pron: ‘Shawn-a-hkhee’: A Highland or Irish bard and story-teller.
Well, not really. In the ‘pron’ bit, I mean. Strictly speaking, there’s no English digraph representing the sound of ‘ch’ as in ‘loch’ or clachan’ or even the Scots expression of disgust, ‘Ach!’ It’s a guttural, sliding sound made in the back of the throat and very familiar to Germans. If that helps.
But anyway – welcome to the Blog Page. I hope it gets worked to death. Any and all opinions are welcome here, so long as they are polite in expression and not designed to be hurtful. In another life I was wont to tell my students that the only things I held to be crimes were discourtesy to another’s opinion – and not having one of your own. I can’t think of any reason why that shouldn’t be so on this page, can you?
I’d like to put the ball into play by throwing open my reasons for writing An End of Honour, because I’ve been asked that a lot. Well, I suppose it’s only fair to wonder why a Scot should be writing about such a topic in an age where a major concern seems to be keeping to one’s own side of the fence. Yes, fair enough, so here goes.
An End of Honour originated in my deep admiration for a man who accepted the cards he’d been dealt in a game he had to play with his back pressed hard against the wall. First encountered during the reading for a master’s thesis on an entirely different subject many years ago, Titokowaru and his story remained in my head until it would no longer be denied and I began researching him in earnest. The most striking impression I formed of the man whom James Belich has termed ‘arguably NZ’s greatest general’ wasn’t his intuitive grasp of strategy, nor yet his ability as a field and fortification engineer: no, and not even his impressive string of battle victories against foes who held all the advantages in technology and logistics.
What won my admiration was his wholehearted acceptance of the cup that wouldn’t pass from him – the responsibility, his by virtue of his birth and pre-eminence in the Aotea Canoe, of leading his under-resourced and ill-armed people in a grossly unequal contest that he nevertheless had to win for survival. It’s the Spartan response to the Persian demand for their weapons at Thermopylae – “Come and take them”; the Saxon hus-carls at Hastings mocking the Conqueror’s bastardy in the words, “Here we stand /A noble band / Under the Dragon banner / Shall such men as we are / Ever kneel before the Tanner?”; it’s the simple ‘Nuts’ with which the totally surrounded and overwhelmingly outnumbered 101st American Airborne Division answered a German demand for surrender at Bastogne in our own century. It’s about doing what one has to, regardless, and it’s Spartacus, Hereward, Sitting Bull and Macaulay when he made Horatio say: ‘For how can man die better / Than facing fearful odds / For the ashes of his fathers / And the temples of his gods?’
In the end, of course, Titokowaru didn’t win in a material sense, for the odds were crippling. But in the words of what has become the Scottish national anthem he certainly “…sent (Proud Edward) homeward / Tae think again”, and his story calls to something deeply couched in my Scottish heritage – the urge to spit in a bully’s eye. So in the salute offered by that dour and grim race to those who have put up the best of efforts:
“Here’s tae ye. Wha’s like ye? Nane, for a’ the rest are deid.”
I’ve been living with the matua and his deeds for a long time, and perhaps that has clouded my judgement. I’d be extremely interested in the opinion of those who’ve read the book as to whether or not my impressions are accurate, or a bit OTT, or even a lot OTT. Your interest in a great story gives you the right, so fill ya boots, and thank you!