Skip to content

The Bone Tiki, David Hair

November 5, 2011

The Bone Tiki, Book Blurb





And when the dead come to life and blood debts have to be paid, will you have the courage to do what must be done?

Matiu Douglas has a bone tiki he stole from a tangi. His father’s important new client wants it. Badly. And he has some very nasty friends. When Mat is forced to flee for his life, an unexpected meeting with a girl called Pania sets his world spinning. Suddenly he’s running through the bush with a girl-clown, a dog who is way too human, and a long-dead warrior. Fearful creatures from legend are rising up around him, and Mat faces a terrifying ordeal.

And there is nowhere left to hide… not even in another world.

A breathtaking adventure set in two parallel New Zealands, from exciting new author David Hair. David, who is from Wellington , is currently living in India. The Bone Tiki is his first novel.”

from the back cover of David Hair (2009) The Bone Tiki. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

The Bone TikiFirst Page

1 Eavesdropping

Dear Mum,
I hope you are OK, and liking it in Taupo. I am writing to you because I have nothing else to do. It’s Friday, and Dad kept me home from school today so we could go to Nanny Wai’s funeral, but he’s been in his office all day. He says that something has come up that is more important.
It’s so typical!
I hope he comes out soon – he said we’d go by two o’clock and now it’s quarter to four already.
I miss you.
Love Mat

Mat Douglas re-read the letter he’d just written, then screwed it up slowly and threw it in the bin. He wouldn’t get a chance to post it anyway. His father would appear soon….”

p7 David Hair (2009) The Bone Tiki. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

Themes in the novel


To be cont…

Possible directions for study/questions to apply to The Bone Tiki

Maori Gothic

This is the term being used to describe Hair’s Bone Tiki trilogy. The blurb about The Lost Tohunga on Fishpond, for example, states: “Handguns and flintlocks, technology and magic, modern teens and mythological beings, all collide in this thrilling young adults fantasy novel from the writer who defines the new genre of Maori Gothic.”

I haven’t yet read a definition of ‘Maori Gothic’, and haven’t really thought it through myself, but there’s quite a lot worth discussing and analysing in this term alone… (and Gothic is just plain hot right now) 

Anna Jackson et al’s forthcoming book, A Made Up Place, looks like it might discuss ‘Maori Gothic’.

Analysing the text:

Consider these themes for starters:  

–     family 

–     the exercise of power

–     the power of the imagination

–     the multiple worlds of belief in New Zealand/Aotearoa: mixed heritage, biculturalism, the use of symbolism to make sense of such a space

–     myth/legend/history – and belief in general. Also how our conceptions of time/reality work to make these different versions of story powerful/influential in our lives.

