Sunday, 2 September 2012

Don't Mimi in the Water

Sometime ago I read - in a book by a Maori writer - it may have been Patricia Grace but I am not quite sure now - anyway, as the text went, the writer and her whanau (family) were down at the beach fishing from the sea and there the children were taught to never mimi in the water but to go up the beach away from the tide and make a hole there. Which they did.

The sea and the rivers were/are the food cupboard for the kai moana (seafood) and not to be used as a toilet.

This was especially important in a land with virtually no mammals bar some island rats (and before colonisation these rats were clean enough to eat - there was no rubbish to contaminate the rats). Protein was fish, birds including seabirds, and seals. What happens to the water has an impact on us all - water is life.

So tonight I was watching a very well researched documentary on Maori TV about a river here in Aotearoa New Zealand which has had industrial waste and town sewage pumped into it every day for years. Aerial shots show this once proud river brown and murky, the filthy bloom spread out into the sea and past the reefs where the shellfish used to grow huge and feed the local population - now they can't eaten at all. Surfers and swimmers find themselves experiencing stomach illnesses. One woman described opening a shellfish only to find a brown slimey goo.

We (speaking generally), in the Western world, we wipe out our houses obsessively with expensive chemicals and we think ourselves clean while in fact we are living in the midst of filth. We flush our chemicals unthinkingly down our waterways, we eat the food produced on farms which leach artificial fertilisers and sprays onto the land and into our lakes, we allow factories to spew industrial waste into our rivers and ultimately all of this finds it's way into the seas.

We are using our entire environment as though it is one great big toilet.


  1. Biodegradable material used to be a permanent feature of so-called "primitive" societies. In India, many villages still use sustainable construction and so on, but they're a dying breed. The idea is that "progress" must mean the use-and-throw mentality; I recall Indian capitalists moaning that Indians hadn't yet acquired the habit of throwing away things.

  2. The one saving grace is the much more widespread understanding of these issues than there was 40 years ago when the enormity of these ecologoical issues first came to the attention of the global public. This has historically been a worldwide problem which occurs across pretty well all cultures to some lesser or greater degree.

    I take your point about Maori prohibitions on using the sea as a toilet, but even the Maoris are not without blame as settlers in a country where human settlement is very recent indeed.
    Throughout the Maori’s exclusive inhabitance, the environment took an expensive toll. Approximately 50% of the original forest cover had been deforested before European contact. By 1840, when Europeans were a small part of the NZ population, the forest cover had been reduced from 85% down to we all take some responsibility for what we have inherited I think, wherever we're from and whatever our cultural background may be.
    Although, as I say... there are reasons to be hopeful that the message is now getting through in ways it didn't even 10 years ago.
    I had an email today about the video I've linked to a trailer for here, it seems to compliment your post perfectly Reasons to be cheerful perhaps? Certainly the reasons for the global economic restructuring we are seeing at this transitional moment in socio-economic evolution.

  3. I think my point wasn't that one group of people are necessarily better at environmental issues (although there may be some truth in that idea) but rather that westerners (in general) spending heaps of money on products to make themselves and their homes "clean" are in fact the problem. Now. Because in the process of all that investing in "cleanliness" we use flushing toilets which send our human waste out into the environment (when we could for example be using composting toilets). We might as well stand in the sea or the river and piss.