10 questions with ... Marama Muru-Lanning

Our first installment of '10 questions with ...' features Dr Marama Muru-Lanning. We asked her about her recently released book, Tupuna Awa: People and Politics of the Waikato River.

Dr Marama Muru-Lanning with her latest book. Photo: Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ.

Dr Marama Muru-Lanning with her latest book. Photo: Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ.

1. How would you describe your book to a non-anthropological audience?

For hapū and iwi of the lands that border its 425-kilometre length, the Waikato River is an ancestor, a taonga and a source of mauri, lying at the heart of identity and chiefly power. It is also subject to governing oversight by the Crown and intersected by power stations mananged by partially privatised electricity generating companies. My book examines the debates over water in one New Zealand River over a single recent period of time and provides a lens through which to view modern iwi politics, debates over water ownership and contests for power between Māori and the state.

2. Why now?

My book gives voice to flaxroot Māori who live alongside the Waikato River. It demonstrates that while some people are drawing money and mana out of their recent associations to the Waikato River most Māori whānau who have endured the river for generations have had little improvement to their lives.

3. What kind of assumptions do you unsettle in this book?

That Māori are not a homogenous group who all think the same thing.

4. What drew you to your topic?

Intuition - and an afinity with indigenous peoples overseas who have been alienated from their local rivers.

5. How was your publisher?

Auckland University Press were great to work with and I would highly recommend this publisher.

6. What’s your favourite part of the book?

I am proudest of Chapter 4: Different Understandings of Owning the Waikato River.  I think the chapter makes a valuable contribution to anthropological literature and scholarship.

7. What have you learnt about yourself as a writer as a result of this?

That it is really important to keep reading other peoples’ work when you are writing and that good editors like Ginny Sullivan are a gift from the heavens.

8. Would you write another book?

Maybe.

9. What’s next?

Back to my Marsden Research Project which examines how contemporary privatisation processes redefine Māori relationships with their lands resources and ancestral territories. My study asks: how are Māori dealing with the partial sale of electricity companies that draw on resources understood as tūpuna (ancestors), taonga (treasures), atua (super-natural beings) and whānau (family); have Māori become shareholders in electricity assets; and how might that mediate their duties as kaitiaki (guardians)?

10. What are you reading at the moment?

Property in Question: appropriation, recognition and value transformation in the global economy. By Humphrey, C. & Verdery, K. Berghahn Books.

Te Puea: A Life. By Michael King. Penguin Books.

A Suitable Boy. By Vikram Seth. Harper Collins.