Describe at least one important message that was revealed by a character or individual in the text. Explain why it was important that the character or individual revealed this message.
The eponymous Black Milk (2015) written by Tina Makarite is an ekphrasis inspired by Fiona Pardington’s artwork, Uncanny Tui (2008). In 2016, the short story was the pacific regional winner of the commonwealth short story competition that had nearly 4000 entries. Makarite depicts the narrative of a Bird woman whose mission is to stop the extinction of her people. The Bird woman reveals the important idea of staying familiar with your roots which is an integral part of the human experience. This is revealed through the use of language features.
An important idea in ‘Black Milk’ is the consequences of becoming estranged from one’s roots. This idea helps the reader to understand how significant it is to stay familiar with your roots and where you come from. Makarite conveys this message to the reader through the use of language features. At the beginning of the text, the reader is introduced to the first technique, anthropomorphism which attributes human-like traits to a non-human entity. “Before now, she had only known them as… the ones who took the small and fluttering bodies of her kin… her predators.” Despite how the Bird woman’s human transformation was necessary, Makarite uses this technique to guide the reader into feeling negative connotations from this passage. The reader is also encouraged to empathise and emotionally connect with the Bird woman because what is being presented to us is a harsh reality. The harsh reality of the same humans who she has seen as her predators for the longest time, are soon to become her peers. A phenomenon that we are terrified of. Makarite uses a mythological tone and speculative voice, “It was her old people who sent her… there were things the people needed to know’ but first she had to make her way into their world.” As Patrick Holland says, 'It leaves a space for the reader to come in" inviting the reader to speculate why the Bird woman’s transformation was necessary but the consequences of it.
The important message is also conveyed through Makarite’s execution of tripartite construction, “She would need to slow her own quickness, calm the flutter of wings, the daunting of eyes.” Alongside this technique are balanced sentences, “It was an old deal made right at the beginning: her line would be sacrificed to theirs.” The oral quality pleases the reader and creates a euphonious cadence enabling the reader to understand that you can lose your whakapapa when you forget where your roots. Makarite uses traditional Maori narrative that guides the reader to view the tale through a Te Reo Maori perspective. This reminds us that as humans, our ancestors have descended from different parts of the world, and the fundamental question of “Who am I and where have I come from?”, “Ko Wai Nui?” is something we all wonder. In the Bird woman’s new environment, she is surrounded by a predominant culture of humans. The Birdwoman has become too fixated by the human’s way of life to the point where she is slowly losing her Kaitiatanga and her purpose in this world. We can apply the Birdwoman’s situation to wider society where Maori are overrepresented in prisons. 61% of the female Maori population are incarcerated, and 53% of the male prison population are Maori. Makarite engages the reader by metaphorically saying, “It was difficult, then, one by one the children began to lose their way.” In this passage, she is referencing how Maori get into trouble because of their loss of connection. As a wider society, we must not neglect the inequality within Aotearoa, and recognise that what is happening to a significant number of the Maori population is due to the consequences of them becoming estranged from their roots.
At the end of text, the Birdwoman forgets the elders’ words, “to tell their story” as she becomes too deeply involved in the prevailing culture around her. Her disheartenment was sparked when she received the confirmation of the extinction of her people, “Despair sat on her shoulder where her wings should have been.” Makarite’s use of this personification helps the reader to connect with the Birdwoman and recognise that wider society lacks knowledge of this. We must realise that losing our sense of connection can make us see the world differently. Repetition and rhetorical questions are used amidst the Birdwoman’s feelings of grief, “No one wanted to hear this part. No one wanted to believe it.”, ''Could it be that she had been gone so long? Could it be that she hadn’t noticed the voices of her elders fading?” The reader realises that the Birdwoman has lost her sense of belonging and has lost her purpose in this life. Makarite uses more metaphors to portray beautiful depression, “The darkness came flooding back in. This time it wasn’t bleak or hurtful. It was a flash of curved beak in velvet night.” This passage appeals to the reader because it shows us that there is hope in reconciliation even if we feel it is too late. In spite of the extinction of the Birdwoman’s people, she decides to retell her story and revive the memories of her culture.
In conclusion, the Birdwoman reveals to the reader that becoming estranged from one’s roots comes with consequences. We learn that we must not neglect this notion any longer. We also discover that it is never too late to counter these consequences and reconcile with our kāwai again.