The $11,760,000 Question
MOTUEKA, NEW ZEALAND: March 10-18, 2013
Leah: Bidding Windy Wellington farewell, we roused ourselves for a pre-sunrise walk to the ferry, which would take us across Cook Strait and over to the South Islands on the ferry, where a Workaway awaited us. I had warned Steve that the last time I took the ferry we were delayed for hours due to weather and then once on board the sea was still so rough that many people were puking nonstop for the duration of the 3 ½ hour passage. Luckily the weather was with us and even though our ferry company had cancelled our departure time, they had already booked us on their competitor and our sail through Cook Strait and Malborough Sounds was sun-dappled and anti-climatic.
Once the ferry docked in Picton, we hiked out of the tiny port town to the highway to catch a ride to Motueka a few hours away. Thumbs out and smiles on we enticed Paul to take us the first leg. He was a Kiwi about our age who had worked at a summer camp in the US where he met and married his South Carolinian wife before they moved back here so she could be a Presbyterian minister. Paul dropped us at the turnoff to Nelson and our next ride was with Peter and Reba, distantly related expats from the UK who despite living within minutes of each other had only met for the first time that past weekend when Peter’s family flew into town. They plopped us in Nelson where a jeep soon pulled over and we met Mary and Mike, a young teenage couple of Burmese descent although they were raised in Thailand. They didn’t speak much English, but we learned they were on their way with friends in the car behind them to go catch crabs for a typical Burmese dish.
Dennis and Rima were born and raised in the area and have been married for 37 years and have 3 children together, one of whom lives right next door with his partner and children. Rima is a proud, feisty Maori (my only complaint is that she didn’t know how to use her mouth and ears proportionately (Steve: oh snap!)) and we’d been looking forward to this opportunity for months because they made it clear in their profile that there would be a great deal of Maori culture immersion during the Workaway. She works in care-taking when not immersed in the running of her local iwi (Maori tribe) board and Dennis is the groundskeeper for the high school up the road and having been here for decades they always had stories about the locals and ways of life here. Dennis himself is actually a bit of a history buff and exactly the kind of person you’d want on your Trivial Pursuit team, as his breadth of knowledge is exhaustive and comprehensive. Oh, and he paid for Rima’s engagement and wedding ring in addition to the down payment on their house by trapping possums back in the day when he was getting the modern equivalent of $30 a skin—gotta love it!
I very much needed the presence of new life, as a deep melancholy had settled over me since arriving in Motueka. The second anniversary of Jayna’s death occurred the day after we arrived here and I was moody, removed and stuck inside my own head; I can’t believe it’s already been 2 years without her. I was also preoccupied with the fact that many of the people I love are embroiled in periods of upheaval and pain back at home and I’m powerless to be there for them and help. Friends in my circle are facing their own monstrous anniversaries marking loss, confronting a long-term long-distance relationship, reeling from a breakup after years together, struggling with job crises and preparing to move a young family to a developing country for an indeterminate amount of time.
And then there’s my own relationship. We’ve touched on it before, but traveling with anyone long-term, let alone your life partner, is not necessarily the euphoric second honeymoon one often imagines. Steve and I know how to push each other’s buttons without realizing it and even the tiniest personal habits or behaviors can drive each other up the wall if we’re already in a mood, which can be more often than not if we’re tired, stressed or hungry. And of course the personal space component—we never have a chance to miss each other since we’re glued together 24/7 and this has been particularly hard for me since I needed so much solo “Leah time” back at home and get none of it on the trip. So despite the fact that I love my husband to the ends of the earth and wouldn’t want to be on this trip with anyone else, I end up treating him like crap because all this comes to a head and you tend to blow up the most at those you love the most. So anyway, it’s been a really rough go for me the last few weeks and for only the second time on the trip I can honestly say that if someone gave me a plane ticket home tomorrow I’d take it and not look back. This will pass, just as it did in Bolivia, but I never thought that I’d be having a reaction like this in NZ, one of my favorite places on earth.
The water alone was astounding—a deep cerulean fading to green that often looked like the fake water color at amusement parks achieved with chemicals and dyes. New Zealand fur seals and their pups lounged on the rocks or lazily somersaulted through the water and fish shimmered through the depths. The trail itself was resplendent with all manner of songbirds, including the Tui and Fantail, and tree ferns offered up their new curled shoots, or koru, which much local art and jewelry is based upon. It stayed overcast (perfect hiking weather) and after a quick seaside lunch and swing we hiked a few more hours to our boat pickup point, a little sandy but no worse for wear.
Before our visit Rima had given us a plethora of websites and reading material, as well as a lot of verbal background, with which to orientate ourselves. In a bit of a nutshell, the current state of Maori affairs seems to mirror a bit of the struggle that our Native Americans have had with the United States government in their search for redress for the wrongs done to their ancestors. The main differences are that the Maori grievances are with the Crown (British government) and they actually have a written agreement with which to back up their claims, the Treaty of Waitangi. I should also preface that our experience at this WorkAway is specifically with one iwi, the Ngati Rarua; additionally Rima is on the board of trustees of the one agency that the Crown has recognized as the official entity with which to make reparations for this tribe, and that is the Ngati Rarua Iwi Trust. There are multiple Maori tribes that are currently in different stages of negotiation with the Crown, and to further complicate things there are often multiple trusts, corporations or entities that all lay claim on behalf of one or more different iwi. What, did you think that anything concerning land and money would be simple?
Actually showing up and entering the marae was a special experience. The front of the structure is ornately adorned with wood carvings and Maori art that represent the history of the iwi. Before walking in we had to remove shoes as a sign of respect and were instructed that no photos would be allowed of the interior. The inside was a large carpeted room that had several rows of benches facing tables where the trustees and presenters would be sitting. Two detailed pillars anchored the room and more carvings and art ordained the walls with stories of the Ngati Rarua; the abalone eyes of many tiki would be watching over this hui and probably many more to come.
The issue at hand concerned the land and money that would be given back by the Crown as well as the economic, social and cultural strategies that the Trust would undertake with these reparations. The deal itself offered approximately $11.76 million (New Zealand dollars so really less than $10 million USD) as well as a relatively small portion of land in areas that were historically owned and inhabited by the Ngati Rarua people. The general consensus seemed to be that this was the best deal on the table…and really the only deal. While many people had their concerns and felt that they were still getting cheated by the Crown they also felt this was better than nothing and still a stepping stone with which to rebuild the legacy of the Ngati Rarua.
Leah: Having heavily focused on ethnic and indigenous issues during my college years, it was fascinating to be a part of this. We’d been hearing about reparations from the crown to Maori iwi since we arrived in NZ and never dreamed we’d have a front row seat to history being made. As an outsider, it was particularly interesting to hear the pros and cons from audience members and how events have shaken down over the years. Many pertinent issues were raised, especially concerning water rights, and some parts of the settlement just smacked of absurdity (we’ll give you back this piece of land and then you can own it for a week but then you have to deed it back to the Crown…whatwhat?). Ancestors and cultural pride were commonly called upon and people kept reminding each other that this was the past, present and future of their culture—did they want to refuse this crappy settlement, go to the back of the line and start the fight over again, or did they want to accept the less than stellar offer so that the next generation can move on and work to strengthen and grow what they’ll be receiving? Heady, heady issues and nothing that has a black or white answer—how do you place a monetary value on a culture?
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