From across the Pacific, reflecting on NZ past and future
Written by Thomas King
It is facile to endorse the popular misconceptions of the Pacific basin as a mere scattering of insignificant and thinly populated atolls gliding aimlessly upon the world’s biggest cobalt pond. Epeli Hau ‘ofa, the great Tongan muse, a sage, pensive and thoughtful man however fortunately contested that the Polynesians could propel themselves one step higher on the anthropological pedestal than this original generic sterile and stereotypical Occidental cellar dweller observation.
The grim assessment and portrayal of the Pacific being a bunch of meaningless Islands in a colossally oversized swimming pool was made redundant by the far more ambitious, optimistic and enlightened auto declarations of the Pacific being “a Sea of Islands”.
Far from assuming the position of cultural romanticism this was also an act which sought to give the Pacific peoples authenticity, identity and without doubt a sense of self-professed sovereignty.
Power over an autonomous identity and voice has long been something which the folk of Oceania have been seriously lacking. It has often been hampered by Europeans in the form of raiders, traders and aiders like the missions. All of them, if you may, kinds of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Oh yes, we profess of the vile deeds and deplorable events enacted by the Ghosts of Civilisations past. The antics, mischief and mayhem stirred up like a cheeky martini in the South Pacific by the insuppressible urges and appetites of raucous and sexually ravenous misbehaving French and Anglo Saxon mariners marauding Polynesie Francaise et al. Contact avec l’homme blanch, the pakeha, the palagi or whatever alternative surrogate one elects to fill the gaping aperture with has tended to facilitate as a caveat of and for a kind of inescapable ensuing and tragically impending catastrophe. A make way for progress type of sales pitch, move your coconut cart because we’re bringing you a Wall Mart sell.
Ruefully, the pacific has paid a hefty toll since first contact. There can be no denying nor negation of the sociopoliticalUpheaval caused by well-intentioned divine Western capitalistic intervention. The transporting of indentured Indian labour to Fiji to cut cane whose descendants induce fear and tyranny among the original natives. Or the Hawaiian natives who have lost more than just their once noble amusement of surfing to sun soaked Yanks. Now many brash cash laden Mainlanders are seeking to acquire a piece of the Aloha dream built upon the propaganda of Magnum PI and 5 Oh telemythologies. While the equally deified Gordon Gekko once preached about the goodness and glories to satiate ones’hunger pangs for greed this underpinning has never historically worked in Pacific people’s interests. How far can you pilfer and profit from a Pacific island before one runs into umm quote “problems”?
Perhaps the people of Nauru would be excellent people to ask seeing that they based all their hopes on the illusion of the endless mirage of guano which it was selling to the West. Indeed, most get rich quick schemes in the Pacific have been built on the premise of let’s sell the resource then we’ll be rolling in it. And yet what does the Islander in Nauru do when their guano is gone, or the Fijian that sells their prime beach front properties to foreign buyers, or perhaps the Nouvelle Caledonians swindled out of their nickel by avaricious French diggers or the many other Pacific Islanders urged to surrender their fishing to the highest bidding pescatores?
You’ve probably all heard about the proverb of the meritocracy of teaching an individual to fish. Perhaps another lesson worth inculcating is to ensure that one sells either the fish or at the very most a well defined permit but for heaven’s sake never ever the pond.
While some flapping lips have suggested that the natural solution to Pacific growth has always lay in tourism rose tinted glasses don’t always paint a rosy reality.
I doubt that even half of these individuals would have an iota of a reflexive notion of the logistics needed to cater just for your rudimentary tourist services. Water, food, electricity, amenities, infrastructure, buildings, skilled personnel and services which other natives presently have accessibility issues in sharing. What about sewerage, refuge waste, biosecurity checks? Yes, there’s more to the game than one would have guessed as Cook Island tourism management strains on resources and services have painfully revealed on past occasions.
Tourism may seem like a goose that lays golden eggs but when those eggs come at the cost of fouling the nest, the experience is fun for neither guest nor the host. Again, the classic quintessential case of losing through excessive using and abusing.
The profound reality is that the Realm of NZ which includes Tokelau, Niue and the Cook Islands has engaged and been victorious on several major assaults. From our displeasure towards Japanese whaling scientists (incredulous), to our protestations over American nuke chocked war ships in ‘Our’ Pacific which we wish to remain pacific (after all it does mean peaceful) to those terrible French who love blowing up any piece of sand with a palm tree sprouting out from it.
Then again, we have always mistrusted those Kermits, it must be secretly secreted in the DNA of our regal Blue Blooded ancestry. Certainly, we are a nation that is never culpable of any ill misdoing. We relish in our passion for Yank bashing, Aussie sledging and a bit of Sinophobia. Oh bad baaad China! Finger pointing at Uncle Sam for the eyesore that is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the obesity epidemic that is plaguing American Samoa and the brown tree snake introduced on previously serpent free Guam and has developed a rather partial fondness in taste for Kentucky Fried Rail. Or those despicable Trans Tasman neighbours on their own Coca Canberranization Crusade which has largely ignored the interests and needs of the islanders on Tasmania and Norfolk Island. Yes, it is evident that you can be a savage of fair complexion and still suffer from a melange of sociocultural, political, economical and inevitably environmental dejection and neglect.
Goodness me could there be any place worse? Lamentably, I must confess yes. Our very own Pavlova Paradise NZ is the epitome of a state which has violated to extreme lengths. A place where smoking, alcohol and inequality persist in suppressing the aspirations and goals of our Maori tangata whenua (people of the land). Where the cycle of disadvantage plays like a broken record and where gambling, domestic violence and prison are the outlets for this vented frustration of broken Treaty promises.
