Monster Blog – by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría

SOUTHERN MONSTERS

by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría

About fifteen years ago, a group of paleontologists made a discovery (just one of many that often take place in Argentine territory) that caught my attention. It was the fossil of a mosasaur, a marine animal that lived on this planet seventy million years ago. The name that the Argentine paleontologists gave to that fossil and the place where they’d found it really impressed me.

It is common that the denomination of a dinosaur or other prehistoric animal is based on the name of the region where it was discovered or after its discoverer. However, this mosasaur, this particular species, received a different name: Lakumasaurus antarcticus.

Yes, the specimen had been discovered in the southernmost place on Earth and bore the name of a mythological animal.

I loved the idea of a dinosaur with the name of a mythical spirit belonging to the Yámana culture, the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego and a large number of islands that mark the end of the American continent. “The end of the world”, as Jules Verne called that region … except for Antarctica.

That animal had lived on a very different Earth. What today is composed entirely of perennial ice at that time was a tropical, fertile and warm land. A landscape gone millions of years ago that could well have been another world.

When I was still studying astrophysics (later I decided to change my career and got my PhD in philosophy), I used to spend many hours at the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata (which is inside the campus). And every day I used to admire the replicas of the prehistoric animals that had lived on a planet very different from mine and, even so, the same one.

When I heard the news of the discovery of Lakumasaurus antarcticus I was already studying philosophy, in Buenos Aires. I could not help but to join the memories of my hours with those ancestral and gigantic bones with the myths that I was investigating at the time for my thesis. Yámana myths among many others. And the myth of Lakuma, the Spirit of the Waters, especially.

I felt that many things in my life were being reconnected by de magic of a very distant creature and place.

When, a few months ago, I was asked to write a story about a South American monster, I had no doubt about what it would be. It would have been impossible to speak of another monster that was not Lakuma: a “monster” that, at the same time, is mythical and scientific (indirectly, of course). And a monster that, far from being “terrible” to me, is deeply evocative.

After years of studying astrophysics and visiting the dinosaur room of the museum, after a PhD in philosophy and research, one day I decided to dedicate myself completely to my passion: writing. It seemed that I had always been jumping from one island of reality to another, just as the Yámanas had lived moving from one south island to another in search of food and dreams.

As a writer, Lakuma became a symbol of my life, of what it was and what it is, of worlds as different as the Cretaceous Earth and the Earth of the present … or as Mars, Jupiter or the space between asteroids. A symbol of the possibility of living completely different experiences and, from a certain point of view, all of them “in solidarity” with each other.

Thus my story was born, one that unites very different times, that interweaves mythical and factual realities, and that ultimately seeks to portray the importance of dreaming and creating “better worlds” (as the writer or the artist does) in the midst of a society that constantly attacks human dignity (a society that often considers its members an statistic).

There was a time when there were not in the South Pole, as there are today, miles and miles of ice as vast and deep as the geological abysses. A time where those lands exuded a green and exuberant vegetation. Days in which immense fusiform reptiles dominated the life and death of its warm seas, as if they were the spirit of its waters.

For millions of years, day after day, this was so. And if there had been humans at that time, they would never have hesitated to consider those landscapes and that life as “inevitable” or “eternal”. But now we know that was not the case.

Probably (hopefully) there will be a future in which humans will populate the Solar System and beyond as if we had always belonged to space. And surely there will also be those who will think of that reality as something “eternal” and “immutable”.

If science fiction is the literary form that announces change (all change), it is also the literary form par excellence that announces the possibility of the different, of the other. The non-immutability.

In our human history, monsters have always been “the Others”, the different ones, those who do not conform, those who demand to be respected for who they are.

Science fiction talks about monsters to be able to talk about the different in a symbolic way and show the need for that difference. The beauty of the monster.

Society loves the status quo, of course, but life shouts with all its strength that change is not only necessary but inevitable. The “monsters” exist, but they are not what people should fear.

We are all monsters as we seek our originality and we separate ourselves from “the establishment”.

Lakuma is my monster, the symbol of what adapts to the sway of the times (just like its body adapts to the waves of the sea), but also of what is capable of anchoring itself to the ideals of a better world (ideals dreamed and put into practice, like those of the Yámana shamans).

