OPENING ADDRESS TO THE 2014 Permaculture in NZ HUI
A couple of weeks ago I was in Tuai. Tuai is a small village by Lake Waikaremoana – in my opinion one of the most spectacular places in the world. Waikaremoana – the sea of rippling waters – is a huge lake, 54 km2 at the top of the mountains in Te Urewera National Park. It is a place of extraordinary geology in one of the few remaining areas of unlogged native forest and it is the largest National Park in Te Ika a Maui at over 2000 km2. To swim in those cystal waters and to breathe that pure forest air is rejuvinating and healing.
So it was a completely appropriate place to hold an international healers hui at one of the marae there. Waimako hosted close to 200 healers from all over the world, including people from Japan, Britain, across Europe and people from the Hopi, Apache and Mohawk nations of Turtle Island.
And thinking about it, it also seems somewhat ironic that having been at a healers hui to talk about permaculture (along with Sam Halberg, Mel, Poihaere Morris and others) I am now in Wellington at a permaculture hui talking about healing.
Not strange though. There are many way in which permaculture is about healing. In fact the proverb that drove Sam Halberg and James Waiwai to develop a permaculture garden in Tuai to help feed the hui was “let food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food”. It is that same understanding which is leading to the local kura developing a permaculture design for its grounds, integrating that design into the school curriculum to support subjects such as maths, art, science, business skills, and forming an association with the Koanga Institute and joining up as members of PiNZ.
At this stage I have to mihi to two people – Dr Rangimarie Rose Pere, a world reknown tohunga from Tuai and James Waiwai, who was one of the core organisers of that hui and is the driving force behind the development of permaculture at the kura. He is also here with us for the weekend.
Participating in that healers hui was a powerful experience. It took a while to process all the mental, emotional and spiritual clearing that took place there but when I reflect on those four days there are some core messages that stick out for me.
The first is that we are entering a new age. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that we are going through a major transformation in the world, on many different levels, but sometimes it can be easy to forget that we are not just witnessing the end of one age but the beginning of the next. It is a time to mourn, but also a time of celebration, a time of excitement.
We know that the dominant economic system is under enormous strain from its own internal contradictions. The ideology that treats measures of economic growth as a proxy for human wellbeing has always been a flawed approach. Simon Kuznets, the economist who developed the measure, warned in his first report to the US Congress in 1934 against its use as a measure of welfare. In 1964 he said that “Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between costs and returns, and between the short and long run. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what”.
But GDP is still a primary measure of performance by Governments and this obsession with economic growth is a major driver of ecological breakdown. While some people have said that growth is good and it’s just a question of what kind of growth, the reality is that economic growth goes hand in hand with resource depletion and pollution. I have yet to hear a credible explanation of how that can be avoided.
But it goes further than that. We know that economic growth doesn’t measure material wealth, just economic activity – how many dollars change hands. But we also know that material wealth has limited effect on human wellbeing in any case. It is true that people who are poor would be happier with more money – up to a certain level. Studies suggest that happiness does increase with material wealth up to the level reached by the average westerner in the 1970’s. After that, more money does not mean more happiness. And if we think about it, we know what the kinds of things are that lead to more happiness once our basic material needs are met: the opportunity to express creativity, to feel a sense of belonging, to be able to spend time with family and friends, to be part of something bigger than the self. And as the bible puts it – to plant fruit trees and enjoy the fruit from them.
Hence the need for a huge marketing industry devoted to convincing us that we haven’t actually met our basic material needs yet. “You may THINK you have everything you need, but wait until you see THIS!” There’s always one more kitchen appliance, lounge suite or power tool to buy before consumer bliss is finally reached.
If we look at it, the economic system has actually conditioned our social organisation, our family structures, our land tenure systems, our education philosophies, our spiritual frameworks and even our sense of self. Imagine what kinds of new ways of being will become possible as we reinvent our economies so that they become a means to collective human happiness rather than an end in themselves.
