South Pacific Pictures


Late 1800s, Te Urewera, New Zealand: A young Māori girl, Paraiti, is forced to watch as her father is murdered by European soldiers and her village is burnt. The experience leaves her scarred inside and out - a slash across the face has left her permanently scarred. Many years have passed. Paraiti lives a nomadic life. Her only family is now just a dog and a white horse. Steeped in traditional beliefs and distrusting of the Pākēhā (European settlers), she heals the sick and teaches the children of the Urewera the old ways. However while she is quietly celebrated within her community, the art of traditional healing has been made illegal and the consequences are dire if Paraiti is caught. While in town one day, Paraiti is approached by Maraea, a servant, who begs the medicine woman to tend to her mistress. Rebecca Vickers is beautiful, arrogant and deathly pale. With her pregnancy well-advanced, she asks Paraiti to rid her of the child before her husband returns from a trip abroad. Maraea adds that if the husband learns of his wife’s pregnancy he will kill her. Disgusted, Paraiti leaves, telling the pair that healing is about giving life, not taking it away. Soon after, staff at the local hospital prevent Paraiti from providing a young pregnant Maori woman who she knows with the medicine she needs. Paraiti witnesses the subsequent death of both the girl, her baby and the breaking of tapu (sacredness) - this sends her into the depths of despair and the load she carries suddenly becomes too heavy. Paraiti returns back to the town to Rebecca and tells her she has changed her mind and is willing to treat her. However, rather than performing an abortion, Paraiti’s secret intention is to deliver a healthy infant and preserve its life. During her stay at the Vickers estate Paraiti becomes increasingly annoyed with the servant Maraea - why is she, another Māori woman who has also suffered loss, insistent on disregarding her culture? Why does Maraea want so much to be like a white person? As Paraiti continues to ignore the rules of the house, firmly adhering to her own traditions, the tension between the pair grows. Paraiti discovers Maraea sponging Rebecca’s skin with a white substance, and hears the young mistress cry out in pain. Rebecca is being bleached. On challenging the servant, she’s told that Mr Vickers prefers a pale skinned wife. When Rebecca starts to go into labour, Paraiti announces that the child will live and that once born, she, Paraiti, will take it. The other women have no choice but to listen - it is Paraiti, the healer, who holds the power now. As the tension between the three increases, Rebecca turns against the dominating Maraea, and in her anger she reveals that her servant is actually her mother. Rebecca is the result of Maraea’s union with a Pākēhā gentleman. While Maraea loved this man dearly, he left her because she was Māori. So Maraea bleached her daughter’s skin and groomed her for the life that she herself was robbed of. Rebecca gives birth to a very Māori looking baby girl. Immediately following the birth, the young mother provides the baby with the sustenance she so desperately needs. Paraiti places the babe at her mother’s breast but will not let Maraea get close to her kin. Maraea is forced to realise that in her quest to make her daughter a Pākēhā she has lost her daughter, her grandchild and her own identity. Maraea turns against Paraiti but the healer refuses to become an outlet for the woman’s guilt. With her husband soon to return and conflicted by a surge of maternal emotions, Rebecca is overcome and takes her own life. Rebecca's mother is left childless and the new-born child is left motherless. Many years later, an older Paraiti has another addition to her nomadic family - a happy strongwilled Māori daughter. There is hope.

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