And what are those dreams that give me roots but also wings? Those that imply that everything can and should change, but that it is necessary to work so that this change is for the better. Those of a world in which we see the end of inequality between genders, the freedom to be what we are and want to be (and yes, I speak of the right to be LGBTIQ +), and where there is a true human brotherhood (beyond of cultures, socioeconomical differences, skin colors, countries of origin, capacities, etc.).

The Lakumasaurus antarcticus teaches us that nothing is permanent. That the kings of the sea, like the retrograde and inhuman ideas that are dominant in an era, must evolve or perish within the framework of the long marathon of time.

Lakuma, the mythological being of a vanished people, teaches us that the best of a human group, the noblest of what the human being can be, remains beyond themselves in those ideas that prove to be “monsters” before the dead and cold eyes of ossified prejudices.

In my case, these monsters allowed me to see myself (accepting myself as the “good monster” I want to be, without the fear of being different), and to think, to dream and to create worlds where the landscape is wide enough to shelter each and every one of the people (wonderfully different from each other, as we are all) who want to read my stories.

Monster Blog – Gustavo Bondoni

The Story Behind My Choice of Gualicho

A quick google search will inform anyone interested that a Gualicho (or Gualichu) is a spirit from the mythology of the original people of Patagonia.  It’s the kind of evil spirit that every mythology has, and was often used to explain away every misfortune that befell the tribe. 

Now, I’ll be honest: I knew very little about the Mapuche people—the native population of parts of Patagonia—until very recently.  Argentina is a mainly European country and native populations represent a tiny percentage of the overall population.  The history and traditions of the original inhabitants of the country are only superficially studied in school.  When one encounters a person of evident native ethnicity, most assume that they are more recent immigrants from Bolivia or Paraguay.

These attitudes are the result of initial wars of conquest followed by a few centuries of assimilation—unlike in other areas, the original sparse native populations succumbed mainly to intermarriage with the much more numerous Europeans.

 Nevertheless, I’ve heard the word “gualicho” countless times in everyday conversation.  It has lost its original meaning to become synonymous of any kind of magic spell cast by a witch or shaman.

But it survived.

Somewhere in the wars of subjugation of a people who were far from most centers of commerce and population, one concept burned so strongly that not only was it understood by the conquerors, but it survived and entered the dominant Spanish language to live on in the vernacular.

Two hundred years later, an Argentine writer of mainly Italian ancestry (only a quarter of my forebears were from Spain) sat down to choose a traditional monster from South America. 

My research identified dozens of candidates, from legendary monsters to native gods and from spirits only a handful of indigenous people ever believed in to entities that frightened the superstitious colonists hundreds of years later.

The process ended as soon as I found the Gualicho.  I became fascinated with the fact that a word could morph and survive one of history’s truly definitive wars of annihilation.  It must have had some powerful mojo.

As a term that reaches us through an essentially oral evolution, the etymology is pretty confused, but in my imagination, I can see the Mapuches repeating it again and again every time they came into contact with those Europeans who, through firearms or disease, had become so intimately connected to the unimaginable evil befalling their people.

There was nothing else you could call them, was there?  Those pale-faced interlopers must have seemed to be perfect stand-ins for the evil spirit that haunted their people.

It must have been a powerful spirit indeed, powerful enough to find a way to survive.  But surely a spirit strong enough to be familiar to someone unconnected to the history of the region two hundred years after the people whose legends it had sprung from were gone would find a way to abide, to plan for the time when it could vanquish not only its original victims but also the new interlopers…

But who would it fight?  Would it attempt to ally itself with the Mapuche against the new enemy?  Would it continue to torment the Mapuche’s descendants? 

The answer, once I understood the spirit, was obvious.  This thing would fight agains everyone.

But how?

Well, to get that answer, you’ll have to read the story.

American Monsters – Christopher Kastensmidt

The Many Faces of Kalobo

Hello all! I’m Christopher Kastensmidt, author of The Elephant and Macaw Banner series and “A Parlous Battle”, a story in that series published in American Monsters.

The Kalobo (or “Capelobo”, as it’s known in Brazil) is a relatively unknown legend in Brazil. Dozens of people have told me over the years that they’d never heard of it before the Brazilian publication of “A Parlous Battle” way back in 2011. In fact, if you Google images with “Capelobo”, the most popular images of the creature are those related to my series. I’d like to share a few of those here.

