Anthropology of water essay


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Download Citation Citation Alerts. Related Articles Journal Most Downloaded. Abstract Preview. Abstract Infrastructures are material forms that allow for the possibility of exchange over space. Evidence provided by Lapita pottery locates them in the Bismarck Archipelago, east of New Guinea, about 3, years ago, and it appears this population expanded eastwards from there, with their East Polynesian descendents possibly travelling as far as South America. They left a trail of Lapita materials through Melanesia, New Caledonia and into Fiji, Tonga and Samoa where, in the first millennium BC, they established what is now recognised as Polynesian culture Sheppard et al.

The hunting resulted in the extinction of some of some species, most notably the various types of Moa, a massive, flightless bird whose meat, bones and feathers were much in demand. It both required and enabled a greater degree of settlement and larger clusters of people, which encouraged the development of a more hierarchical set of social arrangements.

As well as some land clearing and levelling, cultivation meant fences, 9 agricultural tools, planting and harvesting. The Maori settlers had brought with them a variety of plants, including sweet potatoes, taro, gourds and yams, and with what must have been careful planning less readily portable plants, such as mulberry trees. Though there is no evidence that they brought rice, Best suggests that they retained linguistic terms for it ari and vari , presumably from earlier use of this crop in South-east Asia.

Rice had been brought to that region in the late Neolithic period by Austronesian speaking peoples, and it is there that archaeologists have found the first evidence of rice cultivation Christie, Swamps and wetlands were modified for taro production both there and in the New Guinea highlands at around BCE Ibid. The forebears of the Maori were thus part of one of the first human ventures into more directive forms of engagement with water. Though the latter were farmers rather than shifting cultivators, and their technologies were more diverse than those of the Maori, their production was initially small in scale and focused heavily on subsistence-level provision of food for a small community of settlers.

Obviously this changed as cattle and sheep were imported from Europe in larger numbers and farming began to intensify. The rapid forest clearance caused by a hungry timber trade also presented radically different ways of using resources. But, at least at the outset, there was some common ground in the respective economic modes of both communities, which may have made it more feasible for their developmental trajectories to converge.

Unfortunately, common ground was also a problem: as European settlement expanded, competition for land grew fiercer, leading to violent conflicts over territory. But compared to events in Australia this colonial conflict was much more equal in force.

Anthropology Between Art and Science: An Essay on the Meaning of Research

Though European technologies allowed the later colonists to prevail and to subjugate the Maori people to some extent, they also had to negotiate and make agreements with them, based in part on the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in in an effort to bring the violent conflicts to an end.

The meanings and translation of this treaty remain much contested but, whatever its limitations, it opened a potential path to bi-cultural governance between the Maori and the European settlers, and led events towards the potential co-ownership and management of resources. It has consequently been possible for Maori groups to participate in social, political and economic practices at a national level. Though rural communities still struggle economically and educationally, there is now a large Maori middle class which participates fully in these processes, taking the lead in multiple negotiations about land, water and resources.

This engagement seems to have had a considerable effect on indigenous relationships with the material environment, and these effects are discernible in changing cosmological ideas, discourses and representations. It describes both non-human and human agency. Water is portrayed as a primal source of power and creativity, and origin myths describe a water god called Tangaroa forming the world out of an era of creative chaos te kore. There were other major gods, both male and female, representing the various aspects of the environment. And there were also human — or rather superhuman — figures in this creative era: ancestors who journeyed, hunted, fished and so forth.

For example, New Zealand itself was pulled up out of the water by Maui, a major creative figure. The figure at the top is a marakihau, or sea taniwha. Carving by Te Tuiti-Moeroa. In the creative era, it formed vital connections between people. Muru-Lanning describes, for example, how ancestral beings created the rivers of the Waikato region, establishing critical social and spiritual connections between the iwis tribal communities along their banks The material environment is also regarded as being inhabited by a variety of spiritual beings, including the kaitiaki: guardian spirits whose role is to protect sacred places.

Photo: MaramaMuru-Lanning. The form of the taniwha varies, but these are all variations on a theme: it remains a classic water being, sinuously combining elements of serpent and dragon, and sometimes other aquatic species. It may be plumed or feathered, but it is indubitably a water creature, with shimmering and sometimes multi-coloured scales, and a long, snake or eel-like tail which sometimes ends in a fishtail. A taniwha called Tuhirangi was said to have accompanied a mythical explorer, Kupe, in his voyage to New Zealand, and to have been placed by him as a guardian in the Cook Strait.

In the period since European colonisation, taniwhas have often been called upon to express resistance to the damming or diversion of waterways. Echoing indigenous protests across the Tasman, Maori activists have articulated concerns that such interference with water and its mauri runs contrary to the principles of order underpinning their traditional beliefs, impeding the proper movements of human and environmental processes.

To this extent, it is clear that like Australian Aboriginal belief systems, Maori cosmology locates considerable agency in non-human things, and promotes values of reciprocal care between people and their material surroundings. But there has also been some apparent divergence in the trajectories of each group, most particularly in recent years.

