By Emily Hruska ’18
This blog is written in response to Hruska’s fall 2017 3-week trip to New Zealand with Professors Douglas Brattebo and Acacia Parks.
“Maoris have very different ways of understanding the world” (Thompson). I feel that this one line from Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson has proven to be a good summary of the Maori experience in New Zealand. Before traveling here, my research group focused on the Maori culture and conflicts with the western world. By analyzing their environmental outlooks, cultural viewpoints, and communal lifestyle, it was quickly apparent that they were living in a different world than the Pakeha in New Zealand. However, after actually traveling to New Zealand and witnessing the cultural divides personally, the definition I tried to fit Maoris shifted.
I read the Thompson story on the extensive plane ride to this wonderful country, and I instantly felt that I was in for a treat. Studying Maori in the 12-week provided me with an image similar to that of Native Americans in the United States, and after reading about Christina Thompson’s experience meeting, living with, and marrying a Maori man, I knew that image just wouldn’t fit. I became even more excited to get here and have my own experiences with the Maori culture, which happened almost immediately.
I was thrown into a country where I couldn’t pronounce where I was going, and that was entirely exciting for me. It meant that the Maori culture was actually preserved where it should be and recognized for its triumphs. One way this was particularly thrilling was with regards to nature and its wonders. Monstrous trees adorning their Maori names, like the Tane Mahuta (Big Man) pictured, made me wonder about the differences between conservation efforts for the seemingly more successful Maori people and Americans. I recalled Christina’s description of her husband Seven in the Come on Shore story. She frequently described him as a man who rarely thought about, considered, or worried about the future. “Worrying is just envisioning a future in which things don’t work out, and Seven hardly ever thought about the future” (Thompson). I picked up on this sentiment during the Maori experiences as well; learning about different aspects of the Maori education, games, and tools showed that the people were thinking about how to better themselves today rather than how to prepare themselves for tomorrow. Combining this concept with the environmental success Maori people have had led to an interesting thesis.
In the United States, conservationism and environmentalism seems to be on the upswing. However, discouragingly, I frequently hear peoples’ concerns on this matter focus on a need to protect the environment for the sake of humans’ future. What will our grandchildren do without clean water? How will our kids feel when it stops snowing for good? These are all valid points, but they are, in the grand scheme of the world, selfish. We value the world for what it can give us or our offspring. The Maori, on the other hand, typically don’t concern themselves with the future. This means that when they show respect for the world around them, it must be for totally different reasons, which can be connected to another Maori concept, whakapapa. The Maori value the earth because it connects them genealogically. The earth is essentially their kin, and they protect it in the present because it deserves the best just as much as their own future offspring deserve the best. I hope to be able to really give my best effort in connecting with nature selflessly because of my experience here.
I believe that my time in New Zealand has proven to be educational and life-changing in so many ways, but one in which I will never forget is the unity that comes with the Maori culture. While they surely are not living the perfect life-health disparities, income inequality, and institutionalized racism still keep that from being true-I think they offer much to the New Zealand lifestyle that is envied by so many. The ability to live in the moment with minimal worries about the future will surely be something that sticks with me as I reflect on this trip in the coming weeks, months, and years. I want to be able to think of the Maori experience-that is, staring at a giant Kauri tree for what felt like hours, not feeling like I had other more important things to do-when I feel like the world is moving more quickly than I can manage.