Report: Seed Carriers’ Hikoi

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 32, Lent 2005

I hesitate to write this story given the largely ‘churched’ readership of this paper. It is a side of life that we as church seem to be suspicious of, though I’m not sure why. However, it is so much part of who we are at St Francis Farm that we needs must include it.

‘Great’ we said when we first heard of it, ‘a hikoi to promote anti-GE and the importance of heritance seeds.’ We were thinking politically; no idea of what was really happening. In reality, it was something spiritual.

Looking back the clues were there right from the start (only it took us a couple of months to realise). Such as the initial panui: ‘We are going on a hikoi from Te Reinga to Taupo; it’s open to anyone; we hope to be provided for in food, shelter and support vehicles. We don’t know how this will happen but we’re definitely going.’ A faith to inspire our faith communities. And of course it worked because faith in any form can move mountains.

Then there was the whanaungatanga – the sense of family, of relatedness. The day before the hikoi started, Bob and Kay from Koanga Gardens were in our kitchen on their way to Te Reinga, picking up Eli, and leaving on our Holy Shelf a clay stone bearing the print of the gene spiral of life to hold the mauri of the hikoi and of the seeds. We sat together like old campaigners, though we had seldom met.

A week later Eli hitches home bringing stories of a whole new family he belongs to – sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunties, stories of giving and receiving, of discipline and freedom, of learning to live together on the edge. So by the time they got to Whirinaki, we too were part of the family, people joining and leaving along the way, walking a message of life through our country – in schools, on marae, through towns and farms, remembering gardens and seeds and peoples from the first days to this day.

A message of the sacredness of life. It was this sense of the sacred which finally got through to us that the hikoi was a spiritual rather than a political event. By now Catherine and I and the younger kids had joined Eli and Kate on the hikoi, while Abe went back to hold the fort at St Francis Farm. We were headed for Parliament with a plea for help to save the heritage seeds in our care from the danger of extinction especially with this latest threat from GE, but we weren’t expecting to be understood. Rather, we were coming from that more subversive angle of spirit and prayer. Much like seeds sprouting in crevasses of rock and eventually cracking it open.

This sense of the sacred engendered a reverence for spirit and life that was both uplifting and humbling. A reverence that encompassed both plant and animal, lake and mountain – and so the Creator. Masterful in holding all this together was Michael O’Donnell, an artist of the old order whose very conversation reads like Celtic myth. He makes the past, present and the spirit manifest. A great gift.

And that is how I remember this journey – a gift. As earth-based people here at St Francis Farm, we find we have to explain ourselves often and so it was a balm to be in a family where that side of life was a common understanding.

Having begun at the tail of Te Ika a Maui, we anchored the hikoi at Waihi, the heart of this ancestral fish, before driving to its head at Wellington. Highlights follow:

A magical three days at Little Waihi on the shores of Lake Taupo as we mustered our forces

The trip to Tongariro and Ngauruhoe to seek inspiration

The sitting in the wharenui being transported by that masterful storyteller, Barry Braillsford, into new realms of old times

The paradoxical sense of being protectively between mountain and lake, volcanoes both

Sunday liturgy at St Winifried’s, led by Sister Katarina, RNDM.

Meals for 50 being conjured onto the table three times a day by Katie’s goodness

The songs of thanks and praise

Hot baths at the water’s edge.

The morning we left, our kuia Annie looked across the lake and observed, ‘All this beauty on the site of the biggest eruption this planet has had. Such devastation – and now such beauty and life.’ Armed with this reassurance, GE not withstanding, we faced the last step of the hikoi with hope and trust.

Tapu te Ranga Marae, Island Bay, Wellington, was where we next stayed. It was a real privilege to stay there – a haven of hospitality and an inspiration of creativity and the courageous vision of Bruce Stewart. We had an appointment for six of us to meet with the Minister of the Environment, Marian Hobbs at 9.30am. At dawn we assembled on Parliament grounds to hold a silent vigil, praying and fasting, to be held by the group right through until we had re-emerged. I have never felt such palpable spiritual support as when we were in that office behind concrete and glass and guards. It was as if the circle of 50-60 people were in there with us.

We simply told the story of the hikoi and the seeds, elicited a tear or two from the honourable minister, overstayed our time by more than double and sang the seed carriers song. Outside under the pohutakawa tree in front of the beehive, we shared kai for the last time with the whanau.

And so, did the hikoi achieve its purpose? Well, things of the spirit are immeasurable. Ask our great-grandchildren – they might know. The struggle continues with trying to live the connection, now, in this place, in this time.

This article by Joseph Land appeared in issue 4 of The Christian Radical, Spring 2004, publication of the Te Whiti o Rongomai House, St Francis Farm and Clarehouse Catholic Worker communities, c/- St Francis Farm, Whirinaki, RD3, Kaikohe 0400.

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