About the Author Keri Kaa


ANYONE WHO HAS MET AUTHOR KERI KAA, and particularly those who have had the pleasure of sitting down at the kitchen table with her…all are struck by what an interesting life she has enjoyed. This is a short background about the author Keri Kaa, and some of what has inspired her to be involved with this project. Koka has so many stories to tell, gems from her childhood, funny anecdotes from conversations with family members and moments that include many a prominent person. In this respect, the writing of a book about such a magical and unusual story, is to be expected. I asked Koka about why it was important for her to write the book in te reo o Waiapu and she shared with me the following.

“Because that is where I was born and its the way we speak in the valley. Thats the thing with our language, its individual characteristics are disappearing. Every area has its own differences which give it a charm. The people from our valley get teased because the local dialect has a lot of humour and fun stuff in it. I went to a graduation in Ruatorea last night, and I had to make a speech. In that speech I mentioned that my niece hadn’t wanted to be an academic, instead she was off to Gisborne to learn to be a mechanic. I said that was good because then she could come back to Rangitukia and fix all the broken down cars on the side of the road. I used the term ‘kanukanu’ which describes something being a wreck. That word is not often used, but it is an expression that is typical of the way we speak in Rangitukia. We speak with a lot of humour. Humour that has a point to it. Even at tangi, we use humour to lighten the load for the grieving family; and in fact the audience fell about laughing at the use of those expressions.”

The word mita is one that comes up regularly in relation to Taka Ki Ro Wai. It’s the rhythm of the language, the way it flows. Koka’s favourite passage in the book is when she describes the bonding of the hero turituri (be quiet) with the mare tupeka (tobacco), and the rhythm of the animals togetherness is echoed in her use of te reo. Storytelling and education generally were a significant part of her childhood.

Koka’s father was educated at a mission school in Parnell Auckland. Just getting to school was a mission in itself that included catching Cobb & Co. from Tiki to Toko (sic), waiting at a marae for other boys to arrive, then being bundled into a sledge on the wharf, piled in with the mail bag and hoisted overboard onto a ‘lighter’ (small boat) which took them to a waiting ship. That ship sailed to Queens Wharf Auckland via Napier where it collected hides. From there, a walk up the hill to Parnell was required before finally arriving. “My father said he looked just like Dick Whittington minus the cat.” And in fact it was classic literature that featured in her early education, stemming directly from that mission education.

Koka’s father also learned latin as part of the curriculum, and he was thrilled when she too took it up. It’s many a time that I have heard Koka mention the need to conjugate your verbs before breakfast – the original inference being that if you didn’t …you wouldn’t get any. Storytelling around the kitchen table was designed to both educate and amuse the children, and it was storytelling with embellishments. If the storyteller couldn’t remember the ending, they would re-invent it. In Koka’s household it was the storytellers privilege to do so.

If there is a moral to Taka Ki Ro Wai, it is the thought that you might just become more aware of others needs. It seems that pigs and horses have a long history, with many new tales being shared in and around the valley about horses and pigs working together. Food for thought.

Hohi Ngapera Te Moana Keri Kaa is the author of Taka Ki Ro Wai. Recently awarded for her services to Maori & The Arts with a CNZM at Government House in Wellington, Keri Kaa, is a well known and loved East Coast treasure.


Please visit Creative New Zealand’s website for more on this project.

slideshow photos: Wendy Howe

This book was made with support from Creative New Zealand, The Margaret King Spencer Writers Encouragement Trust, The Maori Language Commission and Whanau support from the Tairawhiti and beyond.

Kia Ora