EARTH WHISPERERS PAPATUANUKU
FEATURE DOCUMENTARY, 2009
DIRECTOR: KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
EARTH WHISPERERS PAPATUANUKU: AN EMPOWERING BLUEPRINT FOR CHANGE.
When I got an email from nearby Rainbow Valley Farm telling me Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku was coming to Matakana Cinema in a few days time, I was determined to catch it. For years my partner and I have been practising and teaching bicultural earth activism, rongoa, organic gardening, permaculture and encouraging people to grow and cook their own food, gather their own seeds, regenerate native forest and garden in harmony with Papatuanuku. This film is a celebration of all these activities and much more. It is an aria sung to the earth, to the planet, a lament for past wrongs but more importantly, a waiata showing us how and where to go from here. At a time of despair for many, Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku fills us with hope and gratitude for what we have here in Aotearoa, thanks to the earth warriors of the past and is a blueprint for our future survival and that of the planet. This is a lyrical film that will capitvate your heart and sing to your soul. Mauri, our life force, flows through the film like a river of hope and regeneration.
It is seldom that film makers manage to blend a solid documentary with such lyrical grace. Kathleen Gallagher and her team know that the best way to encourage people to change is by showing them the utter beauty and majesty and awe of what we have, what we nearly lost and affirming that just a handful of people working together can create change. This is a film that truly empowers us, urges us to draw forward into the world of light – unuhia ki te ao marama - and affirms that together, we can indeed save and nurture our planet earth, Papatuanuku.
From the opening words of artist Colin McCahon about burying our heart in the land and following her journey inward, we know we are in for a magic experience. This is enhanced by Ed Hillary’s statement telling us nature needs time to heal and we need to allow her to do this, which is later exemplified by people letting nature regenerate our forests. As the koauau [played by Richard Nunns] fills our ears and hearts and karanga and karakia are chanted to Papatuanuku while the Tuhoe, led by healer Rita Tupe, walk into the forest to gather their healing rongoa, we are taken into an inner place of wairua and feel we are with them in the forest, amazed at the beauty of the bush. Rita Tupe explains the plants are like babies in the womb and need nurturance and permission must be asked by prayer to collect them. Thanks is given to Tane Mahuta, God of the Forest, for allowing them to gather rongoa for healing their people, for allowing them as Rita says, to gather “some of his children” for healing others. When they gather rongoa from a tree they always put earth back onto that tree to cover the wound as their elders taught therm.
The camera closes in on the tanekaha which many know as celery pine and we marvel at its sheer beauty while learning its vital role in flushing out our systems and cleansing our bodies. Rita reinforces the importance of mauri, the life force, in the stones, the trees, the river, in everything, the force that binds us with nature and all things together, that allows us to live sustainably from the land. She affirms that in past times Maori lived and worked on the land, gardened sustainably and were fit and healthy. Their demise came when they stopped doing this. These words are later echoed by seed gatherer, organic grower and permaculture teacher Kay Baxter, who states that pakeha lost touch with the land and themselves and lost the ability to work and eat healthily. Both visionaries emphasise the vital importance of us returning to the land to regain this knowledge and to become self-sustainable again.
Between each segment showing how each person has followed his or her heart to live sustainably or save forests for us all, the camera focuses on nature, allowing her to be the main character in the film, whether dew drops forming a necklace on a cobweb in the forest or a section of moss containing a forest of seeds. The cinematography is stunning, as we’d expect from Allun Bollinger and Mike Single. Environmentalist and photographer Craig Potton takes us through the forest in Paparoa National Park, Westland, with wekas running through the bush and shows us land that is pristine, untouched and which has never been logged. However, it is due to the hard mahi of Craig and a group of others that we still have this living taonga since it was very nearly felled. As the camera celebrates the utter beauty of this unique forest, we can only marvel that a group pf people were willing to sacrifice two decades of their lives, living off the land, to protest by climbing the trees and making sure they had the public behind them in their struggle, often funded by cake stalls and small events that helped the cause. Potton describes this as the best thing he has ever done in his life, a huge testiment from one who has taught others through his stunning photography, to appreciate nature more.
Most people would find it hard to imagine growing dandelions as large as halloween pumpkins. But healer Isla Burgess has no trouble convincing us of the magic qualities in each dandelion, harvesting every part of the plant for digestive healing. She acknowledges Hohepa Kereopa as a guide in teaching her to see the world through different eyes, to watch for the connexions so she could learn to heal in tune with nature. She talks of each of us having a special healing plant that suits our bodies. For her, it is the stinging nettle, full of minerals and vitamins and a terrific blood cleanser. She reinforces the importance of harvesting locally, using plants and weeds that grow around us naturally and respecting nature where we harvest, stating “We can’t be well where we destroy that which nourishes and nurtures us.” Her wisdom echoes that of tangata whenua throughtout the film.