Isn’t this is a large part of what healing is all about? To free ourselves of these lies about who we are in the world? To heal this deep sense of dissatisfaction, created and nurtured in us every time we watch a TV, drive past a billboard or read a magazine? To silence that critical inner voice that saps energy and time and obstructs us from doing what we know we need to do. To awaken to our real nature as creative and powerful beings able to make a new reality and change the course of history? Isn’t this what makes healing, as opposed to medicine, a subversive act?
The tohunga Rangimarie Pere says that we are entering Te Wai Ahuruhuru – the age of cherishing waters. At the healers hui she spoke of the need to heal ourselves of any sense of inadequacy or lack of confidence and learn to celebrate the beautiful and powerful cosmic beings that we are.
Like Koro Bruce Stewart here at Tapu Te Ranga marae. Here is a man who started with nothing except a vision. A man who built this astonishing marae from pure determination. But he didn’t just wish it into existence, he turned his vision into reality using the rejects of the society around him – its ‘waste’ materials and its ‘waste’ people, the ones thrown on its scrap heap. You couldn’t get a better demonstration of the permaculture principle of using what’s available in your environment.
This marae also is an example of healing.The personal journey of healing for Koro Bruce is written in the walls and floors of this whare. There is also the healing of the community and the local ecology through the plantings, gardens and hosting of so many community organisations that have come through this place over many years.
It is in these acts of healing that will bring in our new world, whether they be acts of dismantling disfunctional and no longer useful ways of being and doing, or acts of creation and redesign. More likely it will be both together, in transforming and repurposing social and material resources in new ways to meet the needs of the our unknown and exciting future. Because the end of one age and the beginning of another is a time when anything becomes possible – when the adage to “creatively use and respond to change” becomes instinctive.
At last years hui, in Taranaki, I spoke about Edward Goldsmith’s book “The Way”. Goldsmith is one of the great ecological thinkers and the book is an attempt to outline the fundamentals of the science of ecology, before it falls prey to the same reductionist fallacies as so many other disciplines. He describes the characteristics of healthy natural systems and rejects the idea that nature is random. If we observe natural systems in action, he says, we can see that they are purposeful. Evolution is not just random mutations but the expression of an innate drive for more complexity, more diversity, more abundance. Life seeks self expression.
Goldsmith introduces an important new term in the book. He says that healthy natural systems are homeotelic – from the Greek ‘homeo’ the same and ‘tellus’ the goal. All the parts in the system have the same goal – to maintain and enhance the integrity of the system of which they are a part. So the normal behaviour of a cell serves to maintain the integrity of the organ of which it is a part, and the organ helps to maintain the integrity of the individual cells. The normal behaviour of the organ, say a heart, maintains the integrity of the body and vice versa. The body, say a Tiger, serves to help maintain the integrity of the jungle of which it is a part, and the jungle serves to maintain the integrity of the region and ultimately the planetary whole.
Natural human culture, which he calls, vernacular culture, is also homeotelic. Industrial culture, however, has become heterotellic – where the normal behaviour of individual people undermines the integrity of the local systems and ultimately of the planetary whole. That is why we feel like we are fighting against the flow when we try to live a life that is in harmony with natural processes, and why it is cheaper and easier to pollute, waste resources and harm the people and other species around us.
If this transformation that we are going through is to mean anything at all, it must be a transformation back to a homeotellic culture. We have to redesign our human systems so that our default behaviour upholds rather than undermines the integrity of the natural systems that we are part of. We need to create human systems that mimic natural ecosystems, and of course that is what permaculture gives us the tools to do. Not just in land management but in redesigning business ecologies, industrial ecologies, social ecologies, political systems.
As an aside, who drove down here from Auckland? Don’t be shy, this is not a name and shame, I’m sure everyone car pooled.
Which reminds me: you know how to double the efficiency of the average vehicle on the roads? Stick someone in the passenger seat.