Since it was one of the first creatures that appeared in the stories, it was also one of my first art commissions. Brazilian artist Paulo Ítalo produced two drawings of the creature for me. I worked very closely with him on these and they are the closest to my own personal concept of the creature:

After that, I allowed other artists liberty to create their own interpretations, without any interference from me. U.S. artist Jay Beard created two very different pieces inspired by the creature:

When Czech magazine Pevnost published the story, the artist Jan Štěpánek drew this amazing illustration:

Finally, one of the most well-known illustrations is this gorgeous painting by SulaMoon:

Many thanks to Margrét Helgadóttir for the chance to introduce this creature to readers around the world in the American Monsters anthology. For those looking for more stories from The Elephant and Macaw Banner, the complete series is now available in one volume from Guardbridge Books.

American Monsters – Editors blog

Editing American Monsters
By Margrét Helgadóttir

Five years ago, we demanded that something had to be done. We strongly felt that the monsters of this world are watered down and overused in the popular media and that only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—all from Western popular culture. We wanted to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak, and we wanted to bring all of the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.

On December 24th, Fox Spirit Books released the fifth volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, a seven-volume series with titles published annually from 2014 to 2020. The series is like a grand world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monster tales continent by continent. The genres used span from horror, fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, YA, crime, and the more literary. The journey started in Europe in 2014 before it continued to Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. This year we stop in Central and South America.

In the latest book we present you tales of beasties and monstrous terror from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador, Uruguay and Guatamala, told by fourteen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching region. This book is the first of two volumes covering the American continent. In American Monsters part two— out in November 2019—we will visit North America including Mexico and the Caribbean.

As editor for these books, it is always very exciting to start researching for a new volume and the most nerve-racking part is when I try to find contributors. I wish to give my thanks to the editors and authors who helped me out with the research and pointed me in direction of other talented authors. I regret to tell you that one challenge turned out to be too difficult to overcome; the search for authors able and willing to contribute from Central America has been extremely difficult. It is thus with sorrow that we can’t give you more stories from authors in Central America. I feel however that we are still bringing you enough stories to give you a small hint about the immense folklore and diversity of monster tales in the southern parts of America.
Language has been a barrier. Some of the authors in Central and South America don’t write fiction or even communicate in English, and I quickly realised that we needed to have several stories translated if I should be able to present this part of the American continent seriously. I am thus very pleased to tell you that we have five translated stories in this volume, four of these are translated (from Spanish) exclusively for this book. Thanks so much for the excellent translations from Fabio Fernandes and Mercedes Guilloux.

It’s been a steep learning curve. This is the first time I have been editing translated stories but even if the process on the translated stories stretched over more time than the other stories, we managed somehow—even though not all the authors communicate in English—to edit and polish these stories too. I have learned very much from this process, something I will use the next time I need translations.

So, language has been a demanding but a fun challenge. In general, I am struck by how language itself reveals an identity in storytelling. There is a certain poetic undercurrent in the voice in many of the stories, both translated and not. The stories feel dark yet oddly personal and honest. Also, I believe that the choice of words and sentence structuring give the tales a peculiar but mesmerising flow—you have no choice but to read them to the end without pause. I have been reflecting on this while editing: maybe it is the identity, the cultural identity of this geographical region that shines through? I don’t know but I hope you will like it as much as I have.

And then it’s the monsters. Humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created stories and myths about beasts and monsters. You can find traces of them in old texts and even in old sea maps. Monster folklore is passed down from generation to generation, and these stories are important in traditions and customs. The tales serve not only as entertainment, but often teach a lesson as well.

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another.

In the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters I don’t just wish to scare people with monsters they have probably never heard of, but I also want the books to give their readers an insight into the continents we cover. The stories in American Monsters part one are dark and complex, several are a mixture of magic, realism and science. Most of the stories are tales about contemporary life set against a historical blend of the Catholic Church’s influence, indigenous questions, invasion and colonialism, dictatorships, and political struggles. Quite many of the stories tell tales about forbidden taboos or the struggle of minorities, be it indigenous, gender or sexuality.

The monsters portraited is also a complex mix. We have many shapeshifters, more than in previous volumes. There are beasts and spirits too. Then there are the weirder and mysterious creatures and creations, such as light, waves, mountains or even islands—all dark stories that will leave you in utter terror.

I wish to give my thanks to Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books and her wonderful crew, and all the artists and authors for making such a lovely book. I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it. There are some monsters here I have truly fallen in love with, they are so hideous and horrible, they don’t sparkle or want to be our friend. They are the truest monsters. Enjoy!

