The Bone People won the Booker Prize in 1985 and for its own part, raised the awareness of the existence of Maori culture outside the borders of New Zealand. Furthermore, a film called Once were warriors made a worldwide breakthrough in the 1990’s and brought even more social awareness to this minority that has suffered from the lack of basic human rights for ages.
Maoris are indigenous people of the island of New Zealand. It is known that first maoris of the island arrived to the island by long canoes from Polynesia around the 14th Century. As the Europeans started to conquer the island through Colonialism, Maorian tribes were mistreated and the population of the maoris started to decrease. The cultural resurrection of the Maori heritage started to occur at some point in the 1960´s. E.g. the language of Maori people has been legalized and brought to the curriculum of the country´s schools relatively recently, in the 1980’s.
Keri Hulme participates in this process of revival through the contents of the book. She weaves the story in her magical way by introducing Maori words along the journey. The arrangement and relationship between her three main characters could be seen to reflect the past of the Maori tribes. The struggle of the existence has been an ongoing and fierce battle.
It is difficult to write about this book, as the story does not follow the conventional storyline and is in some ways “out of this world”. The lives of the three characters are presented in fragmented ways, but which get their meanings in relation to each other. A woman, a man and a child have their own struggles to fight with, yet the caring and loving emotions seem to be evolving. The connection of this three is unique and biased. Isolation is a big theme, and violent actions occur. It is not always easy for the reader to accept the actions and their consequences.
A relation to the nature can be sensed in the book, and some symbols for Maorian culture is presented, such as the importance of art works & tattooes, and the respect to the past and magical stories. Keri Hulme made an important work through her writing, although the story would have not suffered from some further editing or simplification, in my opinion. One of our bookclubbers considered this to be the most outstanding book she has read for a while.
Cover (Finnish version): Kirjasampo.fi