Driving down the motorway you would have seen one of the Government’s major economic strategies: biggering the motorways and bypassing all the small towns. This is a classic example of monoculture thinking. It’s like clear felling all the local businesses, all the little coffee shops and bakeries, art galleries and second hand shops by removing their customer base and replacing them with BP service stations, McDonalds and an Autobahn every 100kms.
That pretty much sums up the economic direction of this government . Build roads, lease mining rights and privatise any remaining profitable SOEs. The permaculture alternative uses ecological design principles to promote a business ecology that demonstrates diversity, complexity, edge effect, use of guilds and horizontal layering, all that stuff we practise every day in our gardens as well.
That is why I consider permaculture to be so important. That is why I consider PiNZ to be so important. That is why we have to protect the integrity of permaculture itself, so that the transformative potential doesn’t get lost as the concept is translated into the language of different communities. It would be a tragedy if permaculture became just another kind of organic gardening in people’s minds.
This weekend there will be quite a lot of discussion about the direction of permaculture in NZ. We really need to have those discussions. And just as we need to heal as individuals to unlock our potential, we also need to heal ourselves as an organisation. PiNZ went through some hard times a few years ago but I think it is important to let go of any self doubt that comes from that, to celebrate the new energy coming through the organisation and work together to reach our full potential as an organisation and as a movement.
Of course in healing, we become capable of reconnecting, and reconnecting is also healing in its own right.
One kind of reconnection I want to emphasise is the reconnection between permaculture and indigenous knowledge. Bill Mollison in his ‘Permaculture Designers Manual’ makes numerous explicit references to the way that permaculture has drawn on indigenous knowledge, but this is not true of much permaculture literature. Permaculture is all about localised and site specific knowledge and the mana whenua in any one place will hold important knowledge that should not be ignored. As an example, if the old people didn’t use to have gardens on that ridge over there, they probably had a good reason, as someone I know recently found out when the autumn winds started blowing.
As an organisation we have huge potential for development in this area. There is a lot of space for us, as a movement, to connect permaculture with Maori philosophies and to reflect that many of the things we are saying are grounded in indigenous knowledges. To honour that knowledge we need to be explicit about that, and also to look at how we reciprocate. Let me add also that I mean indigenous in its broadest sense. As Dr. Rangimarie Pere says, it is important to honour all of our whakapapa strands and to acknowledge that all people ultimately spring from an indigenous culture.
In making these connections and reconnections, we become more capable of defending and protecting our Mother Earth.
At this stage I want to take a moment to reflect on what a blessing it is for us to be gathering here in the whare Ukaipo, a place that honours the mother and the feminine energy. Restoring that balance between the male and female is a critical part of the work we need to do in this time.
But what can we really do to defend ecosystems? Isn’t it all too late anyway?
I get asked that a lot. I reply that I don’t think it is too late. But even if it was, what difference would that make? We are human beings. We are part of this planet, part of the complex web of life that makes up the planet. It is in our very nature to fight to protect Papatuanuku. We are the forest defending itself. We have no choice.
And that very fact demonstrates that we can succeed. As I see it, more and more people are feeling that urge inside them and are starting to speak up against what is going on. There are very powerful vested interests who want things to stay just as they are, but more and more people are recognising that we have to change. The biggest problem, in my view, is that most people don’t know what to change to. Until they can see the alternative, an alternative that makes sense to them, they will continue to go along with things even while feeling, and sounding, uneasy.
We have to articulate the alternative more clearly and more loudly. There are so many permaculturalists out there, doing really extraordinary things, sometimes under the name of permaculture and sometimes not. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we link up, reconnect OURSELVES so that we can amplify our voice.
And not just to the outside world. We need to inspire each other, learn from each other, share our triumphs and our challenges. That is what our website is for – any member of PiNZ is automatically signed up as a website member. Get on there, write a blog piece about what you have been up to or about any interesting developments in your area. Read the website and leave comments. Just as with PiNZ itself, the website is for you as members to use as a tool for learning and sharing. Please use it.
I want to finally end by thanking the Wellington team for organising this hui. It’s going to be an extraordinary weekend and I’m really looking forward to it.