Travels with my Tokotoko

On the 10th of October 2020, at a powhiri on Matahiwi Marae, my Laureate tokotoko, Te Kore, finally found its way into my hand, after a six-month delay to the ceremony forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. By the 10th of December 2020, I had appeared in public reciting poems and talking about poetry about 30 times, all over Aotearoa. That evening, helping launch the 100th issue of Takahē literary magazine at the Sign of the Takahē restaurant in Christchurch, I read three of my poems included in the centenary issue.

Man on a stage with a carved stick.
David Eggleton and Te Kore at the Little Theatre in Picton. 

At Matahiwi, kaumatua Edward Timu and Des Ratima, along with tokotoko carver Jacob Scott and tokotoko presenter John Buck, emphasised that Te Kore would help me rise tall in oratory, and Jacob also suggested the hardwood staff, made of heavy, dense maire, would help protect me, like a taiaha, from the consequences of reciting some of my more provocative poems. Well, so far, touch wood, I haven't needed it for that protection, while the dramatic appearance of the dark-stained rākau, cuffed and reinforced with stainless steel circlets, has drawn all eyes.

Carving on a hardwood stick.
Close up of carving on Te Kore. 

Te Kore means the Void, or Nothingness, out of which arises creation: the Void is charged, full of potential — from the cataclysm of a cosmic joke to the tremble of a tiny leaf splashed with rain. Te Kore has a cored-out knothole within its haft, through which you might glimpse Te Ao-marama: the bright light of day. I travel with Te Kore dissassembled, bundled up in a tapa cloth bag, sewn from the edge-piece of a large tapa mat presented by the fanau of my Tongan great-uncle Mateo Halafihi of Namoli, Tongatapu. The specially-designed bag has a zipper and a strengthened inner lining. The surface of Te Kore itself is delicately embellished with references to my Rotuman and Tongan whakapapa.

Tapa cloth bag with handles.
Te Kore in travelling tapa cloth bag. 

Writing a great poem is rather like being struck by lightning a handful of times after a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, the American poet Randall Jarrell reckoned. With its polished, beautiful dark grain, sombre as a scorched firestick, the slender and carven branch of a mighty tree, Te Kore would encourage any poet to write so as to make the familiar strange, questing after the transformative poem, the lightning flash. And so as I stand in front of the big poetry parade for the time of my tenure, I feel Te Kore is by me to keep me up to the mark, alert to metaphor and symbolism, the richness of living in these islands of Te Moana. Fai'eksia! Noa'ia e Mauri!

— David Eggleton