Friday, January 12, 2007

Parihaka Diary

I was invited up to the Parihaka Festival to help out at a craft stall. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. Parihaka fascinated me for many reasons. The non-violent teachings of Te Whiti and Tohu came decades before Ghandi picked it up. Parihaka was self-reliant in a way the communes of the 1970's weren't. Namely, Parihaka succeeded at limiting the damage of disease and alcohol which were prevalent elsewhere in the 1860's. The Crown's unlawful response included imprisonment without trial for many of the leaders on a charge of sedition. What would the vibe be at the centenery of Te Whiti and Tohu's passing?

On a less intellectual level, I was looking forward to witnessing a weekend festival experience which didn't go tits up. The only other festival I had attended was the abortive Sweetwaters gig in 1999. Yes, the one where Elvis Costello refused to play. Sure, the Friday night ensemble of the cream of NZ best comedians at the top of their game was a moment of bliss. Neil Finn's gig was poignant, but the rest of it was crap.

Getting to Parihaka was a bit of a mish. No bus service goes past it and my car, EFTPOS II, was out of action. The nearest stop was New Plymouth, a town I had had no previous reason to visit, ever. Thankfully, I arrived there after dark. The bus was early, so I wandered across the road to the bar for a drink. One barman, one customer and me. The barman happened to own the place and his customer ran a place round the corner. We swapped hospo stories over the ashtray until The Boss turned up to take me to the pa.

Serious reggae beats. On the way there, we detour through some rustic village. Eyes left to Hempton Hall. Good on them. We are on the Surf Highway which, like any NZ highway, has its fair share of 35 km/h bends. Parihaka seems further away from NP than it looks on the map. A full moon has risen and Mt Egmont/Taranaki's silhouette sits annoyingly in the corner of my eye. The thing demands attention. Vulcanology be damned, it's still spooky. Parihaka sits in the middle of a lahar path. The exact topology won't be evident til morning.

The first sign of Parihaka is the white and red of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag on the left up on a hillock. Further down the driveway, we are greeted by light shows of a couple of kiwis kicking a rugby ball between them. Further round, a bush pig standing on hind legs is pushing a kiwi in a swing. OK, wasn't expecting that one.

The Boss turns the car through to The Village where all the stalls are set up. It looks like the set of a spaghetti western. The stalls are made from offcuts from the sawmill. Black polythene acts as a roof, while nails and various lengths of bicycle inner tube rubber straps things together. It's a glorious fusion of pragmatism and innovation (photos soon, it's film not digital). I retire early to put up my borrowed tent in the dark. An hour later, the tent is in a sufficient enough state to survive in for the night. Fix it in the morning.

Wake up and discover that I planted myself down at an intersection. Cars, dust and people pass by constantly. Ah well, there are people worse off than me. Some must be hoping it doesn't rain as they are tenting in a dry bog. One intrepid soul has parked his tent up on a hillock at something like a thirty degree angle. Indeed, the landscape is littered with tents on hillocks, palatial multi-domers on the flats, buses parked head-to-head, campervans, caravans, tarpaulin shelters attached to the back of SUVs and vans.

The sky is overcast, Egmont incognito. I walk up past the hangi pits to The Village. The entrance is marked by a huge flag depicting a colonial ship entering the harbour to meet a waka. Mt Taranaki sits clear and prominent, the sun smiling straight out of The Legends of Maui. A cloud is depicted as going behind the sun, an impossibility. Circumvent the wigwam in the middle of The Village to the stall. The Boss and his missus have already set up the stall all good to go. Signs are up, we are open. Business ebbs and flows, waves. Lots of interesting folk.

There's the Nana who frets for her boy. She comes in to buy him a few Hemp lollipops. Oh yes, she says, she always keeps finding his pipes lying around everywhere. I tell her how pipes remove a significant amount of tar from one's lungs and the importance of clean pipes. I tell her how to rinse pipes out with meths or boiling water, or soak it in this orange stuff from Mitre 10. Pipes, like bongs, were allegedly banned many years ago. Thank Dagg this moronic law failed in its intention, as both provide a shitload more harm minimisation than joints ever did. Nana walks out with a NORML News under her arm.

There's the dad with seven kids, five at the festival who he has to keep an eye on. Seven? Yeah, four boys with the first missus, three girls with the second. This is a man who deserves a good smoke at the end of the day. There's the nervous sharemilker, who enjoys a smoke after the second milking, but suffers terrible paranoia about getting busted and ruining his family. Marijuana won't ruin his marriage but the law against it would. That's just the pakehas. The Maori were something else, but more on that later.

I got many chances to take a break and wander. To the right of our spot in the The Village, the Main Stage sat emitting irie tunes. To the left of main stage was a particularly big hillock, slatted with bandsaw plank seating on the lower slopes. There was an initial summit which provided a panoramic view of the ocean 15 kilometres away and the mountain, if and when it appeared from behind the cloud. At the summit proper, what I presumed was a wharenui was actually a peace-out tent featuring Falun Gongers and yoga.

