Archive for September, 2014

TT: Reserves vs Reservations

September 4, 2014

This week I’m challenging Alan…  Looking for something tranquil?  The Wednesday Wandering invites you to stroll with me in the tangled mass that is my garden.

JANE: Now, even though you’ve been very clear, I must admit, other things I’ve read about New Zealand don’t quite fit the picture you’ve given me.   I recently listened to a Ngaio Marsh novel, Colour Scheme.  It’s set during WWII in New Zealand.

Maori Myths and Weapons

Maori Myths and Weapons

There have been several references to “native reserves” with the implication (to my American ears) that these are lands upon which (or within the borders thereof) the Maori run the show or administer it or something.

This doesn’t quite fit with what you said last time.   Or at least my understanding thereof, which was that the Maori had no lands that were their own, except as individual landowners might own land.

Can you clarify?

ALAN: I really don’t know what Ngaio Marsh means by “native reserves.”  We simply don’t have reservations in the sense that you have described them. So I’m very puzzled as to what she might mean. Can you provide some context for me?

JANE: Okay, the area involved is Rangi Peak.  I’m not sure if this is a real place or one invented for the book.

ALAN: Yes, it really exists. Its Maori name is Te Peke o te Rangi Hekeiho and it’s 159 metres tall. Interestingly, it has never been climbed, so nobody knows what exciting things may lurk at the top…

JANE:  That’s neat.  Okay, in the novel, Rangi Peak is referred to as having been a Maori burial ground, apparently an extinct volcano into which they placed their dead.

When some of the pakeha characters go into the reserve, one notices a sign indicating that “curios” – what I think my archeologically-minded household would refer to as “artifacts” – cannot be removed from the area.

In the novel, there’s a really annoying man who wants to turn the area into a second Rotorua-like tourist attraction. He wants to do tours (with Maori guides if possible) of these sacred areas.  Several times, people (both Maori and pakeha) say “but it’s a native reserve…” The implication being that this man is pushing some sort of boundary.

Does that help?

ALAN: Ah! That makes a lot more sense. There are many areas that are sacred to Maori and which are regarded as reserves in the same way that a nature reserve is regarded as a reserve. The purpose, in the case of the Maori, is to guard and protect something that has enormous spiritual value to them. In some cases, for very sacred areas, general access is restricted or forbidden because of “tapu”, and the Maori consider themselves to be the place’s spiritual guardians.

JANE: Tapu?  Is that the same as taboo?

ALAN: Well, it’s very similar. In English, “taboo” simply means “forbidden” and I always assumed that tapu meant the same thing. Certainly tapu things can be forbidden. But when I started looking more closely at it, I discovered that there is rather more to it than that – it is closely related to the idea of mana (respect, authority, charisma) and tapu can be thought of as mana associated with the gods.

JANE: Great!  That makes it a lot more clear.  Please, go on…

ALAN: Everything in existence has an intrinsic tapu derived directly from the gods. Elaborate rules of behaviour maintain the sanctity of tapu. Disregarding the rules of tapu insults the mana of the gods and can lead to disaster, demonic possession or death.

Areas of spiritual significance, burial grounds, ceremonial sites, carved houses, and waka (canoes) all have their own tapu and, depending on the degree, may be sacrosanct and best avoided or at the very least approached with respect and caution.

JANE: I’m with you.  Can you give an example?

ALAN: A good example would be the popular tourist destination of Cape Reinga. It is the point from where spirits of the dead leave for their journey back to the ancestral homeland. It is a hauntingly beautiful and very spiritual place and Maori ask that respect for tapu be shown by all visitors.

Fresh water has the power to neutralise tapu to levels that are no longer dangerous to people and spiritual ceremonies will often involve sprinkling water over people, objects and the land.

JANE: I think I now understand what Ngaio Marsh meant.  Rangi Peak is not land owned by the Maori in the way reservation land here is owned by various tribes.  However, Maori traditions are respected to the point that, for some entrepreneur to get a business going, he’d need to have the cooperation of the locals.  That explains why the character in Marsh’s novel is busy courting the younger – presumably less conservative – members of the local Maori community.  Even so, he’s definitely pushing boundaries – of respect, if not of law.

ALAN: That’s exactly right. The cooperation of the local Maori is absolutely vital and their wishes are always respected. And sometimes working closely with the local iwi (tribes) can be very productive for everybody involved.