American Monsters Part 1 – Live!

Nope, not a political statement, but we are delighted to announce the first part of American Monsters, covering south and central America, with several stories in translation, is here!

Please don’t be put off by amazon ‘not in stock’ marker, it’s a quirk of using Ingram and the book is available here now.

Here be Monsters!

They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.

American Monsters pt 1 is the fifth volume in a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world, and the first of two volumes covering the American continent.

“A wonderfully eclectic and compelling monster anthology that offers fresh, and often subversive perspectives on the weird, the dark, and the scary. The stories in American Monsters bristle with fangs and claws, introducing us to creatures that are formidable and terrifying, often ancient, and often dangerously capricious. Prowling the outskirts of society and the fringes of reality, many of these monsters live among the poor and the oppressed, and end up using their otherworldly powers to frighten, devour, or punish the oppressors. This is visceral, gripping, and satisfying horror with monsters that will get under your skin to haunt your dreams and your nightmares.”

Maria Haskins, writer and translator with speculative fiction in numerous anthologies and magazines. Blogs about science fiction and fantasy for Barnes and Noble.

Cover Reveal! Monsters

This year’s Monsters volume is running a little closer to Christmas, but it is on its way!

American Monsters Part 1, a collection of stories from South and Central America, including a number of translations, artwork and once again Daniele Serra’s stunning cover art!

So without further ado, the cover!

And a reminder of those contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. Liliana Colanzi: «The Wave»
  2. Santiago Santos: «A Carpet Sewn With Skeletons»
  3. Sabrina Vourvoulias: «Time’s Up, Cerotes»
  4. Ramiro Sanchiz: «The Pearl»
  5. Paula Andrade: «Almamula»
  6. Cesar Alcázar and Eduardo Monteiro (art): «Cerro Bravo» (graphic story)
  7. Christopher Kastensmidt: «A Parlous Battle»
  8. Mariela Pappas: «The Eyes of a Wolf»
  9. Solange Rodriguez Pappe: «The Entangler»
  10. Daniel Salvo: «Jaar, Jaar, Jaar»
  11. Flavia Rizental: «My Name is Iara»
  12. Gustavo Bondoni: «Vulnerable Populations»
  13. Fabio Fernandes: «The Emptiness in the Heart of All Things»
  14. Paula Andrade: «La Perla del Plata» (graphic story)
  15. Teresa Mira de Echeverria: «Lakuma»
The book will have illustrations by Paula Andrade, Lynda Bruce, and Kieran Walsh.

 

American Monsters Pt 1 : TOC

TABLE OF CONTENTS – AMERICAN MONSTERS PART ONE
 
Pacific Monsters is presently on the short list for the British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology. This book has made it to several award shortlists, including the awards Australian Shadows, Sir Julius Vogel, and Aurealis. The lovely people at Sheffield Fantasy and Science Fiction Social also awarded the book Best Anthology and Margrét Helgadóttir was awarded Starburst Magazine’s Brave New Words Award for her editor work on the book. It’s been a good year for monsters.
 
We are pleased to announce that American Monsters volume one is due out this December. American Monsters volume one is the fifth book in our grand world tour exploring monsters tales continent by continent, told by local authors. Margrét is once more the editor. We have split up America in two volumes. In this collection we explore the old myths and monsters in South and Central America, with short stories, graphic stories and art from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador, Uruguay and Guatamala. This book will have five translated stories, something we are very proud of.
 
Our gorgeous cover series by Daniele Serra will continue for this fifth volume. The cover will be released later.
 
Stories from North America (including Mexico and Caribbean) will be out next year before the series end in 2020 with Eurasian monster tales.
 
 
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. Liliana Colanzi: «The Wave»
  2. Santiago Santos: «A Carpet Sewn With Skeletons»
  3. Sabrina Vourvoulias: «Time’s Up, Cerotes»
  4. Ramiro Sanchiz: «The Pearl»
  5. Paula Andrade: «Almamula»
  6. Cesar Alcázar and Eduardo Monteiro (art): «Cerro Bravo» (graphic story)
  7. Christopher Kastensmidt: «A Parlous Battle»
  8. Mariela Pappas: «The Eyes of a Wolf»
  9. Solange Rodriguez Pappe: «The Entangler»
  10. Daniel Salvo: «Jaar, Jaar, Jaar»
  11. Flavia Rizental: «My Name is Iara»
  12. Gustavo Bondoni: «Vulnerable Populations»
  13. Fabio Fernandes: «The Emptiness in the Heart of All Things»
  14. Paula Andrade: «La Perla del Plata» (graphic story)
  15. Teresa Mira de Echeverria: «Lakuma»
 
The book will have illustrations by Paula Andrade, Lynda Bruce, and Kieran Walsh.
 
