The NZ Permaculture Hui through Leo’s lens.
Change is inevitable. It’s what form that change takes that matters most.
‘Generating Change’ was the theme for this years’ National Permaculture Hui. Not just information, or even inspiration …transformation.
You could see it in the eyes and smiles of the people as they said goodbye, that something special had just occurred. A change in the way people regarded permaculture, regarded themselves in relation to the permaculture community and the future of the movement. Sometimes jokes get made about Permaculture being a cult – not the greatest analogy because unlike many cults, this one is drastically decentralised, critically underfunded, and struggling with succession.
Despite all this, the event sold over 200 tickets with an amazing turn out of Permies from all over Aotearoa. Other nations and cultures were present, however there was a uniquely kiwi and tangible sense of ‘us’ at this hui. The chance to be see, and be seen ‘here’ in the same place together, in a giant circle outside on the grass. The opening ceremony was led by our beloved dignitary Nandor, who’s invocation raised in us that very real feeling of ‘now’ with one another. Us. Here. Now.
My favourite part of the opening ceremony was the waiata, which presenced te ao maori early on. You know those real awkward lines in ‘Tūtira mai ngā iwi’ that most Pākehā people never quite managed to learn? Yeah well Poihaere called us out on it, and Tihikura taught us how it really goes. What I loved was that the meaning of those forgotten words were the juiciest of them all!
Whai-a te marama-tanga – Seek after knowledge
me te aroha – e ngā iwi! – and love of others – everybody!
Ironically, seeking after knowledge and loving others emerged as two quite prominent themes in the feedback. Comments were laden with appreciation for the “Amazing diverse full programme” and “Vast knowledge that came from presenters”, even to the point of expressing information overload and feelings of being overwhelmed with the depth of the content. My personal moment of overwhelm was during Tihikura’s open space session on the relationship between permaculture and the world of Maori. The story of Parihaka and it’s continued struggle for soveriegnty brought up emotions that I may have intellectualised in the past, but instead chose to sit with and feel in that moment. Gratitude Tihikura, you taught me a lot more than the words for Tūtira mai ngā iwi …but we better save that for another blog entry.
To me, ‘Me te Aroha’ or ‘Loving others’ is another way of expressing ‘People Care’ – a core ethic which sometimes permaculture projects fail to embed into their kaupapa. The feedback captured some great images of people care and community connection. Snapshots of “A great sense of community”, “Nice people”, “Such a well held space” to reflections on real life transformations “I feel like I’ve just been living in a village of 200 like minded people, of all ages, who all want to make the world a better place through sharing, love, connection, collaboration and cooperation. It was awesome. I felt very nourished and hopeful with so much energy for action and people just getting out there and making things happen”.
A real challenge in curating the hui experience was to allow for those who’ve been driving the movement for decades, whilst still including those discovering permaculture for the first time; “the Hui was a very deep personal and transformational experience. It was my first introduction to Permaculture, but I resonated with so many of the learnings intuitively”. Of particular interest to me was to what degree the values I had invited people to nurture on the first day around inclusion, open minded curiosity, respect, physical and emotional sovereignty were integrated into the event; “I started to get in the flow of being vulnerable and authentic, moving through that fear of judgement which is often a barrier to my full participation. A big part of that was feeling safe enough to do so, and each talk I went to I felt the facilitators did an amazing job at holding space.”
Emma Morris and Julie Crocker facilitating ‘Making Permaculture Stronger: Going Deeper’
One of my contributions to the programme was ‘Permaculture Speed-Dating’, with the aim to build community by creating a sense of inclusion. By asking strangers meaningfully considered questions, we discovered a deeply moving, yet hilarious way to invite participants to let down their demographic-specific boundaries and catalyse discussion between people of all ables, ages and ethnicities.
He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
Damn straight it’s the people
A compelling difference to previous Hui I had been to was how intergenerationally diverse those people were. In particular, a big group of friends in their 20s and 30s came along and injected a fun festival vibe that we hadn’t quite cracked at hui before. I’d kind of been rolling solo in the permaculture world and it had begun to feel a bit lonely, so it was extremely affirming to have my peers pushing forward into permaculture. With some satisfaction I reflected on my talk at the 2014 Tapu Te Ranga Hui entitled ‘Making Permaculture Sexy: Parellels between the principles of Burning Man and Permaculture’, realising that you never know which seeds you plant now will germinate later on.
It wasn’t just the younger crowd that were celebrated, audacious educator Steve Henry commented at “How graceful the elders were and how respectful the new wave of youthful focus is to the work previously done”. It’s true, the pioneers in our community have set the precedent so high, it is no wonder that the next generation have been hesitant to step up.
I felt at Waihi, the next generation did step up. I could be biased as an organiser and spaceholder for the event, but I sensed from the sparkles in peoples eyes and the excited, lingering conversations between young and old confirmed that it wasn’t just change that was generated, but hope as well. Hope that a key challenge for permaculture was finally being addressed – succession.
Many other challenges and opportunities were brought to light in the ‘Making Permaculture Stronger’ session led by Dave Hursthouse in his unique firm but playful style. Some observers were surprised to find an organisation so eager to critically examine and explore it’s own weaknesses, especially while having loads of fun and laughter during the session. As someone who is keen to let go of the old story of humanity – the story of control – whatever you want to call it, it’s refreshing that we are able to run these self-enquiries. The work we are doing with permaculture occupies a kind of ‘space between stories’, where we are trying to create a new story, but hindered by the conditioning of the old story. ‘Making Permaculture Stronger’ is an example of the questioning necessary to identify and address the weaknesses, the fuck-ups, the injustices or transgressions that have led us to this uncertain future. This vulnerable process helps us reveal the light of our dormant humanity from within the shadows of the old paradigm.
Making Permaculture Stronger
Anyway, after spending all day delving into heady topics and systemic issues, there was a dire need to cut loose.
The music of ‘Matiu te Huki’ on Friday night got people moving alright, I saw some super sweet dance moves. You know, those epic low down to the ground lurkers, the classic reggae skankers, your eccentric auntie interpretive dance movers, the sexy hipswag sultry dancers… They all showed up.
On Saturday night we had ‘Makeshift Movements’ rock the Te Rau Aroha permaculture-transformation-shed, a local 7 piece band. Their performance spurred Tihikura to play some epic jams afterwards, and Mufasa ironed out the kinks for those who needed to wiggle some more before sending them to bed. People took the chance to connect on the last night, lingering over Charlotte and her teams incredible food, hanging in the chapel or in the hall chatting, laughing, snuggling, dancing, flirting. All those extra curricular community building activities went down, spurring feedback comments along the lines of ‘music and dancing – very important!’ and ‘Party night – so brilliantly good’ – all confirming my philosophy that the change ain’t worth making if you can’t celebrate it
My main takeaway from it all? To see our society as a tree, and understand the pre-colonial settlement of our whenua as the roots of that tree. Since the hui, I’ve formed some beautiful relationships here in the rohe that I live in. I am seeking to learn their story out of curiosity and care in the hope that a contextual awareness can inform the way I approach bioregional biculturalism, and beyond that help transition Aotearoa into a new way of inter-cultural interbeing.