From this hill, one could fully appreciate the unique surroundings. My assumption that the hillocks were just the remains of the 19th century pa were a bit off. From this vantage point, there were hillocks for Africa. It was as if some moles the size of blue whales had turned up the land, typing Braille only satellites could read. Someone informed me that the lahars had burnt away the softer stuff leaving the vast array of small hills over the landscape.

By the time I realised the powhiri was on, I had missed it. Ah well, next year. The cops I talked to were pretty chilled out, although I still kept a couple of neurons focussed on what I said to them. They weren’t expecting trouble at the festival. Next to the wigwam in the middle of The Village, some drummers set the rhythm while the Andean dude played his pipes and a didgeridoo provided a bassline. It reminded me of the Full Moon Drumming Circle out back of Cuba Cuba, before the Marion St apartments went up.

After a hectic day at the stall, it seems that most people, myself included, had a quiet one on Friday night. There’s something special about falling off to sleep with Anika Moa singing. My last thought before losing consciousness was wondering what a duet with Anika Moa and Hollie Smith singing Calling All Angels would sound like.

On the Saturday afternoon, I thought Jane Kelsey's lecture on Indigenous Struggles Against Globalisation Relating to Aotearoa would be good for a laugh. Using Cancun in Mexico as an example, Kelsey explained how things like moving local fisherman off the land so they can build holiday resorts (ie. growth) is bad. While Dr Kelsey explained in three word staccato sentences what she meant, some guys from the local iwi were buzzing overhead with punters keen for a $40 helicopter ride.

In between tearing strips off her Swiss forebears, who stole Taranaki land off its rightful owners (the worst case of ancestor rage I have ever seen), Kelsey explained how assets were the tools of exploitation. She concluded her speech by giving her answer to globalisation; bilateral inter-cooperative contra deals. ie. globalisation with barter replacing money as the mechanism. Inefficient globalisation is the answer to globalisation.

What I really think she meant, and I would agree with her, is that it all went to custard when GATT included banking and investment services in its remit and evolved into the WTO. Goods and tariffs at least are something tangible, controllable. Services on the other hand...

But that's not what she said. Her rebuttal was not long in coming. A Maori dude stood up and told her that assets were not the tools of exploitation but the path to freedom and independence. The assets his trust built up provided many opportunities. His trust, Waitotara I think it was, had put his daughter through university on a scholarship (This chick also happened to be the MC). How was this exploitation? His comments echoed the sentiment I felt at the Treaty talk with Geoff Palmer and Judge Williams from the Maori Land Court some time ago. A strong asset base will provide for future generations.

Kelsey was quick to retract her offence while trying to salvage her argument. The attack continued. A woman stood up and said she was a CTU representative. Her people were talking about development. She was also aggrieved by the raise in the minimum wage. Although she supported this measure in theory, illegal immigrants who were prepared to work for less were undercutting the locals. The locals couldn't legally haggle, could not compete. They were stuck with the minimum wage for good or ill.

This isn't just a rural thing. Illegal immigrants also pay their bills by working the numerous service and hospitality jobs in the bigger cities. One little dude arrived at work at this restaurant I worked in once, five hours after landing at the airport from Indonesia. He washed dishes and lived in a broom cupboard for two years, doing nothing but working and sleeping. By the time he was ready to leave, he said with a Cheshire grin that he had enough to buy a house, two wives and many cows.

Tami Iti also said something, but I wasn’t paying attention.

The sun finally showed its face on Saturday evening, just as House of Shem hit the Main Stage. Even Mt Egmont/Taranaki showed the snow-tipped nipple, if not the whole tit. There was a quick pre-sunset frenzy at the shop as the pagans got their burnt offering supplies all set. After the rush, The Boss came back with some $1 Fried Bread from the stall across the way.

Thing is, this wasn’t just some slice of bread fried in butter, as Nana used to make for fried eggs. This fried bread looked like a doughnut, had the texture of a scone and tasted like maple syrup, lemon and butter. I was determined to find out how this was made.

Sunset first though. Up on the ridge below the Falun Gong show, a thick line of people stood and watched the sun go down on the Tasman. Two horsemen were there too, sat straight in the saddle, a white feather in their hats. Then it came to me.

The Parihaka Festival wasn’t about dance tents and bands. OK it was, but that was a subtext in many respects. To the locals, Parihaka is about remembrance. It is a localised ANZAC Day. There had been no overt preachiness about the history. If someone wanted to know, all they had to do was ask. There was no political militancy outside the correct domain of the Speakers’ Tent. Yet the spirit of the prophets lived on in the actions and the attitudes of the current custodians. If they have to coax others here with DJs, bands and what-not, so be it. Possibly maybe, something will rub off. And if a little money can be made on the side, at least some good has come from this whole saga.

Now, time to work out this fried bread. Over at the counter, I enquired how this dish was made. I was introduced to the Maori paterfamilias sitting to one side of the action in the stall. He explained that the fried bread was basically flour, water, (sure to rise) baking powder and butter. He invited me to observe what happened. One of the youths surrendered a chair for me but I was so engrossed, I stood.

