The novel Cousins by Patricia Grace was first published by Penguin New Zealand in 1992. It is about the lives of three cousins and how they grow up under different circumstances.
The first protagonist and the oldest cousin Mata is introduced in the first part of the book. Her tragic point of view is mostly curated from her childhood self and sometimes from her middle-aged point of view. She has a Māori mother and a Pākeha father. Mata grows up in a Girl’s Home and has a legal guardian because her father does not want her to grow up with her Māori side of the family, but also does not want to take care of her himself. She only is allowed to visit her family once, but she cannot really interact with them, because she understands neither the language nor their traditions. Mata cannot relate to her Māori side nor to the Pākeha side. She is very introverted and feels neglected because no one ever tried to get her out of this situation or tried to understand her.
“Everybody knew each other, knew how to finish each other’s sentences, knew what to do and say, belonged to each other. There was a secret to it that she knew nothing of.”Chapter 16
The second protagonist, Makareta is introduced in the eighteenth chapter of the book. Her mother narrates this part of the story. Makareta is brought up as a ceremonial puhi, the Chosen One, and that’s the reason why she is very significant to her tribe, she is supposed to protect the tribe. Because of that she is raised differently than for example her younger cousin Missy. Makareta is privileged in that she receives extensive education, does not have to do hard work like Missy, and does not even need to brush her own hair. When Makareta is old enough she is supposed to marry someone from another tribe to connect their families. Makareta does not accept her fate, but rather decides to leave her family and become a nurse in the city she moves to.
“At school I saw my first language as something to be ashamed of, something that should be kept secret, a wrong punishable thing – even though another part of me told me that it was language, and all that want with it, that gave me to myself, made me know who I was.”Chapter 41
The third and also the last cousin’s perspective is introduced in the thirty-first chapter. The narrator appears to be the dead twin brother of Missy. In the second part, she speaks for herself (as does Makareta). She is the one to take the place of her cousin and becomes the Chosen One. She marries the man from the other tribe and becomes the caretaker of the land. Missy is the one who is left behind and always waits for her cousins to return.
“If you’re not the one meant your Aunty Anihera and your mother wouldn’t have done what they did. If you’re not the one meant your cousin wouldn’t have gone away. If you’re not the one meant it wouldn’t have been you standing in the house with the words coming from you without a doubt in your heart.”Chapter 42
I really enjoyed reading Cousins. It was my first ever reading experience reading a novel about Māori culture. Before, I didn’t know very much about it and it was really interesting. All three cousins have different beliefs and approach their culture, religion and simply life differently. This diversity has helped me understand the culture and its diaspora a lot better. I also really liked that Patricia Grace discusses aspects of activism, teaching Māori in schools, politics and the role of Māori women in her novel.
Patricia Grace’s Cousins has 264 pages and is available as a paperback (ISBN 978-0704343559) for less than 8 Euros.