  • The novel begins with family – a letter from Mat to his Mum about his Dad (which he screws up and doesn’t send)…. Much about this family is, of course, established immediately in this way: that these three are not together and that Mat’s Dad puts a lot of time into his work (it is more important to him than getting to Nanny Wai’s tangi). However, this beginning also places family as central to the context in which this story arises… How important is family in this novel? 
  • Kelly’s ideas about family inspire her to support Mat when she thinks him a runaway kid. She helps him, she states, because “If a kid needs to see his mother, nothing in the world should stand in their way.” (86)
  • The novel ends on this same note of family, too.  The concluding words place Mat’s symbolically bicultural family at the centre of the two worlds he has so recently learned how to move between and now wishes to explore: “What will I do now? Mat thought, much later, staring at the dying fire. There is so much out there. Two worlds to explore, each separate, each entwined in the other. Koru and Celtic knot. Myth and reality. Maori and Pakeha. Mother and father. New Zealand and Aotearoa. Each a part of the other. Where do I start? He leant against his father’s shoulder, felt his mother grip his hand. I will start here.” (303) 
  • The two carvings Mat made for each of his parents (the Koru and the Celtic knot) in a bid to bring them back together, hold a certain obvious symbolic importance (though it is worked seamlessly into the narrative). Mat’s ability to work with these carvings is critical to their escape from Donna towards the novel’s conclusion (252). His use of the carvings in this instance (to take the car across into Aotearoa) also suggests great power… (an ability to work with symbolism from two worlds (Koru/Celtic knot) gives him access to two worlds (New Zealand/Aotearoa)?)
  • The ending of this novel is considerably more hopeful than, for example, Maurice Gee’s The Fat Man; there is a suggestion that the rift between Mat’s parents could be healed, though the difficulty inherent in such a reconciliation is acknowledged (302)
  • the presence of one’s childhood in the adult one becomes seems to be hinted at by the brief depiction of Donna’s life (245)… this is revisited later in the series… how influential is one’s childhood? How fatalistic/how self-driven, etc.  is the narrative at work here?
  • I am particularly interested in the ideas about family and communal support systems that underlie YA fiction… have to think some more with regards to this text
  • The power of the voice is established early in this novel.  Consider, for example, p52 “Puarata called him, his voice low yet clear. ‘Wiremu… Wiremu…’ and the sound seemed to tug at him, like a web of sound that could snag him if he let it.” Pania, likewise, is able to overpower Puarata’s call with her own voice (56; 61-62) and her connection with the water and its “older, melodic, chanting” (70) is worth looking at closely. The power of the voice established here puts me in mind immediately of the scene in Witi Ihimaera’s The Matriarch when the spirits of the marae recognise the matriarch’s right to speak in spite of opposition (one of the most incredible pieces of writing!!!)
  • the power of language is also evident in the binding of Wiremu to Puarata’s will; Puarata has to give Wiri quite specific instructions to maintain control (124) and Wiri is able to exploit conflicting instructions to regain some measure of control (274).
  • The ability to communicate is also the one thing denied Wiri when returned to the tiki, as if the ability to speak is the most empowering freedom (and its denial unbearable): “inside the tiki is like floating in a dark place, and I can hear things, and even smell, see or feel some things, but I can’t communicate” (125)
  • That said, some things still cannot be communicated: When Mat tries to describe how he accessed the power of the tiki, he struggles; “Wiri smiled. ‘Don’t worry. I don’t know anyone who could describe what you’re describing. You have to have felt it.'” (117)
  • What is ‘a myth’? What is ‘a legend’? What is ‘history’? How are they brought together in this novel?
  • Consider: When Wiri starts telling his story, he states “Remember too that I am Maori. We never had writing when I was born, and stories were handed down, and embellished shamelessly, from generation to generation. If my story starts to sound like a legend, well that is because it is legend, but it is also real…” (117)
  • Consider Leigh Hunt’s blog, Parchment Place on the topic of storytelling…
  • The importance of myth (and people’s belief in myth/legend/story) is what powers the existence of ‘Aotearoa’: “The real land is where people life and die – but the shaeow land is where all the things those people believed and remembered still exist. In every country it is different. In Ireland’s other-land there are leprechauns and fairies. In America they see Indian spirits and folk legends. In central Europe the imaginary place is populated by vampires and gypsies. Whatever the people believe most about their land.” (132). The impact of European beliefs on ‘Aotearoa’ during the period of colonisation even proved capable of weakening Puarata’s power (215-216). In what other ways does belief prove to be powerful in the novel?
  • A number of mythical beings are brought into play in this novel: patupaiarehe, turehu/shapeshifters, taniwha, ghosts, spirits, etc, the stories behind each of which is worth looking into given the nature of this storyworld.
  • eg. what are taniwha? Check out Te Ara… What role does this figure have in this novel/trilogy?
  • How does the story of Pania of the Reef fit into this novel? Consider what is said about Pania in different sources, including on the net:, Napier City Council webpage, the National Library, maori-in-oz.comwikipedia… How does Hair adapt/adopt the story? What elements does he keep? Which features remain true? What does he seem to value in the story in Pania?
  • On that note, what importance do we place on the figure of ‘the warrior‘ in New Zealand? Wiri and Tupu, among many other warriors, are important characters in the novel, but there is also something quite mythical about them, I think…
  • In their Judges Report, the Judges of the 2010 NZ Post Awards wrote that: “The blending of ancient myths into a contemporary setting requires skill and a vivid imagination and our choice for best first book, with its juxtaposition of Maori legend and a dramatic car chase, certainly fits the bill.” It’s an interesting statement; what distances ancient myths from contemporary settings?!
  • Much is made of imagination in the novel (81). In spite of his father’s disapproval of Mat’s artistic abilities, it is exactly this strength that proves to be the power with which he defeats the tohunga makutu (200). It is also the source of Puatata’s power (205)… Artistic talent, it is explicitly stated, is vital for the sorcerer: When seeking apprentices, Puatata “looks for artistic talent and anger. The artistry shows imagination – it is vital that a sorcerer can imagine things, and imagine them richly, so those things can be brought into being.” (272)
  • NB Wai tells Mat: “When you find what you are good at, you find why you are alive” (18) Incidentally, this is not the only philosophical statement pronounced by one of the elders in the novel, either. Hakawau tells him “Life is never fair, Matiu. Not in your world. Not even here.” (202)
  • Mat’s instincts are valued in the novel, too, quite explicitly and continually. I like this… I just haven’t thought it all the way through yet.
  • Mat’s name is important to Puarata, who claims it gives him power (53), though Mat does not seem to place similar value on his name in the beginning (34). Names hold power elsewhere in the novel (161, 168, 208)… So, how important is a name? Consider the history of naming Maori in New Zealand since the imposition of European law here (contrast it with the naming of the Chinese in New Zealand to get some context for modern relevance/discussion). Consider who names connect us with…. How are names used in this novel?
  • A lot is made of the compulsion under which both Wiri and Mat’s Dad behave amorally/commit crimes (204). Each is forgiven as having lacked the capacity to behave otherwise. Yet, there is some suggestion that Wiri was able to resist the tohunga (“The turehu […] told me that it could see my spirit was unbroken by the tohunga, and that because I still resisted the tohunga it had been able to find a way to escape” 208). I find the presence of arguments like this in YA fiction really interesting…
  • the haka at the end is worth analysing (289+)… but I haven’t thought my thoughts out yet

