An eye for an eye

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

‘Mana’ is a mystery word with no real meaning in the English language.

Honour, respect, dignity, integrity – none of these accurately equal the word ‘mana’. It is part of all of these – and much more.

To lose mana is a disaster. To lose the respect of a friend is to lose mana.

Stumpy knew there was a bit of pigeon shooting going on, it did every year when the berries on the miro trees were ripe, and it had done for generations. He had his duty to do if he caught somebody red handed, but he also lived in the valley community so did not push too hard.

The community knew he had this duty and accepted that if caught, those who practiced this skill would pay the penalty.

It was not that Stumpy did not know the taste of pigeon. From his earliest days in the valley at feasts on the maraes the hosts, with typical Maori humour, had slyly fed ‘the pakeha boss’ with the bird he was supposed to be protecting. At first this had been mildly malicious but as the years rolled by the game was played out in goodwill.

Stumpy became well accustomed to eating drumsticks with the acid flavour of miro in them under the close scrutiny of many smiling brown eyes. His innocent compliments to the cooks about the beautiful way they had prepared the ’chicken’ always brought a strong ripple of suppressed- laughter. They knew what he was eating! He knew what he was eating! He knew that they knew what he was eating, but did THEY know that he knew? The question was never answered, the subject never discussed.

Mana’ is a delicate unknown, and if the truth were revealed mana would be lost on both sides. Once mana is lost it is difficult to regain, sometimes only by the doctrine of ‘an eye for an eye’.

Sandy was Stumpy’s friend. Stumpy was pretty sure that Sandy shot the odd pigeon or two – but he never quite knew, nor did he probe too deeply. A friend would lose mana if Stumpy discovered beyond doubt the he did shoot pigeons.

One Saturday night in the bar Stumpy and Sandy were sitting at a table enjoying a social drink. Along came a village housewife who had already spent too much time in the bar. She squeezed her way between the two men, whispering in Sandy’s ear. Suddenly she noticed Stumpy’s presence and in apology for her intrusion, patted Sandy’s shoulder and speaking to Stumpy said, “I’m sorry but you see, I love Sandy like a brother. Yesterday he brought me two beautiful big fat birds!” The bombshell had dropped!

Sandy’s face turned grey, his eyes hard and flat. Mana with his friend was lost.

A Maori with a grey face and flat eyes is a dangerous man, a man not to be trifled with. At a glance the woman saw her mistake and hurried off, guilty, eyes downcast.

Stumpy made light of the incident but to no avail. Soon after, Sandy left the bar silent, angry and humiliated.

On the following Monday morning Stumpy was pleased to note Sandy had recovered his usual good spirits. He was back to his usual self, all was well.

Three days later, the housewife, wearing sunglasses which failed to conceal the black eye and swollen jaw, told Stumpy the rest of the story.

Sandy had arrived at her house at 9.30 on Sunday morning, explained to her and her husband the reason for his visit and had promptly dropped her on to her own kitchen floor with a single punch to the jaw. Her husband had sat throughout the incident without intervening.

She was relieved the incident was over. She and her husband were once more friends with Sandy… and with Stumpy for that matter…. Sandy had regained his mana – all was well. Her punishment was well deserved.

It would seem on this occasion the problem was solved by ‘an eye for an eye’.