Milford Sound and Indigenous People diaTRIBE
Milford Sound, New Zealand
In the interest of time we decided to book a small plane-cruise package to get to Milford Sound for the day. We had simply run out of time to do a drive and could not imagine missing it. The vantage point the 8-seater gifted us was spectacular- we barely cleared the mountaintops. It looked like you could reach out and touch the brown rocky faces. On occasion we would see a turquoise pool. Brown and turquoise are striking together- such a well-loved combination for home decorating- I felt like I uncovered the inspiration.
Considerable white remained on many of the mountaintops, which confounded me because the altitude and average temperatures do not support the presence of snow in summer. The highest of all the New Zealand Southern Alps is Mount Cook at 3000 meters. It's certainly majestic but lower than many ski areas in other parts of the world that are green in summer. On a warm summerday the white caps boggle the mind. Any snow the dynamic maritime climate can bring in off season surely will melt after a couple of sunny days...and we have had the good fortune to have a week of it. How is it sustained?
The key to the conundrum lies in the region's weather pattern. So much snow (over 20 meters is common in winter) is dumped on the Southern Alps over the course of the year that the bowls of the mid altitude peaks become glacier machines. Humid air from the Tasman Sea is the fuel for these machines and travels from the west and hits New Zealand then is forced almost immediately up over the mountains. The humid air gets cooled as it is pushed up forcing a change of state and dumping the white stuff. The stuff gets compressed under its own weight and turns to glacial ice. It was not snow I was viewing from the plane but ice, thick ice. A count in the 80's revealed over 3000 glaciers on the South Island- most of them in the Southern Alps where we were in flight. I suspect there are not as many as 3000 today. Whatever their present day number is, their future is not bright, which made the privilege of seeing them even sweeter.
Humid clouds aren't the only things the mountains cause to change state. The glorious peaks also have quite an effect on the flow of air and this made for a bit of a bumpy ride, which was bothersome to a few. One of the passengers was projectiling the whole way. Her relief was going to be to get off the plane then board a boat- talk about motion-sickness hell. She was a polite puker- hardly made a sound and didn't spill a drop. I had empathy for her, but personally, I was a soaring bird doing dips and turns as part of a joyful flight. It was bumpy but felt safe- the pilot seemed in perfect control of the flying machine and smiled the whole way. It was not the smile of madness, but wholeness. Another peaceful-connected-nature person. Is there a fishbowl one can place themselves in to turn into one of these?
Milford Sound was beautiful but (I hate to continue my sentence) I must have been in art (natural world sort) gallery overload. The cliffs, water, waterfalls…we have been immersed in so much of this in this gorgeous country that Milford Sound felt like a high pricetag version of more-of-the-same plus seals. A quick cruise around the perimeter didn't do it for me. Time to hike to the waterfalls and hang out on the rocks playing our own game of seal would have probably yielded a different memory. The flight took me higher- it was the highlight for me.
We return to camp and decide to hike our mountain- our camp is at its base. It is served by a gondola and has a restaurant at the top that looks like an alien space ship hovering in the sky at night. The hike is great, we arrive sweaty and winded and are rewarded with a great meal. As a bonus we discover there is a Māori Haka (traditional war dance) we can attend the next day. There is risk it could be a cheesy tourist show but the opportunity to learn anything about the indigenous people is desirous to me. I have always had a thing for indigenousity (made that word up). Maybe it's because I grew up in a time when awareness about the plight of our own indigenous in the US was forefront in society. There are fragments of attempts to build social empathy left in my consciousness. Neil Young's Broken Arrow and Pocahontas (my first awareness of the Aurora Borealis), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee on my parents' end table, Billy Jack movies (my fringed boots and coat were inspired by him), Iron Eyes Cody (later revealed as a poser- he was Sicilian) was the face of earth day ads run in between all those sitcoms and variety shows that warm our hearts. He is in full traditional dress and canoes through flotsam with smokestacks spewing in the background, gets out of the canoe and stands on a littered shore (deep-voiced narrator) SOME PEOPLE HAVE A DEEP ABIDING RESPECT FOR THE NATURAL BEAUTY THAT WAS ONCE THIS COUNTRY Cody walks towards the road and hoo-hah a fastfood bag of trash is tossed out of a car and lands at his feet - flash from his feet to his profile AND SOME PEOPLE DON"T wait for it PEOPLE START POLLUTION wait for it PEOPLE CAN STOP IT 3-2-1 - closeup - Cody turns his head and there is a tear trailing down his cheek. I dont know about you but I am gutted. I think thousands were because America really cleaned up after that. These efforts for awareness by society, however good or bad you think they were, trickled down and had an effect on me.