***
 
The Fox Spirit Books of Monsters is a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books, edited by Margrét Helgadóttir. The series has dark fiction from around the world, written by local authors, short stories and graphic stories based on local folklore, legends and myths. Illustrated by local artists.
 
The series has 7 books published between 2014 and 2020, starting with Europe (2014), continuing with Africa (2015), Asia (2016) and Pacific region in 2017. Volume five (2018) and six (2019) will cover South, Central and North America before the series end with Eurasia (including Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkan) in the end of 2020.

Sunday Snippet : Pacific Monsters

The FS Books of Monsters are a Horror series curated by Margrét Helgadóttir (and in the early volumes, Jo Thomas), who are women in horror. 

MONSTER
Tina Makereti

It came out of the sea on a Saturday morning, heaving its body onto the rocks beside the boat sheds in the darkness before dawn. It sat in a shallow pool potted with black mussels and a slick of seaweed while it took a few breaths, then drew itself up the stairs. It could smell rust and exhaust fumes.
The dragon boaters had woken it the day before, crowds of them, their barrage of noise muted only slightly by the shallow watery cradle of the harbour. Somehow the tides had brought it in as it slept, released from its bed in the depths of the Pacific by the rumblings of a quake. It wasn’t just their yells that woke it, or the slice of their paddles in the water—a thousand small splashes that sounded like storm rain from where it lay. They brought something else with their bright-painted hulls and racing arms. It felt them moving above, pushing against the limits of their age just as they pushed through the water, a hard-held breath waiting for life to happen. It felt the enormity of future somethings beating in their chests. It opened an eye and saw the firm thighs flash, the twist of wrist tendon.
It wanted them.
It watched all day, one eye and then two, from just below the surface. A girl looked right into one of those round dark lenses just before she plunged her paddle, but quickly dismissed what she had seen as reflection—the heat and sweat of the day causing distortion in her vision. Even so, that afternoon she developed an aversion to water, preferring to keep fingers and toes above. The others on her team teased when they noticed her reserve, dipping their own fingers in to splash her. The thing beneath could almost taste the juice in their taunts. It dreamed of nibbling their sweet digits.
Still, it stayed—calm, quiet, breathing in salt-wet infused pockets of air, readying itself for the closing of gills and opening of lungs. It could wait. The upper world would still be there when it was ready. Last time, the land under the sea had rumbled the thing up from below in great surges, wave after wave, until it found itself pushed up into the harbour and past, washing through a beachfront house with the massive tide. The house had been quickly abandoned when the sea came knocking; so it stayed awhile, slumping and sloshing from room to room, curious about the upper world. The house was wood, and spare, and the contents were now damp and sandy and preparing to rot. There it found a woman’s petticoat among some items pushed into a wet corner, and a framed family portrait that had remained miraculously nailed to a wall. It wondered about the smooth-skinned creatures in the picture, with their coverings and ruffles and silky heads. It reached thick fingers to the bulbed seaweed and baby mussels that formed stringy colonies on its own head, felt its own calloused black barnacle skin, and made a sound very like laughter.

Snippet Sunday : African Monsters

New thing for 2018, now that it is properly underway. Sunday’s we are going to give you just a few paragraphs from a story to enjoy. There is no particular order to these, but we hope you enjoy them during the year. 