The Mum grabbed the right amount of dough and kneaded it to the right consistency and shape, which was about the size of a 30Gb iPod. The teenage males took this and fried them in a wok of oil until the reached the desired golden colour. The bread, by then the shape of a kumara, was then cut open and the desired filling was added. By Dagg, it’s a dumpling!

I went to the girls on the counter, who were doing a good job of sales and PR, and asked them what they did with it. They treated it like a pancake, putting sweet fillings like golden syrup or jam in it. I went for maple, lemon and butter again. Well, I’ll be damned. It won’t do my cholesterol level any good, but it was yum.

One of the big differences to Parihaka, as opposed to most festivals, was the lack of licensed premises. People were permitted to bring alcohol in, but there were no bars. In my haste departing Wellington, I had neglected to bring any booze. I had left the wine at home as the leaflet said no glass. With a serious case of thirst, I managed to barter a 750 ml bottle of Waikato off some chick for $10. Desperate as I was, it was still a good score.

Because of this dearth of alcohol, everyone seemed to ration the stuff sensibly. No-one got out of hand. There was no sign of punch-ups at the peace festival. In a way, it was the same protocol that protected Don Brash from hate crime at the Maori Queen’s funeral. An inappropriate act was avoided, not through the construct of law, but by the unspoken knowledge that such acts would shame the aggressor.

In the morning, I had a word with one of the organisers. After congratulating her on a good gig, I suggested to her that the Festival brands its own beer and sells it as a monopoly in future. That way, the proceeds are directed as best they see fit and I wouldn’t have to pay $10 for a Waikato again. She replied that they had received many lucrative deals for just such a thing. They had declined every single one. If people want to bring their own, so be it. They accept this without condoning it.

No alcohol or tobacco was available on site, the nearest dairy some 40 km away. Although we were advised that BZPs were also taboo, there was a strong rumour going around that Cosmic Corner was selling them near the Main Stage. Let’s face it, what are they going to do? Ban them?

Sunday morning was rounded off with an excellent gig by the Wellington Batacuda at the Visionaries stage. Around 4:20, we wandered off from the stall, passing the wigwam in the middle of The Village. Inside it, 13 year-old girls were pole-dancing in front of their friends. We were invited up, but we explained that the male anatomy is not built to deal with a metal pole the way a woman’s is. We left them to it and got a good possie downwind on the hill in time for Cornerstone Roots.

After packing up, we prepared for the grand finale of the Dobbster and the fireworks display. He was due on at 10:15. By 11:30, people were leaving. The families and the ones who had to be at work the next day were the first to give up. The MC beseeched people to hang on a bit longer. Finally, around 11:45pm, we were told to look over at the hill with the flag on it. The fireworks show was about to commence.

Bang! Pause. The pause continued. It got pregnant, then it continued. After a while, we all got sick of craning our necks at empty space. Some five minutes or so later, it really went off. It’s as if someone had said, “Bugger this, light everything.” This wasn’t no half-arsed Nancy show. This wasn’t the sad pop that brought in the new millennium in Gisborne. No, this went off. This was even better than the Wellington Guy Fawkes gig.

And low. Big POOMs echoed around, magnesium filling the heavens and raining smouldering debris here and there. I hoped that no WWI or Vietnam vets were in the audience. It would have given them the gibbers. Me, I was crying with laughter, tears rolling down my cheeks at the beautiful absurdity of this glorious weekend.

I reflected on how I had laughed at kids rolling down hills without the mother looking at me like I’m a paedophile, like the Soccer Mums at the Wellington Botanic Gardens do. I laughed at me chatting with the usually scary mother-fuckers, tattooed up to and including their eyeballs, members of Dagg knows what clan. I laughed at the hope that natural selection favoured these people at this place at this time.

Then Dobbo launched into Slice of Heaven. It went Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Guitar Solo, Chorus, Chorus. I never realised Slice of Heaven was a guitar solo type of song, and it’s just not the same without Herbs. The next song, Whaling, is something very close to my heart. And he destroyed it with Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Guitar Solo, Chorus, Chorus. After the second or third more recent song, which might have featured God prominently if not a challenging vocal range, I decided to hit the sack.

By the time I settled in, Dobbo was doing some gospel number. The Dobbster has become the God Dobbster. I imagined a pause as someone suggested that he wraps up with some of his good songs. He blats out Be Mine Tonight reasonably, but hashes Loyal. I’m glad one of my mates wasn’t here to hear this. It was played at a friend’s funeral and this version just doesn’t do the memory justice.

Monday morning and I walk up to The Village for one last look. The vitality of all those tracks, some formed as the weekend progressed, was gone. Where once they were capillaries of movement, now just the foreground of a farm. The Main Stage was well on its way to being dismantled, the Bob Marley banner had been packed up. The Village was a ghost town. Empty shells, no voices. Just the wind picking up. Time to go.