Article: Speak Easy

Thanks, Foreigners, For Invading with Michael BoturThanks, Foreigners, For Invading with Michael Botur

Right now there is a seven foot tall foreign monstrosity in my lounge. He’s covered in cultural ornamentation, he’s bleeding and shedding skin everywhere, his stench permeates the house and he won’t leave for a month.

I am of course talking about our Christmas tree. It’s an American species, Pinus radiata, covered in decorations referencing the winter of northern Europe. We are hosting the bleeding giant in honour of a Jew born two millennia ago in the Middle East. So, yah: home and property is deeply affected by culture, and no matter where your culture is located, there’s a fair chance your culture has been influenced by other cultures far away in time and geography. 

Why must we appease our cultural desires?  It’s to do with social needs we have as highly evolved organisms. People who don’t have the freedom to have their culture satisfied through festivities, rituals and symbology suffer. It’s all part of The Impact of Social and Cultural Environment on Health as explored by researchers like Hernandez and Blazer. Assets including inherited wealth, savings, or ownership of homes or motor vehicles affect health, these authors found as they explored the connection between one’s immediate home and the community surrounding each person.

Now, in our surroundings are many things which give us cultural satisfaction, but unfortunately everything we put in our environments usually has a cost. Every introduced structure takes away land that nature had another purpose. Same with introducing plants. Hey, I love my home and garden as much as you do, but it’s important to be mindful of how we’ve altered our environment to make ourselves feel culturally satisfied – especially at Christmas time, when we rear then hack down introduced trees.

The first people who settled NZ brought taro, yams, kumara and gourds, as well as animals from their homeland. Later waves of people brought religious texts, flags, lots of new building materials, and more animals and plants. Captain Cook, for example, dropped off pigs and chickens to enrich the lives of the locals.

Prickles and thorns don’t give me much cultural satisfaction, but they were introduced as part of the acclimatisation of New Zealand (acclimatisation basically means colonising the environment.)
Possums, stoats and sparrows don’t make me feel but these are all vertebrates introduced as part of the colonial drive to make new home feel like old home.

That’s all left an irreversible legacy. Whether you live in a city or the country, it’s all been completely transformed. Even if you live on a lifestyle block which you might argue is completely native bush, you’ll have around you hundreds of introduced species. 

We love to spend summer of a lawn of Bermuda grass (which comes from the Mediterranean), but that occupies space where native grass could grow.

If you’re lucky enough to have native tree ferns, pohutakawa or manuka on your property, consider whether that’s because the natives are sheltered by an introduced species.

Where possible, we need to get rid of plants which hurt our ecosystem so that our native fauna isn’t solely confined to parks and reserves. I did try to convince my darling wife to buy a native NZ tree for our lounge this Christmas, to no avail. The bloody intruder in the lounge makes my wife feel culturally satisfied. Mending broken plates with golden glue brings her satisfaction, too.
I might go for a walk now on my lawn, which is a mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass (a species originating in Europe and Asia). I’ll be watching out for the prickles of Onehunga Weed – which comes from South America.

I’ll wish my lawn was made of an NZ native grass species, but that wouldn’t look “normal” in Kiwi culture. There’s something weird about that.

Anyway, I’m not being a grinch, and I love all the development that comes with our civilisation. I’m just saying that on Christmas Day, let’s spare a thought for the beauty of pristine, unchanged land – if there is any left.

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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