'What’s most important to me as a writer is that I’m healthy as a human being'
By Johanna Salinas
Maori artist Hinemoana Baker was swept away by the uniqueness of CHamoru culture.
“Just the contrast here has really inspired me,” said Baker, a poet, playwright and musician. “I was prepared for Guahan to be a complex place and there’s no way I can understand all of the complexities in such a short time— or maybe ever.”
Baker was born in Christchurch in 1968 and grew up in Whakatane and Nelson, and descends from the Ngāi Tahu tribe in the South Island of New Zealand, and from Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa in the North Island. She has been living in Berlin, Germany.
Baker held a writing workshop at the Guam Museum on June 10 as part of the event series, titled “Sångåni i Taotao ni Estoriå-ta, Telling Our Stories: Contemporary Pacific Writers in a Global World,” sponsored and organized by Humanities Guahan.
“But I can get a glimpse of some of the dynamics here. Some of the tension and some of the beauty. It’s extraordinary, I mean it’s breathtaking,” Baker said, adding that tension and beauty are sources of good art. “If there’s some kind of tension there, then it always promises some kind of release. Those things, tension and release, to me are very important in art.”
Baker holds a master’s in creative writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Her writing has been published in a number of journals and anthologies. Her works include the poetry collections Mātuhi | Needle (2004), Kōiwi Kōiwi, Bone Bone (2010), Waha | Mouth (2014) and Funkhaus (2020).
While there may be a romanticized notion that some artists, from beatniks to modernists, draw their stories from drugs, alcohol or mental disorder, Baker thrives in health.
“What’s most important to me as a writer is that I’m healthy as a human being. I spend a lot of time looking after my own health— my own mental health in particular because I’ve had depression since I was a teenager,” Baker said.
Balancing is her go-to mechanism.
“I have to really balance my entire life, my day, my week, my month, my year, all the time to kind of manage this. If I’m well physically and mentally, then I’m well as a writer,” Barker said. “Without my health, I don’t have anything— I don’t have my writing and I don’t have many other things. That’s the thing that supports me the most as a writer and partly that’s why I live in Berlin weirdly because the health system there is more accessible to people like me than it is in New Zealand.”
Baker has written two plays that were presented in Taki Rua Theatre's Te Reo Māori Season. Māua Tāua, (produced in 1995) and Pūkeko Tuawhā.
While some writers may wait for the proper mood or their muse to begin writing, Baker thrives off structure and routine.
“I try not to be pushed around by moods or ideas or inspiration. I try to show up and write anyway,” she said. “If I did wait for the right mood or the right idea, I could be waiting for a long time— especially if I am in that frame of mind of being depressed, where everything just kind of grinds to a halt. I use other tools to get me writing because they’re more reliable than moods.”
Baker said she is grateful for the opportunity to visit Guam and learn about CHamoru culture during her short visit.
“I’ve been humbled by the talent and the generosity of everyone I’ve encountered,” she said. “This is often the case when I spend time around communities of indigenous people but it’s been exponentially noticeable on Guahan just how generous everybody has been with me. I’m very grateful.”