The 'time travelling' author and the geopolitics of 1770 Aotearoa
Author and academic Dame Anne Salmond visited Marlborough last week and took a trip out to Queen Charlotte Sound to be "right on the spot" where Captain Cook once stood. Salmond talks to reporter David James about "time travelling" through her career.
What started in 2014 as something humble and quiet, has grown into something, well, still humble but perhaps with a little more volume.
Noisy enough, anyway, to attract some of the dazzling stars of the New Zealand literati, including author and academic Dame Anne Salmond, who charmed an eager full-house at The Boathouse Theatre in Blenheim.
In her discussion with MC Tessa Nicholson, Salmond talked about her life growing up in Gisborne, and her personal views on her auspicious career as an anthropologist and author.
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"I remember having to tell stories at bedtime, to put my brothers to sleep. I guess that's where I get my love of storytelling."
Of course, most people will know Salmond's work on Pacific cultures and Maori, as well as her research on colonial encounters in the Pacific, and her more personal treatments of her engagement with respected Maori figures during the 1970s and 1980s.
During a time when Pakeha women were unheard of as Marae guests, it was Salmond's passionate interest in Maori custom and te reo Maori that garnered her the trust and respect of elders who were open to sharing some of the more hidden traditional knowledge.
In addition, Salmond has written considerably on Captain Cook's encounters with Maori in Queen Charlotte Sound, and points out that the location would have been an important economic hub in Aotearoa at the time of Cook's landing.
"I always think that Totaranui (Queen Charlotte) would have looked something like Grand Central Station," Salmond says. "There was a great deal of travel between the two islands at the time. Just continuous movement from the north through to the south to go and look for greenstone, and all sorts of other resources that weren't so common in the north, or didn't exist.
"But equally, people going from the south to the north. There were complex local geopolitics in the region for that reason, and when Cook arrived, there were flotillas of waka turning up from the North Island all the time."
Salmond's interest in Maori language and culture came about from a childhood visit to the United States on a high school scholarship (she told the audience that she even met John F Kennedy at the White House).
She says that, when asked about Maori custom by Americans, she was baffled by her lack of knowledge.
"I only knew some te reo, and some action songs. But I was very embarrassed to realise that I knew very little at all about my fellow New Zealanders," she says.
After returning home, she was motivated to research Pacific languages and culture. Now, uniquely placed in the academic world, Salmond's writing often incorporates the perspectives of both Maori and European world views.
"In my historical research I have to do a bit of time travelling. But you have to consider the stark contrast in perspectives during colonial encounters between Maori and Europeans.
"There are not only language barriers to consider, but conflicts of what is reality also."
In her latest book, Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds, Salmond looked at when Europeans arrived and how they organised the landscape.
"At the time, Captain Cook was right at the forefront of cartography and gridding the world, which is relevant for land, as private property and land being divided up for ownership. But Maori didn't view land like this at all.
"People were related to the land by whakapapa (genealogy), and features of the land were considered sacred and tied to the ancestors for this reason."
Last Friday, some lucky Marlborough Book Festival punters got the opportunity to join Salmond and Blenheim author Peter Jerram, also a Cook enthusiast, on a cruise aboard the Marlborough Tour Company's MV Odyssea into Queen Charlotte Sound to hear Salmond speak about Captain Cook's stay in the region.
The trip with Salmond and Jerram was appropriate since the recent announcement that a replica of Captain Cook's ship, the Endeavour, would sail to Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds as part of the 250th anniversary celebrations in 2020.
"I had a great time on Friday. It was fantastic going out there with Peter Jerram, because he knows the Marlborough Sounds inside out. I've been to the Sounds many times before and seen all the sites, but never been there with someone who knows the region so well.
"We were talking about the things that happened in the Sounds in Cook's era, right on the spot. It was incredible."
Salmond's contribution as an author has transformed the way we see ourselves as New Zealanders, and provided us with an insider's perspective on both Maori and European culture in constant transformation.
"Every book I write is a journey. And every book I write changes me somehow ... But I believe that ideas are for everyone, and that's why I write like a storyteller."
As for the Marlborough Book Festival, trustee member Sophie Preece says plans are already in the works for next year.
"We already have a shortlist of authors chosen for next year. As well as a long list of hopefuls. Authors have all said that they just love the hospitality that Marlborough provides.
"The locals always offer a great reception for the writers, and they want to be here."