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Pohutukawa Tree


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Bruce Mason (1921—1982)

 

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A: Bruce Mason Pf: 1957, Wellington, New Zealand Pb: 1960; rev. 1985 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: New Zealand, 1950s C: 7m, 6fAroha Mataira, a Maori matriarch, lives in a house dominated by a large pohutukawa tree, planted by her grandfather so that its red blossoms would commemorate the blood spilt in a great battle against the British. Aroha has been converted to the strict Protestantism of the colonialists, so that she is no longer fully a part of the tribe whose ancestral land she lives on; nor, as a Maori in the 1950s, can she hope to be integrated with the local pakeha (European) community. Problems mount for her: her rebellious daughter Queenie has an affair with a feckless white barman Roy McDowell and becomes pregnant; her son Johnny gets drunk and desecrates the local church; pressure is brought to bear by her minister to sell her land, which she guards for her ancestors, so that it can be used as an orchard. European values and Christian teaching urge her to give way to the encroachment of the dull, philistine, alien pakeha community, but her ancient warrior blood stirs her to defiance: ‘God made this land for us. It cannot be sliced.’ Finally, she finds the way out of her dilemma by taking her own life.

A: Bruce Mason Pf: 1957, Wellington, New Zealand Pb: 1960; rev. 1985 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: New Zealand, 1950s C: 7m, 6f

Mason stands as the first New Zealand writer to be primarily a playwright in a country at a time when the one professional theatre company, the New Zealand Players, who premiered The Pohutukawa Tree, collapsed for lack of funding in 1960. This play (the first New Zealand play to appear on the school syllabus) distinguishes itself also by offering the first major role to a Maori actress and analyses with great sympathy, if not always with total authenticity, the situation of the Maori in their relationship with European settlers.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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