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land

Ihumātao

What a complexity is Ihumātao, a site of early Maori settlement, confiscated as part of the 1860’s land grab of the Waikato and Taranaki, abused over the years, finally made a reserve, but with an adjoining farm remaining in private ownership dating back to confiscation. Because it was in private ownership it could not be part of the Mana Whenua’s Treaty Settlement. The Auckland housing crisis brings into being the concept of Special Housing Areas where subdivision can be fast tracked and the Council and previous government targeted the farm, which was subsequently bought by Fletchers, keen to get into housing after losing money on commercial developments. There was consultation with Mana Whenua who gave it the go ahead after a sweetener of 8 of the 32 hectares going into iwi ownership and 40 of the 480 houses being reserved as affordable homes for iwi members.

But younger members of the iwi protested at the idea of a suburb being built next to the sacred site – and where does a sacred site begin and end? A 480 house suburb with its infrastructure, mortgages, insurances etc is an intensive development and this will be another car reliant suburb. There is resonance with the original confiscation, but this is where it gets tricky. Treaty settlements always bypass privately owned land, otherwise the Waikato and Taranaki would be up for return, quite justifiably of course, but politically untenable. And the kaumatua agreed. This is where it gets trickier. Traditional leaders willing to collaborate with the coloniser have often been available. Feudal/tribal power structures are not always virtuous or inclusive; yet the treaty was a deal between these power structures and the British government and the honouring of the treaty has to honour these structures and it’s not for Pakeha to question unless some blatant corruption is apparent. And Mana Whenua believe the deal is a good one – they get a parcel of the land in their name (for the first time since confiscation) and some iwi members living there.

Leftish and environmentalist Pakeha are drawn to the side of the young tribal protestors, with the sacred-site, anti-corporate vibes resonating and a line of cops is always a challenge, conjuring up past struggles. The kaumatua don’t seem willing to budge and there is criticism of the protestors trampling on the mana of the elders, but the numbers grow, we haven’t had a stoush for a while and it is becoming an event with a growing celebrity list. Direct action does cut through complexity and confusion. Representatives of the Hawaiian anti telescope movement arrive and it begins to focus on development versus the spiritual desire to leave some places alone. It could be useful to peer into outer space and a Hawaiian mountain top is the perfect spot but it is our sacred maunga. We know there’s a housing crisis but this is a sacred site. Leave it alone. On the Coast there is a similar rebellion by communities over an incinerator proposal. These incinerators seem relatively benign environmentally, better than landfill and the Coast needs economic development, but no one can quite accept the idea of an endless stream of rubbish being burnt in their backyard.

Somewhere, in our heads, is the felt impulse of the need to stop. Just stop for a while. We’ve proved we’re a clever species but right now the clever thing is to stop. There is no technological fix for the problems we’re faced with. We need to listen to the earth, heal and nurture what we’ve got, sing to the gods and have a long look at one another. And out of that might come some different methods of housing ourselves, of feeding ourselves, of constructing society.

How about a papakainga on the land, housing 40 iwi families in a co-operative manner, with some equity in the houses for individual families, but the land owned by the iwi. Add some food growing and out of this might come a model of a different world, paying homage to the past and the future – as the planes fly overhead..

Notes for a play

A play about the land? It’s a tricky subject. Whenua and Gaia of course, but land is mainly about money and subdivision: DP4/ Lot 78, rates, fences, mortgages, interest, investment, capital, farms, suburbs, factories, roads, warehouses – even google needs land. And then there’s colonisation and the planting of the flag. Most wars are fought over land.

Land’s at the heart of the financial system.

Would it be wiser to treat it scientifically, as a matter of chemistry and geology – planet earth and the accident of life-giving water. All those geological eras: millions of years of plates grinding, heat, pressure, upthrust, erosion, rivers and glaciers…

How do you make a play about all this?

The original impulse was to tackle dairy farming, but that immediately involved the land:  factory production, may as well have the cows in barns except for the clean green image; the Chinese start coming into it, water bottlers as well, mining of course, climate change, too much nitrogen, tangatawhenua and tiriti issues…

And then there are the national parks and the conservation estate. Lock it up and drop poison on predators, let the tourists tramp or bike through taking their photos; be careful about the number of helicopter concessions, freedom campers, adventure tourism… another commodity.

Trying to do a play about the land takes one to the heart of alienation. We’ve detoured to look at Hamlet and Waiting for Godot. And seriously considered Gaza as a location – there’s a land imposed upon. Prisons need land. Mental hospitals as well in the past, but now chemicals do the job of restraining…

The slow plod of the cow off to milking, the farm worker on the quad bike – could be a Filipino (or a Palestinian). And then the latest threat, Mycoplasma virus. Impossible to stop the cows moving around. They move around a lot it seems. Like bees. Nothing’s still. My grandparents had thirty cows which provided a living. It was a time when people stayed still, unless the Great Depression forced you to swag along the back roads in search of tucker.

It’s perhaps ridiculous doing a play about the land? We should do a musical instead, Grease or something with young girls dancing, that drags in the punters. Or cowboys thundering across the prairie.

That first Maori play, Rowley Habib’s Death of the Land. I played the Pakeha judge a couple of times. The awa, the maunga. Identity. DP4 Lot 78. Two worlds.

Now you have to have the soil tested before you build. It usually involves scraping out a metre or so, filling the hole with gravel and compacting it, before the concrete is poured.

When I first went to Europe I was instantly aware of the sheer weight of concrete that has been poured on the land.

Somewhere in here, Grotowski is lurking. Tell the truth: a true gesture, a true sound. Take off the mask.

Anyway, something will hopefully come of it. And the task is the work of performance rather than the performance itself; to grow the whenua rather than bury it.

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