Gathan Beaga

the keepers of songs

Today was Bella’s birthday party. She liked last year’s outdoor effort so much that she asked for a repeat:

party in spring sunshine

Today was even warmer and sunnier, and after a couple of hours out there I think I’ve gotten a touch of sunburn. In September! We couldn’t have had a better day. And the eleven girls and two boys (the latter being her cousins) enjoyed it too, with all the usual party attractions culminating in a making of one’s own tiara and a dance-like-a-fairy competition (won by: everyone! Yayy!).

As you do.

Anyway, like last time another ersatz legend was demanded. And I had an idea.

Yesterday I had watched a very good little documentary from the University of Otago’s iTunes U site about the tui1 and how they mimic the other birds around them (and occasionally car alarms), and then pass their songs to the next generation. There was an intriguing suggestion that the songs of some tui could incorporate the lost voices of species now extinct, like the huia or the South Island kōkako. Maybe some student of avian palæolinguistics could one day reconstruct their songs from the voices of contemporary tui…!

So there we were in the flax clearing, a place often frequented by tui. Clearly then, the tui are the keepers of songs, and this place was their headquarters, where they get together and share the songs they’ve gathered from across the country. Or some such… it’s all a bit lame to write down now, but seemed to make perfect sense to the collection of eight-year-olds in front of me at the time.

Ahh well. It was a good day.

1 I have a question. Which is the proper way to spell the name for this bird: the correct Māori way, which would be “tūī”, or the ordinary usage-as-an-English-borrowing “tui”? Given that the original English name for this bird, “Parsonbird”, has fallen into disuse, the Māori word would appear to have been borrowed, relieving me from remembering to add those potae to the “u” and “i”. On the other hand, I’ve been writing “kererū” rather than “kereru” all through this blog. Or… should I be italicising where my intent is to use the Māori? Suggestions welcome…

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