Conservationist and botanist Alan Mark shows us tussock grass which holds half a litre of water for one hour in just one leaf. What a resource when we have so much natural tussock! We see a forest of seeds in just one metre of mosses. Mark was a key campaigner in the Save Manapouri struggle in Fiordland and he traces the history of that battle, walking us through forest that would have been underwater had they not fought so hard to save it. The graphic nature of that threat comes alive before our eyes. Had Comalco won out, we would have lost a vital part of our heritage in Aotearoa. But thanks to these campaigners and the 265,000 signatures they gathered, the Save Manapouri scheme lead Labour to a landslide victory in 1972 when they supported the action and resulted in saving ten percent of New Zealand’s forests in South West Aotearoa. Photographic stills from the time give us a picture of aspects of the campaign and the memories flood back. I recall working at university to get signatures when some did not believe it was a viable fight. Yet they all appreciated it later.
But we can do this on smaller land plots too. Forest Gardener and Bird Caller Gerry Findlay sees the vast importance of regenerating forest for the birds to survive and has managed to bring back bush in just seven years, showing it is possible. His ability to imitate native birds is awesome and his love for the land he is regenerating is inspirational. Similarly with Hinewai Reserve on Banks Peninsular, where Hugh Wilson cycles everywhere and launches a stinging attack on the modern motor car that is hard to argue against. It takes him 5.5 hours to bike to Christchurch and 1.5 hours to drive there and on his bike he hears birds singing, the sounds of nature, avoids pollution and stays fit. However, as the son of a minister, he was in a strong position to see how immigrant farmers had made a religion out of taming the land, cutting the trees and making pasture: “Pasture is sacred to them. It’s almost like a religious conviction that pasture is good.” This lead farmers to rape and pillage and poison most of Aotearoa and yet we too can reclaim the land as Wilson has done with Hinewai. Twenty one years on, it is a beautiful native bush and by letting nature regenerate, Wilson has created a natural wilderness. I was cheered by his words after being shocked at how often “conservationist” groups feel they have to use poisons on the land and fertilisers to nurture native trees when clearly nature, as Hugh says, can do it much better.
Letting nature do the work is also the philosophy of Soil Health Teacher and organic gardener Jim O’Gorman who has taken a poor plot of weed infested land and turned it organically into a working garden where the neighbours give away their hedge cuttings and garden rubbish to replenish the soil, saving them $24 to ditch it and saving our dumps from the shocking statistic that over 65% of them are filled with useble garden waste. With his chipping hoe he has no need of herbicides and he shows us how to use weeds to nourish the soil and return the microbes rather than throwing away useful weeds. He has done this to show people how to “create a garden from nothing with nothing” so that the wasteland is harvested to feed the soil, since so many people living in poverty have only this wasteland to work from. He cooks up his produce in his pizza earth oven and we sample the treats from this ‘wasteland’, knowing that if he can do this here, anyone can, anywhere.
Maori herbalist and chef, Charles Royal, walks in the forest at Lake Rotoehu, near Rotorua with his chilly bin and gathers rongoa for cooking. He bends down and breaks off some supplejack vine and eats it with relish. Later he gathers pikopiko fern which he uses on creole bread he makes, which he describes as being like rewana, but admits you have to beat the possums to the fern as they love the pikopiko also. It is delicious and tastes to him like beans, to me more like asparagus. He harvests kawakawa and boils up a billy of tea in the bush. But the curious statement he makes is that he always gathers the few untouched leaves, not full of insect holes. This may be to make it look good in the restaurant but kuia have always told me to gather the leaves with holes in them as they work hard to regenerate their levaes against the insects and thus these leaves are full of medicinal nutrition. However the aunties would agree with him that kawakawa leaves, looking like hearts, are also good for the heart as they thin the blood. He talks of making a pikopiko garden for a conference centre surrounded by horopito bushes created from broken twigs. What terrific inspiration. However, it would have been wonderful to see this great chef at work using the rongoa beyond boiling kakawkawa leaves as this would have really opened people’s eyes to the many uses of rongoa – like using kawakawa leaves in casseroles and roasts – anywhere where you’d use horopito. It’s an essential leaf in our Mohala Organic Garden kitchen all year round and so bountiful throughout the bush.
