Yes, the white man chopped down forests, but only those that survived Maori burnings

Too bad about the trees, but it's bracken fern we need.

So you thought the  British colonisers were an environmentally rapacious pack of bastards who came here in the 1800s and chopped down all the trees to grow grass for dairying and sheep farming?

Whereas the Maori are spiritually at one with nature, environmentallty protective and conservationally savvy?

This and that mysterious mauri thing make them special?

That’s what they would like us to believe.

They will tell us about their world view in which they see the environment as deriving from a spiritual connection, where everything is tied together as one, through the cosmological ordering of whakapapa.

But nah, it’s bollocks.

Sure, we chopped down more than a few trees but we put them to good use as building materials, fence posts, ship masts, and what have you, whereas it seems our indigenous brothers and sisters simply burned down forests.

Not to run sheep and cattle or to grow apples, kiwifruit and grapes.

Nope.

Their curious idea of a good tuck-in was to eat fern roots.

To grow these roots, they wiped out much of the South Island’s lowland forests, it transpires.

Yep.

Alf read it at Stuff, so it must be true.

A few deliberately lit, intense fires more than 500 years ago destroyed much of New Zealand’s lowland forest, a new study shows.

The fires wiped out vast tracts of the South Island’s forest.

The massive fires – within 200 years of the known arrival of Maori in the 13th century – razed tens of thousands of square kilometres, the study by scientists from Landcare Research in Lincoln and Montana State University in the United States said.

And what was this forest destruction all about?

Oh, yes. To grow stuff for a feed and help set up a transport infrasructure of sorts.

Burning was an easy way of providing food and improving ease of travel, according to a scientist quoted in the Stuf report.

The fast-spreading fires encouraged the growth of starch-rich roots of bracken fern – an essential part of Maori diets in colder parts of the country – and made it easier to travel to find food and stones for tool-making.

The research, which shows how a small number of settlers can change a large and complex landscape, is being published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Landcare senior scientist Dr Matt McGlone said recently calculated indicators allowed researchers to disprove suggestions that unusual climate conditions may have encouraged fires at the time of Maori settlement.

“Our new evidence suggests human activity was the main cause of the fires and that these fires were not related to any unusually dry or warm conditions at the time.”

Fire was rare in most New Zealand forests before humans arrived, with lightning causing blazes, on average, only once every 1000 to 2000 years, he said.

Stuff tells us of earlier work by Landcare palaeo-ecologist Dr Janet Wilmshurst and McGlone.

This showed closed forest covered up to 90 per cent of the country before the arrival of Maori about 800 years ago.

By the time Europeans settled in the mid-19th century, grass and shrubs had replaced more than 40 per cent of the South Island’s forests.

“We’ve always known that a vast area of forests burnt when humans arrived, but we didn’t know how quickly it took to clear the forested vegetation.

“Maybe it only took one to four fire events per 100 years to clear the forests.

“Our forests were incredibly vulnerable to fire, our tree species are not very adapted to fire, with thin bark, they don’t have seeds that do well in fires and they are short-lived in the soil.”

This makes nonsense of the sorts of stuff uttered by sanctimonious Maori leaders when they scold we white folk for our attitudes to the environment.

Listen to Tariana Turia, for example.

As mana whenua, our turangawaewae and ükaipö, the places where we belong, where we count, where we are important where we are suckled and where we can contribute are absolutely essential to who we are.

The relationship is indivisible between us and those places. That’s why the protection and preservation of our land, our whenua, is of such critical importance because our whole well-ness is associated with her. Any damage to Papatuanuku impacts on our health and spiritual well-being.

Then there’s the ethnocentric bilge that emanates from the likes of a Dr Jessica Hutchings.

Our lives and livelihoods, the health of our planet, and our spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing have always and will always be dependent on our relationships with the environment.

Traditionally our people lived and functioned in harmony with nature. We were a society that had no use for over-exploiting our resources.

“Either conserve or starve,” was a common understanding. In order to survive, we developed a complex set of customs and lore to conserve and protect our natural environment.

The Maori approach to environmental management incorporates the needs and values of people and recognises the interrelationships of the natural world through whakapapa

Our knowledge system appreciates that the natural world is dynamic, fragile, and finite. We believe that all living things have a mauri (life force).

Maori concepts, such as tapu (sacred), rahui (restriction), mana (power and authority), and kaitiakitanga (guardian of culture), ensured that the environment and human activities would be sustainably managed in harmony and balance, and the mauri would be protected. This system of lore holds the same validity today, as it did in pre-European times.

Unlike western science, which is secular, linear, and rational, the Maori epistemology is spiritual, holistic and community-oriented.

We see the environment as deriving from a spiritual connection, where everything is tied together as one, through the cosmological ordering of whakapapa. In this view, human beings are the servants or guardians of the earth, not its masters or exploiters.

The Maori approach strives to strike a balance between human activity and the integrity of nature for future generations.

Landcare’s study reduces that to a pile of ash, eh?

7 Responses to Yes, the white man chopped down forests, but only those that survived Maori burnings

  1. nasska says:

    I fear that your bravery in spreading such unPC facts could result in your remains being wreathed in puha & stuffed with fern root before featuring in a hangi.

    • Alf Grumble says:

      Yes, that is a risk, although anyone trying to tuck into Alf will find the meat is bloody tough (with a strong whisky flavour, perhaps, as compensation for the toughness).

  2. Good call, Alf!
    It’s long overdue that the indigenous brethen acknowledge they too made mistakes and had serious impact during NZ’s colonisation.
    Now…can we all start looking ahead rather than backwards, and actually ACHIEVE something with this country that belongs to us all???
    Sadly, the answer’s probably: “Yea….nuuuuuuuh!”

  3. Marco says:

    So how do they know that any fires were deliberately lit? Or were the fires the result of accidental lighting, the result of a battle, or arson, in addition to some scrub burning.

    During droughts it would be easy for a small fire to become an unintended inferno.

  4. John Fraser says:

    Im to scared to insult the chosen race ,the bro MONGREL MOB might visit me

  5. Basil says:

    Would be interesting to trace the development of the

    “As mana whenua, our turangawaewae and ükaipö, the places where we belong, where we count, where we are important where we are suckled and where we can contribute are absolutely essential to who we are…..” (blah, blah blah rhubarb and more rhubarb) meme? Has it grown over time like Pinocchio’s nose?

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