Saturday, 1 December 2012

Naming, Reality and Hobbits

The act of naming is powerful. Language creates and reinforces culture and reality. By naming, or renaming something or someone you gain a certain power, a right to control or own, a right to shape the reality of that entity. (Cult leaders, bullies, hate groups ...they all know this and use the power of naming in a way that hurts and dis-empowers their victims).

 The power of naming is one to be treated with caution and respect, which is the reason that many indigenous people take exception to the efforts of missionaries, settlers and, more recently, government geographers to chart, map and rename their places and spaces.

 In small dark offices within Ministries of Lands and Departments of Settlement many a mountain, road, river and sea across the 'Empire', have been recreated and remodelled with European identities. The grid lines of settlement carved up locations into unnatural territories (ignoring traditional tribal boundaries) and in defiance of the actual topography ... and then the names of the localities were either changed or bastardized so they were pronounceable by new settlers.Tribal histories were of course generally ignored in this process - and then undermined and corrupted as these 'names' are passed off to marginalised indigenous students as the 'official' identity of a location. It should be said at this point, that in recent years there have been efforts to restore indigenous names to places and to consult with local groups before 'officially' naming localities, streets etc. However there remains a legacy of colonisation of place.  So it is in this context that I read with horror today's article  in Stuff.

Apparently an individual, living in NZ, has decided he would like to try and name a mountain in the southern part of our country 'Mt Tolkien' in some sort of memorial to the author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He bases his right to do this on the fact that the mountain is officially 'unnamed', and that his action would be in some way promoting tourism. The article goes on to note that this individual had tried to rename the Wairau river 'Anduin Reach' (again after the novels and movie).

Two things strike me here. One, this individual believes that it is reasonable to 'brand', and thereby commodify nature in order to promote Hollywood's corporate elite and generate revenue. Secondly, that this mountain is supposedly 'un-named'. By whom? I would guarantee that the local iwi (Maori tribe), very clearly have a name for this mountain and situate it within their whakapapa, and tribal histories. The fact that this name does not appear on government maps does not mean it is 'unnamed' and therefore open to random individuals submitting requests to have it become movie merchandise. "Would you like a mountain with your popcorn sir?"

We have already had NZ towns given new, ridiculous names such as 'Hobbiton', all supposedly in the name of tourism. In my opinion, this 'renaming'  is another form of colonisation - this time promoted by local tourism operators, and supported by NZ Tourism, Culture and the Environment. (Am I the only person who has noticed that all of the 'good' characters in Tolkien's books and films are either short and white, or tall and white, and that the bad guys are dark, menacing and dressed in black? I somehow don't think that people of colour have a place in 'the Shires' unless they are evil!).

I am not interested in NZ twisting itself in order to generate revenue for the governments and corporates. I am not interested in having nature become a more sophisticated form of product placement. So perhaps the individual named in the article might like to rename himself: I think that 'Sauron' might be fitting.

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