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It also generates all of the other totemic ancestral beings, the animals and birds, whose creative journeys across the landscape combine accounts of the physical and behavioural characteristics of those species with more human kinds of events and practices. These beings are often transformed from animal to human form, or vice versa. Such transformations can also occur in Maori mythology. For example, Orbell recounts a myth from the Waikato region which describes how an ancestral chief, Tuheitia, was drowned by a jealous brother-in-law and became a taniwha who has since reappeared to the local iwi to warn them of impending danger Thus not just rivers, but also mountains, and other features of the local environment, are placed within a single genealogical system.

This incorporation is clear in evidence presented to the Environment Court in an earlier dispute over the Waikato river:. This genealogical relationship is one of the foundations upon which the Maori culture is based. Whanaungatanga in its broadest context could be defined as the interrelationship of Maori with their ancestors, their whanau, hapu, and iwi as well as the natural resources within their tribunal boundaries e.

Though they sometimes take the form of animals and birds, key Maori ancestral beings are most often human or semi-human. And the way of life described in their ancestral stories places greater direction and power over the material world in human hands. Missionary efforts in the Pacific were either more forceful or persuasive than in Australia. Possibly Christianity simply meshed more readily with the Maori cosmos, with its greater emphasis on humanised religious figures and its relatively steep hierarchies which already contained notions of higher ranking gods and even a supreme being Io.

Thus God sends the rain to fertilise the earth and feed the world — or sends floods to punish unruly human societies when they transgress. In Biblical mythology, paganism, in the form of the serpent, is invariably slain by male culture heroes. The relevance of this assertion of human authority over water beings is well expressed by Maori interpretations of the figure of St George and the Dragon, an image which appeared on the gold sovereigns brought to New Zealand by British settlers:.

I have met some who told me they had seen one, and they were people I had every reason to respect and to believe. My old friend Nepia Pomare, a Ngapuhi and my Maori godfather once told me that the taniwha on our gold sovereigns was not unlike a taniwha he had once seen. Basil Keane. Artwork by Manu Smith in Bacon He hit it with his greenstone weapon mere pounamu which had the power to overcome any taniwha, injuring it so that it no longer ate people Bacon, Though vestigial ideas about energies and consciousness persist, a rationalist perspective has also had a dampening effect on ideas about sentience and agency in land and waterscapes.

Most contemporary water management deals with the material environment in secular Cartesian terms, adopting a techno-managerial mode of engagement which is more concerned with measurement than with meaning. The influence of this scientific worldview, along with the embracing of Christianity, have given rise to some changes in Maori relations with water, and this is reflected in some striking differences between the images of water beings produced in the first half of the 20th century, and contemporary art works, which are more clearly humanised, suggesting a further shift in the location of agency.

The image of the taniwha is employed, instead, to support the authority of human groups.

In recent years this difference has become more pronounced. MuruLanning observes that powerful contemporary leaders can be represented or represent themselves as taniwha :. Indeed, many people perceived Robert Mahuta as a great taniwha when he was alive as he was not only a well known chief but also a self-professed kaitiaki of the river Tupuna Awa defined the Waikato River as an important tribal ancestor. This discourse emphasises iwi identity, iwi partnerships with the Crown and a vision of co-managing the Waikato River ii.

Building on the initial Treaty of Waitangi , they have been successful in ensuring that this role has been legally recognised, for example in the Resource Management Act which includes various provisions for the consultation and inclusion of Maori in decision-making processes. These influences are apparent not only in their representations of water beings, but also in their use of these in legal and political arena to promote indigenous aims and interests.

However, it is also clear that, although their cosmologies have some important common elements, there has been a much lengthier divergence in the trajectories of their particular human-environmental relationships. Aboriginal Australians have maintained an intensely conservative belief system, which has proved highly resistant to change, even in the most traumatic of colonial circumstances.

This worldview resonated more readily with the ideas introduced by Christian missionaries and colonists, providing sufficient common ground to form the basis of a potential co-managerial approach. It may therefore be seen that, rather than seeking to diverge radically, the trajectory of Maori human-environmental relations has run in a direction that, if not quite parallel, has shifted increasingly to run in accord with that of the European settler society in New Zealand, albeit with some intention of pulling the latter towards its own aims.

It illuminates the ways that they balance power and agency in these interactions, with concomitant effects on the human and non-human participants. Accessed Seminar paper. University of Auckland, May 3rd The Social Life of Things: commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. In: R.

Fardon et al. A Handbook of Social Anthropology. London: Sage. Best, E. The Maori. Volume II. Wellington: The Polynesian Society. A World of Water: rain, rivers and seas in Southeast Asian histories. Outline of a Theory of Practice.

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Chatswood, N. In: Encylopedia of Life Sciences. Chichester UK: John Wiley. In: Peter Boomgaard ed.

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