Real conversations and humour, Taylor Shaw
The Pōrangi Boy
10 March, 2021
The Pōrangi Boy, written by Shilo Kino, was a wild ride of a read. Based in a small rural town in New Zealand, it carries big themes such as fighting stereotypes, racism, cultural identity and whānau. A lot happens in this book, especially in the beginning. There is one big event that separates the past and present, but I won’t spoil it for you just yet. This book was inspiring, funny and a little crazy, literally. Pōrangi means crazy in te reo Māori.
The story follows 12-year-old Niko, a Māori boy who tries to prove to everyone that he isn’t pōrangi. Niko lives in Pohe Bay, a town heavily populated by Māori. Pohe Bay is also home to a sacred hot spring and a fabled taniwha. One of the conflicts in the novel is that the government is wanting to build a prison on this sacred land and though many of the locals are outraged at this idea, no one is willing to do anything about it. No one, except Niko’s koro. He argues that the land is home to the taniwha, Taukerere, but no one else believes him. They call him the “Pōrangi Man from Pohe Bay.”
Niko has a deep connection with his Koro and is the only one who thinks he isn’t pōrangi. Koro teaches him how to wield a taiaha and all about Taukere and his whakapapa. When Koro dies, Niko is left lonely. His home life was already hard. Niko’s dad was never home and his mum was a drug addict who was always passed out on the couch. Without his Koro, Niko seems lost. Will he rally and fight to carry on Koro’s legacy?
The Pōrangi Boy reminds me of Taika Waititi’s film Boy. While humourous and light-hearted, we are given insight into what it’s like to be Māori living in Aotearoa: the ups and downs, the challenges and the poverty that the majority of Māori face. The book feels real and raw, especially because it is all written through the eyes of children. Their experiences form the lens through which Kino writes. I feel that people can relate to this story because it will reflect pieces of their own.
I enjoyed the language and dialogue of the novel, as well as the relationships between the characters Niko and Aunty Rangi, and Koro and Niko. Conversations were filled with emotion, often teasing, in the form of slang and colloquial language. These felt like real conversations and reminded me of the ones I have with my friends.
The Pōrangi Boy has a lot of Māori words woven into it. I continually had to put the book down and look up what some of these words meant in order to make meaning of the paragraphs. Sometimes I felt like this interrupted the flow of the story, but in saying that, reading The Pōrangi Boy has introduced new te reo words into my vocabulary. Like all Māori writers, Kino knows that language is tied to culture and her readers will have a deeper understanding of the importance of Māori words alongside Māori culture.
As Niko rallies to unite his whānau, face his childhood bully, and fight to protect his sacred homeland, it made me think of my own culture and heritage. They are important to my identity too. I have to stand by my whānau and not be afraid to fight for what I believe is right, even if everyone else doesn’t see it that way.
I really enjoyed reading The Pōrangi Boy and would recommend it to all New Zealand youth, and even adults. The humour is great for those who enjoy a laugh and the perspective is good for everyone who might stereotype someone else, or take them for granted, or have a certain perception of Māori. We could all benefit from the lessons found in this book.
I give it a 7.5/10
- Taylor Shaw is 14 and attends Tai Wananga in Hamilton.