Dead rivers.

Dead rivers

Dead rivers triptych. April 2013


The pumice-dusty plains of the Rangipo Desert are thought to be sacred; the dust has issued from the heart of the maunga tapu and settled there. The ancient waterways flow from the mountains like blood. The tuna flicks it’s tail in the blue-green currents.


It seems that water has become a commodity; we can even buy tiny numbers of shares in the corporate entity that currently peddles it. Indigenous cultures have a more holistic way of living with the natural resources of the planet. Ideas of tapu and noa, (the sacred and the earthly) and the fluid states in between them imbue the Maori relationship with the whenua. What happens when large-scale corporate deities break covenant with these protocols?


There are 22 waterways currently being diverted out of the Whangaehu river catchment in Ngati Rangi tribal lands, on the flanks of Mt. Ruapehu. These waterways originate in the sacred crater lake of Ruapehu, and once carried the mauri of the tupuna awa from the mountain to the sea. They are now instead gathered into the Tongariro Power Development scheme, mixing with many other such relocated streams and rivers. Below the intakes for the TPD the riverbeds are dry.


Richard Tarnas writes of the “epistemologies of separation”, where the human is subject and the world is object.  The Enlightenment brought with it a rational science, and a “hubristic vision” of the natural world as a set of fixed conditions and immutable laws. At the apex of this thinking is man, sitting atop a pile of natural resources in an excavator. As our new century inches forward it seems clear that this seat at the top of the heap will be fleeting. Meantime the kuia of the many relocated streams and rivers whisper and confer in their enforced hui at Lake Moawhango, while Koro Ruapehu sits wreathed in cloud above them.

1 thought on “Dead rivers.”

  1. Hi, enjoyed reading this blog and who lays claim to the water because it is a global issue. In the Southwestern US, water is also a prized and scarce commodity. Acequias, mostly found in New Mexico, are hand-built waterways which provided water for ranches flanking the Rio Grande river. These acequias, which intersect tribal , public and private lands, divert several hundred cubic feet of water from the Rio Grande every year. Many locks and gates are installed with special pumps to regulate how much water each ranch receives for the Spring planting. Water flowing from this fifth longest river in the world actually belongs to Texas because it entered the statehood before New Mexico. Most ranches now have sold their water rights to Wineries and Coca-cola corporation, therefore properties with the original land-grant water rights are most prized because crops need watering! A really good book detailing the water wars in the Western US is called Cadillac Desert by Mark Reisner. It’s a little dated now but there’s a brilliant summary about the first four chapters, which details who and why certain people or corporations own water rights in the Western US.

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