From ‘That Woman’ By S. Lotz
Published in African Monsters

It took me almost eight hours to drive from Accra to the Northern District, and by the time I pulled up outside the police station, back aching from the punishment doled out by the potholes that plagued the roads, all I wanted was a cold drink and a soft bed. No chance of that—I only had two days to conclude my business here. A month earlier, my superior had received a flurry of furious letters from a Gushengu resident complaining that the local police were refusing to look into the suspicious deaths of several men from the district, and that he and his son were now “under attack”. The letters were garbled and borderline illiterate, but they were persistent. Considering the other priorities we had at the time, it was an unusual errand, but my boss was newly appointed, and was wary of giving his detractors any cause to accuse him of incompetence. I was instructed to investigate the man’s claims.
The police station was understaffed, but eventually a constable in a crushed shirt showed me into the district police commander’s office. The commander, a large middle-aged woman with a flat face, greeted me politely and waved me into the seat in front of her desk. I knew little about her; just that she’d been there for many years, working her way up the ladder despite the many difficulties she must have faced as a woman in a male-dominated profession. I don’t consider myself an unconfident man, but I found myself sweating under her gaze: she had unusual, light-coloured eyes that were hard to read and gave her a predatory air. Shrugging off my discomfort, I explained that I was an investigator from the Deputy Inspector’s office in Accra and outlined the reason behind my errand.
She listened without showing any emotion. ‘And who is the man who sent these letters?’
‘A Mr Kwame Nfani.’
‘I know of him. He has been here many times.’ She gave me a bland smile, no hint of guilt that she’d been neglecting her duties. ‘And he says that a great injustice has been done, eh?’
‘He says that a man from his village and four others in neighbouring villages have died in suspicious circumstances, and he believes his son will be next to die.’
‘And how did he say these men died?’
‘He did not.’
‘So on this basis—hearsay—you are conducting an investigation?’
What to say to that? She was correct. She let me squirm for a while, then leaned back in her chair. ‘Ask your questions.’
‘Was there an investigation into the deaths?’
‘No. There was no need. There have been no suspicious deaths in the region recently. But I know of what you speak. In the cases of the men Mr Nfani is referring to, the doctor said three of them were due to malaria, and two succumbed to meningitis. As you know, there was an outbreak of meningitis in the region at the time.’

Monster Tales : Tihema Baker

My Identity

by Tihema Baker

Ko Tainui te waka

Ko Tararua te maunga

Ko Ōtaki te awa

Ko Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, ko Te Āti Awa ki Whakarongotai, ko Ngāti Toa Rangatira ngā iwi

Ko Tihema Baker tōku ingoa.

This is my pepeha – my identity. It includes the vessel that brought my ancestors to Aotearoa New Zealand, to the mountains and river that geographically ground me, and the nations I belong to. For the Māori peoples of Aotearoa, identity is inextricably tied to whakapapa (genealogy), which demonstrates our worldview: we are the sum of everything that came before. It’s a profound recognition of the past and understanding of how it shapes the future. Everything that transpired, everything that aligned, everything that fell into place and resulted in our existence defines us. From the emergence of raw potential from the void, right up to the mothers who gave birth to us. By stating my pepeha, I am introducing myself as definitively as I can as Māori.

If you were to meet me face-to-face, however, it’s unlikely you would think I’m Māori. To most, I look white, or what we would call Pākehā; my skin is the freckly type that burns within a few minutes of summer sun, my hair is fair, my eyes are blue. Undoubtedly, if you met me on the street, you would assume I was white.

It’s a symptom of the world we live in, which insists on defining people by their skin colour or physical attributes. This directly contradicts that Māori worldview that identity has absolutely nothing to do with skin colour. I am the sum of everything that came before me. And if that means I am Māori, then I am Māori. There is no other qualifier.

That worldview doesn’t sit so well in a western, colonised society built on the exact premise that people are defined by their skin colour. Sure, today in New Zealand we don’t have laws that directly prejudice brown-skinned Māori (for the most part), and we don’t have overt displays of white supremacy (for the most part). But the remnants of a society built on racial profiling still infect our lives.

Like so many Māori children, I suffered through an education where teachers mangled my Māori name in almost every way imaginable. As an adult, I suffer through the same in professional environments, often having to correct colleagues on something as simple as calling me what I wish to be called. But there’s a unique element to this that comes exclusively with being a “white Māori”; having to justify being Māori to everyone else.

My mum recalls taking me as a toddler to the doctor, where the receptionist asked why she hadn’t given me a “nice” name like “Reuben”. Just a few weeks ago I caught an elevator with a woman who works at the same place I do and she asked, “How come you have a Māori name?” When I told her what I thought would have been the obvious answer – that I am Māori – she responded, “But you have red hair,” like the two are somehow mutually exclusive. Before I knew it, my well-trained, instinctive response churned itself out, “Well, my mum’s Australian and…”

This is how my ability to engage socially has been conditioned by a lifetime of pre-empting the quizzical looks, the interrogation on how Māori I really am, the automatic “othering” that occurs the moment I introduce myself. I am programmed to explain myself, to contextualise my appearance so it makes sense to other people, to whom a white face with a brown name does not compute. As a human being biologically wired to seek acceptance by others, I often unconsciously just compromise my own sense of identity for their benefit. And I’m not even innocent of this ignorance myself; my own instinctive defence of my whiteness – that “my mum’s Australian” – is a glaring oversight of Australia’s own indigenous peoples. 

