Wednesday, June 6, 2018

When a volcano becomes a person

A novel legal measure acknowledges a traditional view of nature

Could it be the kiwis who are pushing out the frontiers of applied meizanology? Yesterday's Guardian reports that Mount Taranaki (2,518m) has been granted the same legal rights as a person.

Mt Taranaki: this time it's personal (photo: Wikipedia)

What this means is that, if someone abuses or harms the volcano, it is legally equivalent to harming the Māori people who live around its foot. In practice, eight local Māori tribes and the government will share guardianship of the sacred mountain.

Located on the west coast of North Island, Mount Taranaki is the country’s third geographical feature to be granted a legal personality, after Te Urewera, a former national park, and the Whanganui River.

In the river’s case, Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the local tribes, explained that “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have.”

As quoted in the Guardian, Albert describes the new arrangements as a “legal approximation” that acknowledges the traditional Māori worldview – that people are part of the natural world, and not masters of it.

So the legal innovations in New Zealand acknowledge an old-established view of nature. When you come to think about it, giving a volcano its own legal rights is not so far removed from Hawaii’s upsurge in reverence for Madame Pele, a volcanic personality in her own right.

Both developments speak to a rediscovered respect for nature. Where will this applied meizanological thinking lead us next, one might ask...

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