Dame Anne Sal­mond, 71, pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy, au­thor and for­mer New Zealan­der of the Year, ex­plains why 2017 has been the cul­mi­na­tion of her life’s work so far


Dame Anne Sal­mond

This year has been amaz­ing. I’ve been shoot­ing in York, Lon­don, Ox­ford and New­cas­tle for Maori TV’s Arte­fact doc­u­men­tary se­ries, which has meant a new way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. It’s a way of ex­plor­ing many of the ideas in my new book, Tears of Rangi, in a new way. It feels very lib­er­at­ing, be­cause you can use sound and images and talk with lots of other peo­ple.

The book is sub­ti­tled “ex­per­i­ments across worlds” and it’s about the in­no­va­tive and some­times tragic but of­ten quite ex­cit­ing ways in which Maori and Euro­peans from the be­gin­ning of our shared his­tory have en­gaged with each other. The pos­si­bil­i­ties for that to carry on into the fu­ture are ex­cit­ing.

It’s taken more than 50 years of study to get here. It goes back to when I was about 16, when I first be­came en­tranced with Maori ways of liv­ing. I’ve never lost that fas­ci­na­tion and sense of won­der. I’ve been able, with the new way of work­ing this year, to grant it its own power, in the sense where, as a scholar, I don’t feel the need to claim fi­nal au­thor­ity over any of the in­ter­pre­ta­tions and un­der­stand­ings I have. I can just say, “Look here’s the best I can do from where I started, 55 years or so ago. Here are the sto­ries that ex­plore these un­der­stand­ings. Make of it what you will.”

With my dis­ci­pline, an­thro­pol­ogy, one of the things you tan­gle with all the time is how you make sure that the voice of the oth­ers comes through. The prob­lem is mit­i­gated when peo­ple can speak for them­selves.

For a long time, peo­ple have talked about world views as though we just have dif­fer­ent views — Maori or mod­ernist — and the world stays the same. But it’s more pro­found than that. Peo­ple are in­hab­it­ing dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties.

I’ve been in­volved in te ao Maori [the Maori world] since I was a teenager. It has of­ten been my ex­pe­ri­ence that re­al­ity felt dif­fer­ent when I was work­ing closely and spend­ing a lot of time with Amiria and Eruera Stir­ling, my men­tors. Eruera was a to­hunga, and the re­al­ity he in­hab­ited used to stretch mine a lot at times.

An­thro­pol­ogy is a dis­ci­pline from Europe and there’s al­ways been a ten­sion in it about whether we are im­pos­ing ideas from some­where else on to Pa­cific peo­ple. What this new ap­proach al­lows you to do is say, “That’s ab­so­lutely the case.” Ev­ery­one is part of these en­gage­ments, but there are other peo­ple who have their own way of be­ing in the world. The job is to un­der­stand that as well and as deeply as you can, but there’s no claim of fi­nal au­thor­ity, which for me has been a real free­dom.

I’ve had a won­der­ful time and so much fun and ex­cite­ment and some­times a sense of sheer trep­i­da­tion and fear. Do­ing all this has been the most ex­tra­or­di­nary ad­ven­ture, and this is the point I’ve got to.

Other peo­ple have their own way of be­ing in the world. The job is to un­der­stand that as well and as deeply as you can.

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