I count the years on my fingers since walking the Peace Trail-it’s coming on five now and the footage lies on a hard drive instead of the festival circuit. I dig it out at times, stare at the moving water, the sharp faces of rock and ice that ring our feet and wonder. How do I tell the story of a nation that chose peace over life? Dare I communicate my connection to the land? Some things are too beautiful to exploit, too precious to be peddled.

I walk the forests around my birthplace in Portland, Oregon now. My camera lies on a shelf. I watch where I place my feet and bend to look at tiny plants I used to ignore. I place my son’s hand on trees and we listen. Stone and wind are singing and I have followed them home.