Crow of Whareatua
The year is 1869, Te Kooti Arikirangi te Turuki, commands a deadly Maori guerilla force. Te Urewera is the battleground: a wilderness of forest, bird, mountain and waterway. Crow of Whareatua brings to life a one-month period of a brutal war, one which was to shape New Zealand’s Destiny.
What people are saying about the book and the author:
Celebrating Sid Marsh’s “Crow of Whareatu”
I am very happy to be helping celebrate the republication of Sid Marsh’s graphic novel “Crow of
Whareatua” I am not a graphic novelist expert, artist or war historian, but as a friend of Sid’s who
shares strong conservation values I believe that on many levels Sid’s book is a taonga, a treasure
truly deserving a new release into the public arena. The book’s original publication in 1999 received
accolades from such esteemed creative people as graphic novelist Dylan Horrocks and author,
librarian and reviewer Ian Sharp who said at the time of its first publication that it was “one of the
year’s strongest New Zealand novels”.
What I see when I read Sid’s graphic novel is, first of all, his exquisite eye for detail in all his
drawings. I know how much time Sid takes in creating each of his drawings, I know the time and
attention he pays to researching the accuracy of his stories and his visuals. However, what I am in
awe of, as a conservationist, is that he doesn’t just draw ‘bush’ for this story; he draws particular
native tree species. For example on page 23, where we see the now extinct huia, we, also, see
tanekaha (celery pine), both trees and leaves. Secondly, although this is a story of Te Kooti, Tuhoe
and Te Urewera it is, also, a story and illustration of this country’s unique conservation values found
in our native birds (from whiu to kiwi). Sid has interspersed the graphic narrative with both
historical and contemporary quotes. Some of these quotes, side by side with particular drawings
highlight the immense and sometimes devastating human impact on our native bird population. The
actions of characters in the narrative point to how casual humans were (even while food-gathering)
in relation to our land’s unique species. While this is a ‘no holds barred’ battle story of one period
during the time we call ‘the Maori wars’ or ‘land wars’, I believe there are other deeper readings in
the book that have lessons for us living in Aotearoa today.
I celebrate Sid’s ‘Crow of Whareatua’ and wish it a new and deep thinking readership out in the
What People say about Crow and Sid:
You can’t escape politics.
Driving here, I wondered why this isn’t a big shot launch by a big-shot publisher to launch an important cultural landmark of a book. Why did a little Waiheke Publisher have to take it on? Big Pub wouldn’t want it, that’s why. They’d have million reasons for turning it down, but politics is never far away. I mean, the book is quite radical, isn’t it?
Yes, radical in form and content.
Let’s come at this from another direction. When I was young our wars were known as the Maori Wars. This is the Keith Sinclair colonial view of history. The Maoris were the problem, so we hunted them down and smoked them out. Next they were called the New Zealand Wars, our ‘civil wars’ although there was nothing civil about them. That was better but vague. Now we have the Land Wars which is a much more accurate term. How long did they go on for? Well from 1840 to the 1970’s in fact, but what we call the land wars were in the 1860s when the major battles were fought. A new generation of scholars and historians have corrected the balance to a large degree. James Belich and Anne Salmon have given us a new understanding of this colonial land grab. So has Sid Marsh.
Political barriers still exist, however, just under the skin. We recently had a ‘Land Wars’ week but you’d be forgiven for not noticing. It’s a time in our history we’d rather not remember. Better to just gloss over it and accentuate the positive, right? Wrong. These are memories buried deep on our culture, deep on our land, Sid Marsh is giving them form. Thank you Sid. This is a sacred task, the privilege of the writer.
A quick word about Sid. Sid Marsh is a remarkable person. He seems to have done everything except wrestle crocodiles in Australia. He has been from the jungles of Asia tracking down Bengal tigers, to the depths of the Ureweras doing conservation work and exploring the region’s history. I suspect he feels more at home in the bush than our so called civilisation. Sid is both a writer and an artist, but I have to confess that I think he’s at his best in the graphic novel form, where he brings his two art forms together. The words and the images. This book is a triumph of form.
Sid was way ahead of the curve when he first did Crow almost 20 years ago. He still is, but I think the world might have caught up him to the point where we can look to a bright future for the book ( One of the reaons we’re short of books tonight is because an educational distributer, Academy books, put in an order.) At Lasavia, we’re determined to get this book into every school and library in the country – or die tryin’.
I want to add to this a brief word about the graphic novel form. I got to love this form through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, Tintin, and lots of Uncle Scrooge comics when I was young! So I was primed for Crow. But readers have to learn how to read a graphic novel. Being a comic reader as a child helps. Again Sid was ahead of the wave in developing this form. Graphic novels are far more acceptable as an art form now than twenty years ago, although literary snobbery sticks around. Graphic novels and anime are now a significant cultural force, and are recognised as such. I suspect that this would have been among the reasons Big Pub would have turned the book down. Minority or cult interest. Small market. Blah blah. We wish you the best of luck finding another publisher… but among other things Crow meets a need in the community. Young people may not readily pick up a Belich or Ann Salmon history book to read, but they’ll read this. And by reading it they’ll learn something. An interest in Te Kooti or the Land Wars might be sparked. A piece of our history is reclaimed for the cultural imagination.
It’s a book we’re proud to publish, and I expect you’ll proud to own. Buying this book is more than just supporting Sid Marsh and us, but a vote for that very process of cultural reclamation.