Here’s a lovely story that illustrates that. In a forest in the far north, there is a giant kauri tree known as Tane Mahuta – the largest tree in the country. In Maori mythology, Tane is the son of the sky father and the earth mother and the birds and trees of the forest are regarded as Tane’s children for whom he is responsible. So Tane Mahuta, the tree, is obviously very close to the gods themselves; perhaps even a manifestation of the god.

During a drought in 2013, 10,000 litres of water were diverted from a nearby stream to Tane Mahuta, which (who?) was showing signs of dehydration…

Everybody wins.

JANE: I have to ask…  Did this influx of fresh water have the side effect of reducing the tapu of Tana Mahuta?

ALAN: No, not at all. That would require a proper ceremony conducted by a tohunga (a wise man, or priest). The rehydration of Tane Mahuta was not ceremonial, it was simply a pragmatic act conducted by the Department of Conservation (DOC) with the full cooperation of the local iwi, of course.

JANE:  That’s a relief.  It would be a shame to save the tree but reduce its tapu.

What happens when there is an area that the Maori deem sacred or important, that isn’t within a designated “native reserve”?

ALAN: I’m not sure there’s any such thing. If there is an area that Maori deem sacred or important, then by definition it is a “native reserve.” The only exception might be land about which nothing is known but which later proves to be significant because of archeological evidence. In such cases, the land will always be purified in a ceremony conducted by a tohunga. What happens after that is moot.

How does it work in the United States?

JANE: First, I need to draw a few lines.  Within the United States, land ownership becomes complex.  There is Federal land (some of this is called BLM land, because it is administered by the Bureau of Land Management).  There is state land.  Counties, cities, or towns may also own land.  Finally, there is privately owned land.

ALAN: We don’t have a federal system, so it’s much simpler here. Land may be owned privately or by the government. Cities and towns may own land which contains infrastructure such as roads, and amenities such as parks.

JANE: Yes.  That is much simpler.  It’s not nearly as simple here.  If a location important to one of the tribes is on Federal land, then it can be designated a “culturally significant property.”  Interestingly, these may include shrines, burial areas, and natural resources, including plants, minerals, even clay.  This gives the area protection from development.

ALAN: We have similar designations for similar reasons and purposes.

JANE: I can’t speak for the other forty-nine states but, in New Mexico, the guidelines for designating a culturally significant property parallel Federal guidelines.

However, if the land is privately owned, cultural resources are unprotected.  Sometimes social pressure can be brought to bear.  I know of at least one instance where a group was speaking to some real estate developers about preserving a traditional shrine within land that was to be turned into a residential subdivision.

For this reason, organizations like The Archeological Conservancy have become important.  This is a private, non-government foundation that buys land containing significant archeological sites with the promise that they will not be developed.  Many times land owners donate such areas or sell at a reduced price.

ALAN:  We don’t have any organisations that would buy such land, though the same social pressures can be applied. Certainly all development would stop while the site was investigated. But eventually development would continue.

JANE: I guess I’m going into this is such detail because, since Jim’s an archeologist, we run into misunderstandings all the time.  One of the most common is that, if land contains artifacts or ruins, it’s automatically protected from use or development.  In fact, this is far from true.  One of the most important parts of Jim’s job is preserving the information in sites before they are either destroyed or buried.

ALAN: I find myself nodding at every point you make. We may organise things a little differently but I think we both get to the same place in the end.

JANE: That’s a relief!  I’m sure some of our readers will have questions, so I’d like to open the discussion to them.  Meanwhile, you’re at a significant point in your life.  I’d love to talk about how that’s going next time.

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Backyard Habitat

September 3, 2014

It’s almost impossible to walk through my backyard right now.  The asters are chest-high and beginning to flower.  The globe mallow is higher than my head and showing off orange flowers.  We weave through, clipping only what we must and enjoying the greenery.

Asters and Mallow

Asters and Mallow

To understand how wonderful this is, I need to take you back to my first Spring into Summer in this house.  This was 1996.  I’d moved into the house in December of 1995, helped by a crew of people that read like the staff of a major SF convention.  Melinda Snodgrass loaned her horse trailer and labor.  Walter Jon Williams, George R.R. Martin, Pati Nagle, and a host of spouses and just plain nice people helped move boxes and beds and my life-sized reproduction carousel horse, Goliath.