And that’s the irony; this “othering” isn’t only committed by Pākehā. I remember, at 6 years old, being pushed by a Māori girl for being a Pākehā who had stolen her land. When I defiantly told her I was from Ngāti Raukawa, she refused to believe me based on how white I was. At 8 years old a Māori relief teacher read my name from the roll, looked over her glasses at me and said, “You’re not Māori, are you?” Again, those experiences weren’t just limited to my childhood; I played a game of netball just yesterday and introduced myself to a new Māori teammate who, when I gave him my name, looked me up and down and said, “Not the name I was expecting.”

I could rattle off examples of these micro-aggressions all day, but I think the picture is clear. This is the bizarre space I occupy as an apparent “white Māori”; possessing too brown a name to fit in with Pākehā but too white-skinned to fit in with Māori.

Frustratingly, these attitudes extend to my writing too. When I was first in talks with my publisher, which specialises in Māori literature, about my novel, I was asked if either of the two main characters were Māori and, if not, why not? I hadn’t really thought about it; I had described one of them as having fair hair and skin only because I vainly wanted him to look like me. Just because I hadn’t explicitly jammed in somewhere that he was Māori didn’t mean he wasn’t. It just meant his appearance wasn’t an indicator of him being Māori or not.

As a Māori writer, this expectation – that my writing should “look” Māori – has been incredibly challenging to break through. People are surprised when they find my novel doesn’t reflect their view of what “Māori literature” is; I’ve had friends tell me they assumed my novel was written entirely in Māori for no other reason than I am Māori. Basically, my novel is about teenagers with superpowers, inspired by comic books, superhero movies, and Harry Potter – it’s about as nerdy and un-Māori in “look” a book could get. But it’s what I enjoy. That’s why I wrote it.

This just doesn’t add up in a lot of people’s heads. They can’t fathom a Māori writer producing a YA sci-fi novel, instead expecting something about Māori gods or taniwhā. It undermines all the aspects of my identity as Māori that shaped the book and therefore absolutely make it – like everything I write – a piece of Māori literature; my novel explores fundamental Māori concepts like life-force and spirit, the complex relationship between older and younger siblings, among others. They’re just not explicitly labelled as such. And they shouldn’t have to be; just like I shouldn’t have to reconcile my identity as Māori with my white skin so it makes sense to others, I shouldn’t have to tokenise my writing with as many Māori references as possible for it to be accepted as Māori literature. In line with that Māori worldview, my book is the result of everything that influenced it, all my experiences that moulded the words I put on the page. If those were the experiences of a Māori person, then the literature is unequivocally Māori too. 

Of course, not all Pākehā and Māori have these views. I have been fortunate throughout my life to be surrounded by Pākehā and Māori who simply accept me for who I am, and who protect me when I get tired of sticking up for myself. I must also acknowledge that my skin colour often affords me privilege that others do not have. I do not get stopped by police while driving or walking through the streets. I receive smiles from strangers, am asked for directions or assistance, when my brown friends and family are avoided. I’ve also never been killed or blamed for terrorism based on my skin colour. Who knows how many other scenarios I have been advantaged in due solely to my white skin – probably more than I’ll ever know. And that’s not even beginning to scratch the surface of my privilege as a white man; even if I was brown I still wouldn’t face as much prejudice in New Zealand as a brown Māori woman does. I acknowledge that. This is just an account of my experiences as a Māori with white skin, in a colonised society built upon the distinction of skin colour. It’s one I’m not sure has been explored in literature often.

So I decided to write about it because it’s a theme I touch on in my story “Children of the Mist.” There’s a passage that describes the narrator’s experience having to justify his white appearance to other Māori. At first read it probably seems quite out of place; a monologue that delves much deeper into the narrator’s psyche than any other passage in the story. Mechanically, it serves an important function in the story’s overall conclusion, but it’s also an example of a specific story element inspired by my lived experience. I thought it would be interesting to delve into, because in reading my story – and any other, for that matter – you are not just reading a text that exists independent of anything else. You are reading a text inspired by history, by opinion, by experience. You are reading the sum of everything that came before.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou katoa.