Cre­ative dif­fer­ences

What hap­pens when two worlds come to­gether? New Zealand has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with it for cen­turies, and in her new book, Dame Anne Sal­mond ex­plores how our con­trast­ing cul­tures can pro­duce new think­ing. hears more. There is the sense of mar­vel­ling at t

The Press - Your Weekend (The Press) - - Feature - David Herkt

In her new book, Tears of Rangi: Ex­per­i­ments Across Worlds, his­to­rian Dame Anne Sal­mond de­scribes an ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment in 1820. Two tall and tat­tooed Maori chiefs, Hongi Hika and Waikato, dressed in suits with feath­ered cloaks slung over their shoul­ders, were es­corted by a prom­i­nent banker into the splen­dour of Lon­don’s Carl­ton House to meet King Ge­orge IV. “How d’ye do, Mr King Ge­orge,” Hongi said. “How d’ye do, Mr King Shunghi,” King Ge­orge replied, be­fore giv­ing the pair an un­ex­pect­edly lengthy per­son­ally guided tour through the house, its gar­dens and its pri­vate apart­ments.

“What comes out,” Sal­mond says, “is the sense of equal­ity. King Ge­orge ad­dress Hongi as King Shunghie, and took him off to his ar­moury, and gave him these gifts – the hel­met and chain mail that saved his life a num­ber of times.

“It set the tone of how Maori would see their re­la­tions with the Royal fam­ily right up to the sign­ing of the Treaty – and since.”

Sal­mond is the au­thor of the award-win­ning and in­flu­en­tial Two Worlds: First meet­ings be­tween Maori and Euro­peans 1642-1772 and The Trial of the Can­ni­bal Dog: Cap­tain Cook in the South Seas. Now, she ex­am­ines his­toric en­coun­ters in light of how we live with their con­se­quences to­day.

Maori had ex­plored and in­hab­ited the huge im­men­sity of the Pa­cific us­ing only their men­tal pic­ture of the seas and stars as a guide. They car­ried a “por­ta­ble suite” of plants, an­i­mals and a kin-based so­cial or­der with them.

A thou­sand years later, a ma­te­ri­al­ist Euro­pean cul­ture ar­rived in New Zealand with its reliance on met­als, tech­nol­ogy and de­vices. There were guns and new “reper­toires” of an­i­mals and plants. Euro­peans also saw land as prop­erty.

“There is a point at which you stop and say: ‘That’s ex­tra­or­di­nary,’” Sal­mond says about this meet­ing of two peo­ples. “There is the sense of mar­vel­ling at the dif­fer­ences, and prob­a­bly hav­ing a greater hu­mil­ity in the face of them.”

In the first part of Tears of Rangi, Sal­mond fol­lows Maori and Euro­peans as they clashed, adapted and even­tu­ally met to forge an al­liance in the Treaty at Wai­tangi in 1840. Like many, she ques­tions whether the sig­na­to­ries were ac­tu­ally sign­ing the same thing.

“The Euro­peans were work­ing off the English draft. Maori were work­ing from the Maori text of the treaty it­self which was the doc­u­ment they de­bated and ul­ti­mately most of them signed.

“Dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ings of how the world worked meant that one side thought they had achieved the trans­fer of sovereignty and the other side thought that Queen Vic­to­ria has recog­nised their tino ran­gati­ratanga and guar­an­teed that over their lands as long as they wished to hold onto them.”

In the sec­ond part of Tears of Rangi, Sal­mon ex­am­ines the con­se­quences of these de­ci­sions and mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions in key con­tem­po­rary ar­eas such as wa­ter­ways, land, the sea, and fam­ily life.

She be­gins with the mo­men­tous mo­ment in 2014, when the Whanganui River was le­gally recog­nised as a liv­ing be­ing. It was, as Sal­mond says, “a rev­o­lu­tion­ary step”, where the river “was placed in a new re­la­tion­ship with hu­man be­ings”.

Sal­mond con­trasts the two ways of see­ing wa­ter – as a re­source in Euro­pean eyes and as a liv­ing sys­tem by Maori.

“The river, and the wa­ter in it, and the fish, and the plants, and the an­i­mals, and in­deed the hu­man pop­u­la­tions round the river are all parts of this liv­ing sys­tem and they are all fun­da­men­tally tied to­gether.

“If one part of the sys­tem be­comes re­ally un­healthy then other parts of the sys­tem, in­clud­ing the peo­ple, will find them­selves in trou­ble – and in­deed that is what is hap­pen­ing around New Zealand.”

She points to the prob­lems with aquifers in Have­lock North in 2016, where the town’s drink­ing wa­ter was con­tam­i­nated by a campy­lobac­ter out­break. Five thou­sand peo­ple were vi­o­lently ill and there were three deaths.

“If we fol­low the Whanganui River Act and say that the River has rights of its own, you could ac­tu­ally have money flow­ing in for the preser­va­tion of that wa­ter­way… I think that would be a re­ally fan­tas­tic way for­ward.”

New Zealan­ders, she thinks, have been in­flu­enced by Maori at­ti­tudes to rivers, moun­tains and beaches much more than is com­monly thought.

“Peo­ple who are not Maori have picked up all these senses of some kind of in­ter­lock be­tween them­selves, say, and the wa­ter­ways where they grew up, and a lot of the Maori phi­los­o­phy. For ex­am­ple: ‘I am the river and the river is me.’

“I guess what I’m also try­ing to draw out in the book is that our dif­fer­ences can be re­ally cre­ative,” she says. “Some­times they are de­struc­tive and some­times they cause a world of trou­ble, but other times you can do things with those dif­fer­ences and you can think new thoughts.

“Many pakeha New Zealan­ders see them as a source of in­fi­nite trou­ble and per­plex­ity and dis­tur­bance rather than say­ing: ‘Well here we have these lega­cies – on one hand from the Pa­cific, on the other from Europe – what can we do with them that will be world-lead­ing?’”

By Anne Sal­mond (AUP, $65) is avail­able now.

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