A fellow I knew from gaming, one “Jim” (I only vaguely knew his last name was “Moore”), was  among these nice people.  He offered to come back and fix a cabinet door that had gotten broken in the moving.  I’d marry him something over thirteen months later…

But that’s another story.

My house was built before real estate on the west side of Albuquerque was worth anything.  So my yard is fairly large – not acres or anything – but sizeable.  When that first Spring came, I set about discovering what was growing in it.  The answer was a discouraging “not much.”  There were two rose bushes and one juniper, all in the process of dying.  A few cedars near the house.  One tree out front.

Otherwise, there was a lot of a low ground-cover that looked pretty nice, especially when it broke out into tiny yellow flowers.  Less nice was discovering that this was a plant known locally as “goat’s head,” because of the caltrop-like seed heads that are designed so that at least one thorn is always up and ready to poke the unwary.

(“Goat’s head” is also known as puncture vine, tackweed, or ground bur-nut.  Its formal name is tribulus terrestis, which it completely deserves.)

My dad went on a vendetta against the goat’s heads, filling no fewer than eight thirty-gallon trash bags with the plants.  For years after, Jim and I would weed them out every Spring until, finally, it became possible to walk in the yard in our bare feet.  We did a lot more with the yard as well.

In addition to our beloved garden beds, we planted a trees and shrubs, opting mostly for types that don’t need a lot of water.  We learned which native plants and grasses didn’t produce thorns and encouraged these, while weeding out those with prickles.  We put in a tiny pond, bird feeders, and a couple of bird baths.

Over time, we developed a crop we hadn’t anticipated: wild life.  First were the lizards.  These mostly fall into two groups, the fence lizards and the blue-tailed lizards.  Neither are very large – though the blue-tails grow very long tails, often longer than the rest of their bodies.

As soon as we put up bird-feeders and water sources, we got the usual sparrows and finches.  Not long after, we began to get mourning doves, ring-necked doves, and rock doves.  Robins discovered our garden beds.  We now have at least a couple robins year-round and have, apparently, become a scheduled stop along the migration route.  Quail regularly parade through, as do roadrunners.  Hummingbirds.  Scrub jays.  Grackles.  And a wide variety of migrators, including some very showy oriels.  One cloudy afternoon I even saw a very confused night heron at our pond.

Then came the toads.  And this year we’ve had a desert box turtle make periodic visits.

As each type of creature has come through, we’ve done what we can to make them welcome.  We noticed that the finches and sparrows really liked the seeds of the spectacle pod, so, instead of weeding these out once the pretty white flowers were done, we left some to go to seed.  We did the same with Indian rice grass and other seed-bearing grasses.

At first we put up hummingbird feeders but, as we learned what plants we could get to grow, we eliminated the “soda pop” in favor of planting what the hummers naturally eat.  Now they buzz around our desert willow, cardinal vine, and trumpet vine.  What’s really interesting is finding out that they also like zinnias and hollyhocks.  The other night, I went out to pick some cinnamon basil for a salad and found a hummingbird sampling the tiny purple flowers.

For the toads, we let the Virginia creeper along the fence get bushy, so they have a cool, comparatively damp place to shelter during the day.  Many times on a summer evening, when we’ve gone to bring in the guinea pigs from their outside hutch, we’ve encountered a toad hopping slowly on its way to take a quick dip in the pond before beginning its evening rounds.

When the turtle showed up, we dug a shallow bowl – hardly more than a tray – into the ground so that it could get water or take a bath.  We’d love for it to become a full-time resident.

Right now we have some amazing wild sunflowers.  They’re easily twelve to fifteen feet tall, with small blossoms that are just opening up.  However, even when they are done with their dramatic flowers, we’ll leave them up so that the birds can forage.  In past years, we’ve had thrashers and small woodpeckers busily hammering away at the woody stems.  Goldfinches love the seeds and look like tiny ornaments as they flutter from branchlet to branchlet.

We don’t live in the country…  We have a good-sized yard, but not a huge one.  However, what we’ve learned is that if you let Nature in, she’ll accept the invitation, bringing you wonders never to be seen in your more typical neatly-planted, tidily-mowed yard.