Piwakawaka or fantails flit around blessing Kay Baxter’s bounteous Whitianga Bay gardens on East Cape. Seed saver, organic gardener and permaculture teacher Kay Baxter, founder of Koanga Gardens, describes how “up until the end of World War 2, everybody had a garden” and ate from their gardens or shared kai with others. Then it all changed. She does not see this as a plot but simply that people stopped gardening. But the missing piece of the puzzle here, which Poihaere Morris stated at the PINZ Hui recently, was that supermarkets came into Aotearoa in the sixties and this is why people stopped growing their own food. This is a vital key to the changes and was by design and not arbitrary. Kay explains a pivotal moment in her life standing in a tent at Mystery Creek Field Days with her four kids, just after Chernobyl Nuclear Power Disaster, and learning that there was only one variety of seed from this land still available, Pukekohe Onions. All the rest came from Holland. Kay knew friends in Holland affected by Chernobyl who had to scrape the topsoil off their farms. She was deeply alarmed and felt utterly “powerless”. However, Mike O’Donnell suggested they do a Seed Hikoi and they began at Cape Reinga and travelled through marae throughout Te Ika a Maui and told others what they knew and learned from them about how they used to garden their own lands. This began a huge movement to gather and save heirloom seeds for which Koanga Gardens and Kay Baxter have become known.
Kay’s korero really brings home the vital nature of this work and like other stories in this film, help us to see why acting from our knowledge and connexion with the land is so important for our future survival. There is a touching moment where Kay and her partner Bob Corker plant a rare passionfruit to honour the late permaculture pioneer Joe Polaischer of Rainbow Valley Farm.They surround the plant with seaweed gathered locally. Joe would have loved this. Maybe he was the piwakawaka flitting about her garden at the opening in closing scenes at Whitainga Bay? A piwakawaka also came to bless his partner, Trish Allen’s, first permaculture course at Rainbow Valley Farm this year and this bird is known to link the living and dead.
The film ends with a vision from Makere Ruka Te Korako, Kuia of the Kurawaka people of Waitaha as she talks of building a papakainga that is a haven for all people and to promote the legacy of peace through matriarchal traditions and self-sustainability for which the Waitaha people are known. As guardians of the Greenstone Trails, they know the way forward since these trails were first established by wahine of the iwi. To build a papakainga of peace and love and healing for all people needing this and to help send that message back out into the world is the vision. The mists roll in across the sacred mountains of Wharariki in Canterbury and Makere sings of the mists, the tears of Ranginui, Sky Father for his partner Papatuanuku, Earth Mother, from whom he has been parted. These mists become tear drops of rain and then rivers flowing across and nurturing te whenua, the land until they reach te moana, the sea. In this final vision, we experience the beginning of life on this planet as Tane created light, vital forms of life to grow, by seperating earth and sky. However, they are intimately and irrevocably connected forever, as lovers, as co-creators of life and it is this connexion to the land and sky that we must reinact in order to survive in our current age.
Kathleen Gallagher has said this film is her own “number eight wire” response to Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth. But it moves beyond the fear. By showing us how we can help change the planet and live sustainably on Papatuanuku, through the words and wisdom of these Earth Whisperers, she empowers us, takes us beyond the gloom and doom of the fear industry and inspires us, through our hearts and souls, to want to make a difference, to want to live in tune with Papatuanuku. And this is the brilliance of Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku. I predict this film will inspire people globally to want to live more sustainably. It is a lament to a wounded earth but even more, it is a waiata that fills us with mauri, with life force, and shows that if we work together, as tangata whenua, as people of the land, we can make a difference, as these earth whisperers have done. We can all become earth whisperers in our own ways and hand this legacy to our tamariki and future generations.
The sheer beauty of this film makes you want to weep with joy, thanks to the cinematography and brilliance of Allun Bollinger, the vision of Kathleen Gallagher and all the team involved. The mix of Maori and Celtic music, waiata, karanga, moteatea and karakia allows a range of voices to sing through the land and touch our souls via Aroha Yates-Smith, who composed the waiata and musicians Bob Bickerton and Richard Nunns. The film’s consultants include visionaries, activists and conservationists like Keri Hulme and Bill Ballentine. Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku is the result of people working together to save the planet and by the end you are left with the positive and empowering feeling that it can, indeed, be possible. As Geoff Park states in the finale: “Every place has its own mauri, its own qi, its own soul, and is restorable.” Tena rawa atu koutou, Kathleen Gallagher and all those working on or in this film. You have left us a powerful legacy and a empowering blueprint for change.
Dr. Cath Koa Dunsford is co-founder of Mohala Organic Gardens and author of 22 books in print & translation internationally with sustainable, ecological practice and vision. She teaches organic gardening workshops in Aotearoa, UK and Germany and is Kaitiaki and Kaupapa Consultant to Rainbow Valley Farm International Permaculture Courses. Cath is a graduate of the Sustainable Rural Development Course, Northtec and Mauri Ora, Te Wananga O Aotearoa, is a Doctor of Philosophy [Auckland University] and a Post-Doctoral Fulbright Scholar [University of California, Berkeley]. She runs a community garden and teaches permaculture with ecologist Dr. Karin Meissenburg [Diploma in Ecology, Tubingen University].
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