The girls and I return the next day for the Māori Haka (our missing family member keeps his community kitchen office hours). I'm psyched to learn anything I can about the Māoris. In addition to my basic indigenous people fascination I have a growing curiousity. There is a distinct different vibe New Zealand exhibits towards its Māoris versus Australian towards the Aboriginals. I don't want to pick on Australia and have no room to judge given my own country of origin's indigenous suffrage, but the Aboriginals feel extremely marginalized and the Māoris integrated. There is something detectably different going on.
I came to Australia and New Zealand extremely uninformed about their culture and history. This lack of preparation was due to lack of time but in retrospect, it made for a very rich, almost virginal if you will, unveiling of Oceania. Prior to my travels here, truth be known, I always lumped Australia and New Zealand together. My preconceived notion was that they were similar and an either-or equation if it came down to the interest of time. It's extremely embarrassing in retrospect how ignorant I was- they are SUCH different places! To add to my embarrassment I had a bit of a think and uncovered that my views dated to childhood and heavily influenced by Parker Brothers. Didn't the old RISK game have New Zealand looking like the Madagascar of Australia? It was a simpler time...Pluto was a planet, the Periodic Table of Elements was smaller... wasn't New Zealand considered part of the continent of Australia? Was I in a Purple Haze when Zealandia came to be??
It was clear after experiencing the Haka along with 8 other posture dances that Māoris are of Polynesian descent. The gangsters of Polynesia. They are tattooed and the men bulge their eyes and stick out their tongue stretching it to their chin while wiggling it. Gene Simmons has TOTALLY ripped these guys off. They arrived to New Zealand by canoe from their mythical homeland Hawaiiki. Sidebar please. Am I being asked to be party to a little game of indigineous people collusion? Keep your eyes above the waist...lets not tell the emperor, er uh chief, that he is naked? Who am I to tell the Māoris their homeland is not mythical and home to the famous Five-0? No one. I did my part to uphold the conspiracy. They ate the explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne for much less. (Inspector Clouseau voice) Hahlo, I am Marc, Joseph, Marion, du, Fresne. Do yu haf some oránj so I can trayt ma scurváy? They beat him with a stale baguette and made bouillabaisse of him that night. That is not quite how the story goes, but history is clear, he was digested.
No matter what checkered past the Māoris had back in the day, by 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed giving Māori equal rights with British citizens. There were some bad affairs that led to the loss of land and subsequent impoverishment- lets call it worldwide indigenous treatment plan- but by the 1890's progressive initiatives were under way and FOUR Māori seats in parliament were negotiated. Once they had representation in government their position in society improved.
Around that same time in the same monarch by extreme contrast our didgeridoo playing friends in Australia who prefer to walkabout as a right of passage instead of tattooing were getting the S-H-A-F-T. Children were taken away for assimilation into the Borg (random Star Trek reference) and the Aboriginal adults were systematically removed from their land and put into a reservation system. The Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 sounds like it came to their rescue, doesn't it? Not. It was drafted to protect the Aboriginals from themselves. Patronizing, treating them like children and a bit disrespectful now don't you think? The creators of the Act drafted it to fix the "problems" they identified in the Aboriginal community and used it as a device for social engineering and control. It became the instrument with which Aboriginal people were stripped of the most basic human rights. Their children were freaking taken away.
The differences between the treatment of colony AU-Australia and colony NZ-New Zealand were apparently so in-your-face it was given as a reason why the 2 did not join forces and defederate in 1890 and written about often by the Adelaide Advertiser Newspaper in the 1920's. I realize to defederate or not reasons were probably much more political than that but the fact it was a viable excuse shows the presence of the contrasting indigenous experiences. Please digest this with the stomach acid it deserves but take the highlight of contrasting indigenous experiences not as a slap to or judgment of our friends in Australia. It is not Australia that is unique- there are numerous examples from other countries that parallel their historical choices. It is New Zealand that is exceptional. Your historical choices can be felt today by those of us who pass by your shores, and they stand out as a contrast to most others. The actions and attitudes of generations past can have such power over the future. Their attitudes linger and are woven into society in ways we can't see when we are raised in their shadows. It has been a pleasure to poke around in your shadows and uncover that glacial ice isn't the only goodness you have inherited.
Post Haka we took the gondola down. The Southern Cross and Milky Way escorted us.