There is an old expression that suggests where men go mice will follow. This sentiment is apt when applied to the context of the degeneration of the NZ environment. Our clean green utopian view of God zone has been founded upon some powerfully prescribed cultural opiates. Yet, scratching the surface a little deeper, it is all too obvious that NZ is a Pandora’s Box of European forget me nots.
In the name of being Britain’s Pacific Pantry forests were flamed and precious native timbers and birds were completely or closely lost with it such as flightless takahe. Of course, the Acclimatisation Societies introduced the pests we all lambast the Poms for today because what would NZ be like without stoats, rats, rabbits? The bunny took quite a shine to Aotearoa that for a while after futile pathetic Elmer Fuddlike state plots we were all convinced that the Hare-pocalypse was only a whisker away. And if the European introductions weren’t enough well then some Ozzie ones were added just for zoological curiosities sake like the Australian invasive cray, the magpie, pesky wallabies and the dreaded gift of all, the cute as and cuddly opossum. Interestingly, while canines are argued to be man’s best friend they have been our native Kiwi birds hands down biggest adversary. Carp have infiltrated out waterways, along with didymo and a host of insects such as the Queensland fruit fly and Argentine ant. But, our biggest villain without a shadow of a doubt in recent times has been of the mooing kind. Cow n farmer 2 evil doers whom account for a great deal of the leaching, eutrophication and deterioration of our vulnerable environment. And our ‘White Gold’ mio moo fever for milk economy shows no signs of holding back on its sights to rule the Dairy Universe.
In recent years, there has been a notable backlash from the South Islanders here in NZ angry at the exploitation of the South to make life cushy for the city slickers up North in the Big Smokes of Wellington and Auckland.
In an ironic twist, we come back full circle in our own backyard of being the victims to progress and a higher more northerly hegemony. South Islanders damaging their rivers, aquifers, coasts and land through hydrodams, dirty dairying and even carbon mining and offshore drilling to fuel the North and the idea of the new New Zealand. The destruction of the South Island, Middle Earth Hobbit country the drawcard pin up hunk of our tourist industry.
Do we really want to destroy this place? It is a microcosm for what we also choose to do with the Beautiful South Pacific and the neighbours we share the big blue blanket with.
At my birth NZ was a land dominated by pasty faced Englishmen and ruddy faced Scotts, the odd ginger Irishman and a smattering of Maori faces. We are now a cosmopolitan melting pot of vibrance and diversity. It is time that we embraced our new roots here in the great Blue Continent.
It is imperative that we here in NZ show more initiative and regional leadership while setting higher standards if we are to succeed in working with our friends to make each and every Island a Pearl of the Pacific. That the pulse of the Pacific beats away in the heart of Auckland the world’s biggest Polynesian hub on the planet is an embrace of our Pacific identity releasing us from both the clutches of Mother England’s apron strings and big brother Australia’s overwhelming fears and desires of a greater Austral-Asian vision.
Yes, we do want to work with the new force which is Asia, like we once did and still do with Europe, America and Terra Australis, but not at the cost of the self compromising of our people, our identities and our taonga (resources, treasures).
NZs actions need not be a reflection of Powers Past. Smaller nations are looking towards us to solve the woes that currently afflict the Pacific. Many of these nations have their faith in us to aid them in the fight against risks that affect their very existence such as global warming and the advent of rising sea levels. Within a lifetime, the existence of Pacific states such as Kiribati are invariably slim and unless we address our greenhouse emissions especially in agriculture we are forsaking our brothers to a watery fate. It will take more than a Bovine Flatulence Tax but as a nation built on a number eight wire can do ethos we have the talent to achieve a reduction in emissions step by gradual step.
Our greatest virtues have often manifested during the trials and tribulations during international unrest. It is the fear of being the Man Alone on the remotest speck of terra firma in the world that often makes us appreciate that what we once freely had but no longer have.
Getting anything to NZ is a monumental mission and the Persian Fuel crisis in the 70s gave us all a much needed taste of humble pie. For a minuscule piece of soil we are infatuated with oil and equally so with the automobile. Even our Mates across the Ditch have noted that our land is a cornucopia of classic nauseatingly toxic lemons and rust buckets. In spite of that we survived, we walked, we used public transport, we car pooled, we got over it. It is a lesson we rarely revisit in our comfy present position where 3 cars sit on every Kiwi driveway. It is a prosthetic limb which we have blindingly been lead to believe that we cannot do without.
When it comes to obsessive compulsive NZ is in serious need of the best Quack out there and some hardcore therapy and prontissimo. We go through cars and gas like a drug taker pops pills while our parliament ponders why we are one of the fattest and un healthiest nations in the developed world.
It is a metaphorical fender bender of our double edged view on a Green Pacific unless by green we mean the shade one turns when one is unwell. Until we relieve this ailment perhaps through some kind of gasoline counselling or by attending some type of petrol headed vomitorium we will continue to waiver credibility in the eyes of our Pacific neighbourhood.
Until the veneration of the car like some kind of Holy Hindu cow ceases (cows and cars, see what I did there?) NZ will be blighted in its objective to keep pace with the leading Green societies. Above all else, it will betray the long held but slowly decaying view that we care. That we are little more than a community that solely gives a damn about profit alone and nothing more. A narcissistic dystopia which I can assure you I will not be seconding any time soon at the precariously teetering