Texts that invite comparison


though this whole ‘Maori Gothic’ term is an interesting one and probably a good place to start… Perhaps it’s worth looking at Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead as well (these texts and their authors have certainly already been placed together by the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival)

It might be worth comparing this series with Maurice Gee’s work in terms of how family is constructed. The FatMan is what I thought of when Mat’s parents seemed willing to patch up their differences at the end – and the novel ended with the three of them together… but perhaps in other ways, the texts could be compared in terms of how beliefs about families drive the narratives.

The existence of two places in one space, connected by story, put me in mind of Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter sequence too… which angle to take, though, hmmm. The whole postmodern thing is there, but it’s not the only angle… have to think some more…

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).

Hair’s The Bone Tiki: a History

Awards won:

Best First Book at the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards  

Publishing History:

First published in 2009 by Harper Collins, this is the first of a trilogy. The others, in order, are:

The Taniwha’s Tear (2010); The Lost Tohunga (2011)

Bibliography of secondary literature:

  • The Bone Tiki  Teachers’ Notes by Harper Collins (freely available download)
  • Check out  A Made-Up Place: New Zealand in Young Adult Fiction, by Anna Jackson, Geoffrey Miles, Harry Ricketts, Tatjana Schaefer, and Kathryn Walls (Victoria University Press: Wellington). This work considers a variety of New Zealand YA texts from a thematic point of view and references are scattered throughout)
  • Check out the review in the book review blog, On the Nightstand, which is worth a browse on its own merits.

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: Introducing David Hair  

One Comment

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Book Summaries Listed 2 | Backyard Books NZ

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: