Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mike Butler: Early Maori pillaged nature

The guardianship argument is still being used by the Maori Party despite overwhelming evidence that early Maori burned about half of the forest that covered the South Island in a reckless quest for food. An article in the Wanganui Chronicle on Thursday with Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia’s byline on it voiced opposition to proposed changes to the Resource Management Act partly because they “undermine the role of Maori as tangata tiaki of their traditional rohe”.

We utilised the maramataka, the cycle of the moon, to decide when to plant and harvest - we hunted and fished as a food source - not as a sport and we took only what was needed. These practices enabled early Maori to sustain themselves whilst ensuring the environment was not pillaged. The connection to the resources and the environment was more than one of merely obtaining food for physical sustenance - it also reflected the spiritual connection with deities like Tane, Tangaroa and Rongo - the guardians of the forests, the waterways and cultivated foods for example. (1)
But research conducted by Dr Dave McWethy from Montana State University and published nearly three years ago that reconstructed the environmental history of 16 small lakes in the South Island showed that several high-severity fire events occurred within two centuries of known Maori arrival in the 13th century. Dr McWethy said:
“The impacts of burning were more pronounced in the drier eastern forests where fires were severe enough to clear vast tracts of forest and cause significant erosion of soils and nutrients. Because initial Maori populations were small, we can only conclude that forests were highly vulnerable to burning,” (2)
Previous studies by co-authors Dr Matt McGlone and Dr Janet Wilmshurst of Landcare Research showed that forests covered 85-90 percent of New Zealand prior to the arrival of Maori, but by the time Europeans settled in the mid-19th century, grass and shrubs had replaced over 40 percent of the South Island’s forests.

Dr Wilmshurst said archaeological evidence suggests that successful cultivation of introduced food crops, such as kumara and taro, was only possible in warmer northern coastal areas and so the starch-rich rhizomes of bracken fern, which replaced the burnt forests, provided an essential part of Maori diets in colder regions. Dr Wilmshurst said:
“In their efforts to increase the productivity of lowland forests for food, Maori encouraged a more heterogeneous and economically useful fern-shrubland at the same time as making travel easier to search for food and stone resources for making tools.” (2)
Turia, or whoever wrote the article with her name on it, continues to push the myth of caring, peaceful, spiritual people living in harmony with nature while the evidence reveals desperate Stone Age food gatherers pillaging the environment.

I wonder what Tane, the Maori forest god, would have thought about the burnings.

1. Guardianship under threat, Wanganui Chronicle, September 12, 2013.
2. Early settlers transformed lowland forests with fire, Landcare Research, December 14, 2010.


Anonymous said...

Let's not forget who wiped out the moa and the onshore seal colonies.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that studies have shown that Maori destroyed shellfish beds off Cape Palliser at Wellington by over harvesting and also destroying the land cover that silt flowed into the sea over the beds. However, I cannot now find the reference to verify this. May have been in "Two Worlds" by Prof Anne Salmond

jh said...

I heard Tipene O Reagan say: "(after killing off the moa) they would have learned"

Todays Maori conflate non industrialised Maori with industrialised white settlers. So they can't point to the horrible destruction of buffalo (that was us) with the native American who hunted the plains (that was them). The indigenous guardianship role doesn't hold in the Pacific Islands where the rule is carrying on increasing and the size of the Islanders suggests it was survival of the fittest.

George said...

Its about time New zelanderers woke up and realized that early Polynesian settlers had little infinity with the land or its animals ...Its was all about survival and dominance of their neighbors.

Anonymous said...

This is all part of the Leftist fabrication of a mythical Rousseau-ian golden age of what Marx called “primitive Communism” – a bunch of unspoiled “noble savages” living in perfect harmony with one another and with nature – before being corrupted by the advent of private property.

Of course anyone with half a brain knows this Marxist Eden NEVER existed.

jh said...

When white children were captured by native Americans upon repatriation the vast majority chose the Indians over their own families. That is a historical fact.

Anonymous said...

I have a grand daughter now at university who while at secondary school would lamb blast me with theory which had been taught to student by teachers which were pure fabrication or dishonest distorting of the true facts.
After discussing together what had been taught my grand daughter without my encouragement was mature enough to do some research and study into the various subject.
Some months later on my next visit I was presented with her research results and the comment, "how is it possible for teachers to promote opinion and what are obviously false fact to their students".

My answer was that is why NZ education had dropped down the scale from 3rd in the 1960s to about 28th. Educator's no longer are required to teach only the truth and facts. 80% taught as fact is in reality is opinion.

Dave said...

The Myth that Maori are conservationists is just that a Myth.
Look around today, any land that is Maori owned is usually neglected and covered in scrub. Children are taught to throw their rubbish on the ground and any seafood conservation laws are apparently immune to Maori.Where are the Maori conservationists, these rolls are usually the reserve of white 'greenies' unless there is the scent of a dollar in it then suddenly a Maori pops up.