Geomentality: seeing the world in different ways


Recently I attended a hui to discuss landscape assessment in New Zealand. The discussion turned to the view of "landscape" from a te ao Maori perspective (Maori world view). I got the sense that from the Maori practitioners that they were accustomed to having to justify the idea that Maori have a different way of viewing the world, perhaps in the face of cynicism from other New Zealanders that other ways of viewing the world have any validity in the 'modern world'.

But for me, this is an absolute given - it is as self-evident as the fact that people speak different languages (and none is more "valid" than any other). In great part, this consciousness came from living in Japan for six years - a very different culture from the one I grew up in (entirely oblivious to the fact that I was being moulded by any "culture"). As a young adult, I was like a sponge, and soaked up all the "culture" I experienced in my life there - both in its tangible and intangible forms.

This understanding was further enriched by my academic studies. While doing my Masters research (on the Japanese attitude to nature), I encountered the concept of "geomentality" - defined as "an established and lasting frame (state) of mind regarding the environment". The concept has been explored in depth in the work and writings of New Zealand-based cultural geographer Professor Hong-Key Yoon.

It is a bit of a mystery to me why it has not become more widely known; it is nicely intuitive term, and strikes me as being very "real" and relevant - as evidenced by this recent hui.

I have explored the idea of geomentality in a lot of my work, but perhaps the article most relevant to the New Zealand context is one comparing the perception of mountains in Japanese and Maori culture (there are a surprising number of similarities, it turns out). Between the profane world and the spirit world and the spirit world: a comparison of the conceptualization of uplands and mountains in Maori and Japanese folklore. (New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 2 December 2009).

And I think it is going to have a strong profile in my future work too - so watch this space :-)

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