Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Anne Salmond.
Auckland: AUP (2018).
RRP: $65. Hb, colour illustrations, 512pp.
Reviewed by Barbara Brookes.
Anne Salmond’s new book traverses some familiar territory from her earlier work on first encounters but puts that material in a new context, seeking resonances with the present day. Her guiding argument in this book is based on that of the Brazilian anthropologist Viveiros de Castro about the need for ‘ontological self-determination’ of different peoples; the right to adhere to ancestral understandings of the nature and and essence of things. In effect, that there is no one ‘reality’. In Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds, Salmond works to foreground that difference. In the first part, ‘Early Encounters, 1769-1840’, consisting of eight chapters, the reader is taken between past and present. Salmond has been vitally involved in the politics of today: giving testimony in Waitangi tribunal hearings, visiting archaeological sites, tracing taonga carried on Cook’s expeditions, for example, and these current issues are linked back to the concepts she explores in this book. Chapter eight, which explores again signing of the Treaty, acts as a powerful reminder of the tense negotiations around sovereignty and the importance of language. The book is a skilful presentation of the aliveness of the past in the present and the continued relevance of what she presents as a clash of differing ontologies.
Māori view of the essence of things are brought forward even more sharply in Part 2 of the book with chapters devoted to rivers, land, sea and people. We travel with Salmond down the Whanganui river, think in the chapter on land about the origin of the kumara in the soil, remember the small flotilla that challenged the large oil drilling ship, the Orient Explorer, and revisit the film Once Were Warriors. Each of these vignettes leads into a discussion of vital issues in today’s society and suggests how valuing Māori conceptions might provide useful ways forward from the plundering of natural resources to a more sustainable future. Despite the wrongs of colonisation, which Salmond has so powerfully exposed, she remains optimistic that past engagements might lead to new visions for the future.
Barbara Brookes is Professor of History at the University of Otago Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo. http://bwb.co.nz/books/a-history-of-new-zealand-women and, most recently, author of A History of New Zealand Women (Bridget Williams Books, 2016) which won the Ockham Award for best illustrated non-fiction.