The Week of Celebratory Questions


Monday, 8th of February
What Year is it?

新年快乐!New week, New Year! Chinese New Year that is. After a free day Sunday following our return from the amazing experience that was Kapiti Island, we were back in class, though we must have been the only ones. Not only was it Chinese New Year, but also Waitangi day, a national holiday for New Zealand recognizing the signing of the treaty that made New Zealand a bi-cultural country [explained in our Trees, Treaties, and Tourneys post].

We started the day with a lecture about the conservation conundrums of New Zealand with Peter Frost and learned about the intensification of New Zealand agriculture, the threats it is creating and the “Stuff the planet, what’s it ever done for me?” attitude that is not uncommon in New Zealand. We built upon this thought in Jay’s class discussing how we value the environment: in terms of intrinsic value, such as beauty, versus material value: what it gives us, such as ecosystem services. After 80 pages of I’m sure very in-depth homework reading, we actually did have a lot to talk about. Can we place a monetary value on nature and ‘the wild’? Is there any option in these days where money rules everything, including conservation efforts? After this discussion we sat in momentary silence, thinking, though whether that thought was of our heated discussion or the announcement we would have the rest of the holiday off, you will never know.

After getting out of class at the cool hour of noon, we dispersed, with some of us reconvening at Malia’s host house a ways up the river to make Chinese dumplings for New Years in this New Year of the Monkey. There was lots of flour, filling, folding and frying, as well as intermittent checks on the Super Bowl score. Everyone left full for their bike back down the river.


Tuesday, 9th of February
Does the US have a culture?
Internships day 3 brought to you by Malia working with Ki Tai, teaching Maori culture in schools.

We went back to internships for day three, with everyone hopefully settling into their roles. I had good discussions with Medz and Mamah from the river and Ki Tai about Maori culture, its commercialization, and their land ethic. I also went to a few schools with Mamah and Medz where they cycle with different age groups and teach students Maori waiata (song), poi dance and haka. I asked Mamah and Medz about thoughts on teaching Maori culture in predominantly pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) schools. Medz replied that “it is especially important for Maori kids to learn their own culture and thereby learn who they are, and it is important for pakeha to learn as children as well so they grow up with a respect and recognition of the culture that they also live with.” Indeed, I saw several Maori children stand with pride and recite karangas (calls) as well as give thanks in Maori, but many pakeha students did the same, with one even doing the leading call for a haka powhiri. All the students of different ages seemed to enjoy learning lessons as well as playing Maori games together.

Mamah later asked me if we had any culture classes like this in America, and I recounted my Hawaiian lessons when I was younger, but what about the greater US? Do we have a culture, or do we lack a unified culture because we are a nation of immigrants?


Wednesday, 10th of February
Would you sell your grandparents?

Wednesday saw our return to the classroom at Tupoho. We had another lesson from Peter Frost about the agriculture economy of New Zealand, focusing on the agriculture they do most commonly: the dairy business as well as its impacts (loss of native habitat, waterway obstruction, contamination and altered flow, change in soil biota and nutrient content as well as greenhouse gas emission). Some of the issues and proposed technological solutions came up again in our discussion with Jay, which was in a rotating fishbowl setting (four students discussing on the inside, and a panel of the other students asking questions from the outside). We discussed the balance between technological solutions as well as human population complications such as food shortage and the ethics that come along with technical solutions such as genetically engineered crops.

We had a lunch meeting with Ash and Uncle George from the river trip to debrief our experience. We went around, reviewing the many positive memories as well as any negatives, which were mostly limited to excessive and itchy sand fly bites still lingering on our feet. In the afternoon we met at the museum to get a lesson from the Maori culture specialist, Āwhina. We reviewed the Maori creation story, which could be seen depicted on the bow or tauihu carving of the waka (canoe) in the middle of the museum: in the beginning there was sky father (Ranginui) and earth mother (Papatuanuku). They were so tightly intertwined everything between them was in darkness, and their children were born into this darkness: Rongomatane, god of agriculture; Tangaroa, god of the ocean; Haumiatiketike, god of the wild uncultivated foods; and Tumatauenga, god of war, were the first children and they tried to separate their parents to gain a little space. But it wasn’t until Tanemahuta, god of trees and birds, was born that he pushed Rangi and Papa apart, separating Sky and Earth so there could be light. Man was later created from these children of Rangi and Papa and so the Maori genealogy traces itself back to the same creation, a relationship Maori have not only to each other, but to the trees, birds, fish, earth and sky.

Next we were presented with a very serious question from Awhina: “Will you sell me your grandparents?” Evidently she is on the market. After a stunned silence, we all said no, to which she asked why?

[indignant] “Because they’re my grandparents.

[reasoning] “So? They could adopt me, blood doesn’t matter, I’d probably treat them better anyway because I have money and I’d listen to all their stories better than you.”

Because they can’t be sold, they’re people.”

You could if you really wanted to, there have been people sold for money before.”

After more of this back and forth and our confusion and frustration at not being able to find a definitive answer for why we wouldn’t want to sell our grandparents, Āwhina went through some slides comparing te awa (the river) to grandparents: she keeps you clean, washes your clothes, takes you places (is a highway for transport), she entertains you (waka races), you respect her, she provides you sustenance. And so we came from the beginning of the lesson starting with the creation story and genealogy to the lesson and familiar phrase ‘Te ao ko awa, te awa ko au’ (I am the river and the river is me). This is the Maori view on land ethics: that all things are interrelated and come from the same creation. Through genealogy everything including humans are all related, after all, Āwhina said “if we recognize that we are related to something, we are more likely to take care of it.”

Here is an image of a waka tauihu (the carved bow of a war canoe). On it you can see the depiction of the Maori creation story. The two spirals represent knowledge and light that came from the separation of the Sky Father, Ranginui (along the top of the carving), and Mother Earth, Papatuanuku (carved along the bottom). Between the two spirals and between Rangi and Papa you can see a carving of Tane, the child who finally separated earth and sky. At the front (right) of the canoe is a carving of Tumatauenga, god of war, to intimidate as it is a war canoe. ( Taken offline because we forgot to snap a pic at the museum)


Thursday, 11th of February
Swinganui anyone?
Internships day 4 brought to you by Akul, working at Whanganui Regional Museum

We all reported to our respective internships at 9am. It was a quiet day in the Whanganui Regional Museum for Kelsey and I. We are currently working on organizing and updating  the museum’s coin collection on their database software. The collection ranges from the Indus Valley Civilization to modern day tokens. The collections also include war medals and high school medals dating back to the early 19th century. We are slowly getting oriented with the museum staff and realizing what we are expected to do, as are many others in their internships. Here’s to hoping that next week will bring even more comfort and learning as we look forward to hearing about everyone’s’ internships in the brown bag presentations we will be giving and hearing during our class day lunch periods over the next few weeks.

In the evening everyone met downtown at The Big Orange to see Nigel Brooke (our Maori Culture and songs teacher) perform with his band Swinganui, they play what is described as ‘light acoustic jazz performed by 3 excellent musicians’. Later some of us went to see the much awaited superhero movie ‘Deadpool’ to ring in a vacation weekend!

Friday, 12th of February
What is a day off?
Day off brought to you by Akul

We were all blessed with a free Friday! The time was well spent recovering, spending time with host parents and catching up on homework. I went shopping with my host mom and bought food and house supplies for the weekend. Later, the whole block ran out of electricity for the night as a car crashed into the local transformer; my host dad took advantage of this blackout and set up his homemade BBQ in the garden where we grilled some lamb and chicken. The stars were beautifully very visible and we all bonded and got to know each other a little better. At the same time, some more students were downtown attending a quiz night at a local bar, hosted by Eliza’s host mom and her roller derby team. Malia was taken north up the Western coast, past Taranaki, to Palmerston North to spend the weekend with her host parents’ daughter and granddaughter. It seems like everyone is slowly getting comfortable with their host parents and settling into this time away from the Settlement.


Saturday, 13th of February
Wanna get bio-blitzed with us?

Our weekend off was interrupted by a brief but enjoyable excursion to Bushy park for the ‘Bio-Blitz’. At noon we all congregated at the community center where we received the traditional personalized valentine-day cards from our friends in the group from last year. Next we all wished Alex a happy birthday and proceeded to Bushy Park. Once there, we had the excellent opportunity to interact with the local community of field scientists and nature enthusiasts. The day was structured around hourly walks pertaining to the different flora and fauna the park had to offer; we got to explore the wetlands where we saw tadpoles, snails and insects. It was a proud moment for us folks as Gabe officially sighted the 1st velvet worm in the park! The day ended with a gathering of Earlhamites meeting at Truman’s house for BBQ; the night was filled with music, darts and billiards. Happy Valentine’s to our (gasp) second off day of the week on Sunday!

Until next week,
Malia and Akul


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