Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights

/ARTS WEEKLY/ECOTOURISM: Maoris Reap Benefits of Past Conservation

Neena Bhandari

WELLINGTON, Aug 30 2005 (IPS) - To Maoris conservation of land and water has been at the forefront of their existence and today they are capitalising on the carefully nurtured resource and gaining livelihoods through eco-tourism.

Local Maori guides provide tales of tribal history and explain the medicinal purposes of plants on walking tours and offer close encounters with whales and gannets in various nature parks and reserves, which cover one-third of New Zealand.

Gannet Safari’s three-hour trip takes visitors through riverbeds, pastures, native bush, geological formations to reach the largest and most accessible mainland nesting place of gannets in the world at Cape Kidnappers.

Cape Kidnappers known in Maori mythology as the hook with which the demi-god Maui fished the North Island from the sea, received its modern name from Captain Cook after local Maoris attempted to kidnap a young Tahitian boy from his ship ‘Endeavour’.

The 20,000 gannets nesting here are members of the Booby family with distinctive black eye markings and a pale gold crown.

Filled with similar excitement and adventure is the close encounter with Sperm Whales, migratory Humpback Whales, Orca, dolphins, fur seals and the Royal Albatross at Kaikoura in South Island.

Whale Watch Kaikoura Limited is a community trust owned by the Maori people of Kaikoura in partnership with their affiliated iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu. It employs around 70 people and supports many extended Maori families.

Maoris were the first inhabitants of Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) arriving more than 1000 years ago from the islands of Eastern Polynesia. It was named New Zealand in 1642 by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, the first European discoverer of the country.

Maoris fought many wars with the European immigrants over increasing demand for land. In 1840, Maoris signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown, which gave the British Government sovereignty over New Zealand. The site where the treaty was signed in the Bay of Islands is now a popular tourist spot.

By 1872, vast areas of Maori land were confiscated, disrupting their life that sustained on farming and fishing. Their population declined steadily from about 100,000 to just 40,000 by 1901. The advent of 20th century marked their drift to urban areas and more than 50 percent now live in and around the main cities.

Land rights had given the Maoris a sense of belonging. While they owned all the land more than 200 years ago, now their ownership is reduced to a mere five percent.

Thirty-seven year old painter and poet, Tracey hails from Matakana Island in the Bay of Plenty. It was while doing a law degree that she discovered the deprivation suffered by the Maoris.

”I organised an exhibition of all the relevant pieces of legislation, painted them in gold on clear PVC and put them along the road in Ruatoki town, where most land had been taken by the European settlers and its negative effects on the community were obvious,” says Tracey.

Even now Maoris are more likely than non-Maoris to live in extended families, indicating their continued preference for traditional living arrangements. Around 20 percent of Maoris live in private dwellings with extended families. More than half of these have three generations of family under one roof.

Says Lilian Hetet-Owen, co-director of Maori Treasure near Wellington: ”In the 1930s, the government decided to take this land for public housing, but my maternal grandfather was able to negotiate a deal.

In the1950s and the1960s, the government wanted Maoris to integrate and assimilate by dispersing us in the main population. We are very fortunate to have been able to preserve and continue with our art, culture and tradition. Today there are 50 houses of our people living here”.

A unique consortium of indigenous food companies, winemakers, artists and contemporary entertainers, Maori Experienz, provides the ultimate indigenous experience for tourists.

The essence of Maori Experienz is enshrined in the mission statement of New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010, which states the core values of the importance of people, caring for the environment and hospitality.

Among the Maoris, sharing food is about hospitality, caring and respect. In the past, Maoris routinely practiced traditional rituals and protocols for gathering, preparing, cooking, storing and distributing food on a Marae (meeting place).

In the geo-thermal region of Rotorua in North Island, tourists queue to enjoy Maori kai (food) cooked on hot stones underground as part of a traditional ‘hangi’ or cook-in.

Being hunters and crop farmers, the indigenous people gathered food from the forests, streams, seas and gardens and their diet traditionally comprised birds and fish together with wild herbs and potato or kumara.

For those seeking a traditional village market experience, the Hawke’s Bay farmers’ market satisfies even the most perceptive. Home to the country’s largest fruit, vegetable and meat companies, many small producers here have carved a unique niche with their specialised food business.

As Cherry De Negri, coordinator of the market says, ”It was started six years ago to foster young businesses and farmers and since then it is growing at 25 to 35 percent annually”.

Every Sunday morning, Graham Avery, looks forward to the market. ”It has not only helped integrate Maori food in the mainstream, but also captured the expertise and range of foods and products from all nationalities that make New Zealand such a multicultural country”.

The market has also provided a platform for women like Jennifer Cracknell, who comes from Napier, to meet the producers. She says, ”It is refreshing to be in open air, carnival atmosphere rather than in a closed supermarket and be able to taste food before buying”.

For Robyn Floyd, a mother and wife, the market is a place to interact and exchange indigenous traditional recipes, which have been modified to suit the modern palate. The queue at her ‘floaters’ stall and the Rewena (traditional Maori bread) baking competition was testimony to the success of the concept.

The farmers’ market has also helped launch many growers in the international arena. Philip Mardon is now exporting half of his produce. He says, ”New Zealand apples are now exported to 60 countries.

Each country has its preference. In India, for example, the sweeter apples like Pacific Rose, Jazz and Pacific Queen are very popular, in Europe, Royal gala and Brae Burn are favourites”.

Gillian and Graham Tristram’s Mississippi Mud Cakes are exported up to Singapore. ”It’s the personal touch at the farmers’ market that is bringing in so many people each week”.

Hawke’s Bay is not only the warm, sunny ‘fruit bowl of New Zealand’, but also a wine lover’s paradise. John and Rosemary O’Connor decided to establish their vineyard on the stony barren soils. He identified the subtle differences in soil types and matched each to a classic wine variety.

”We employ Maoris from the nearby impoverished Flaxmere region to engender in them a feeling of belonging and learn a skill,” says Rosemary.

Tohu Wines is the first indigenous branded wine to be produced for the export market from the regions of Marlborough and Gisborne. The members of the iwi are involved at all stages, from harvesting to marketing the wine and 80 percent of the produce is exported.

”For centuries, Maoris, were aware that the earth was the giver of all life. It was accepted that the people who were born onto that land inherited the right to produce from it and to protect it for the benefit of all,” said James Wheeler, director of the wine making company.

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