"Oh my god, it's on fire!"
26.01.2011 - 31.01.2011
Kiwiburn. How does one describe an indescribable event? If it's indescribable does it make sense to try? The organizers simply call it "New Zealand's regional Burning Man event" and describe a "collective experience" in which there are two significant responsibilities we all hold: Do No Harm and Look After Each Other. Easy enough. Two responsibilities I think we can all get behind, with perhaps a few exceptions here and there among the more misanthropically-inclined. The, er, burning question in my mind was would we burn a man, a kiwibird, or a kiwifruit? Or would we burn something else entirely? There would be only one way to find out.
Ah, Kiwiburn. This story begins in Taupo with Jen and I drying out from our tramp around Lake Waikaremoana. After a bit of confusion and miscommunication we got a ride out with a few other couchsurfers to the festival on the Whakamaru Domain near Mangakino. We arrived well after dark, were greeted by the lovely welcoming committee, and I began wandering around near where I knew some friends from Auckland were camped. Never did find them that night but we ended up just a few tents away, and in the process I met another Jen, this one a fellow union organizer from Spokane, and then shortly after I met Patrick from Eugene who said he didn't know the people I was looking for but would I like a beer? I certainly would! And so it began.
Whakamaru Domain invaded by burners
Kiwiburn is based on a gift economy and the idea that if you gift things to other people it will all come back around. Reciprocation isn't expected, these aren't the Hare Krishnas you meet at the bus stop… Primarily, the gifts seemed to consist of alcohol but more generally they were anything a person had to share - a song, a snack, sunscreen, you name it. In line with the motto Participate Don't Spectate, there were a number of theme camps that held workshops on and off over the course of the week: Shambala for drumming; Balrog's Playpen for spinning fire; Wildeburn for relaxing on pillows and drinking chai; and a number of places blasting dance music and competing for you - yes, YOU - to take up space on their dance floor. The Headless Duck (dustep), the Green Fairy (free absinthe every Thursday, tell your friends), Illuminati (uh, maybe something to do with Dan Brown?), and so on.
Homemade absinthe with homegrown ingredients, complements the Green Fairy
Aside from workshops the days were generally spent in the shade avoiding the sun, in the sun avoiding the chilly wind, under shelter avoiding the rain, or in the lake avoiding being dry. There were also common activities like nursing a hangover (for the suckers), helping build things that would eventually burn, taking a spin in the pirate ship, meeting all sorts of amazing new people and talking to them for hours, or just waiting for the sun to finally dip below the horizon and the real festivities to begin.
The man, which isn't meant to symbolize anything, awaiting his eventual doom
Yes, this cow is indeed carrying an uzi. Dana Lyons, anyone?
The Temple, holding a similar fate as the man and the cow, but with actual symbolism
Who was the pirates' favorite late night talk show host? ARRRRsenio Hall!
Campmates Irish Owen, Canadian Jesse, Arizonan Jen, and Canadian Emma
After dark on the fourth night we burned the man. Drums and fire spinning and the poor guy goes up in flames. I think he saw it coming though, or at least he was resigned to his fate - he didn't put up a fight at all. We all gathered around the embers to warm up until, ironically, we were herded like cattle to watch the cow burn. Eventually it too was decimated, turned to smoke and ash to be carried to the rest of the cattle on the paddock, a reminder of what will surely happen if they, too, rise up in arms against their human captors. While the cow was burning, burning for maybe ten minutes at this point, somebody exclaimed, "Oh my god, it's on fire!" Amazing.
The man burns
The cow follows
The fifth and final night of Kiwiburn we were treated to a lovely sunset before the torching of the temple. Unlike the man and the cow, the temple means something. It has different significance to different people, as those of us who chose to do so wrote anything we wanted on the temple to disappear in the flames, to float away in the breeze with the smoke. Apologies, burdens, obsessions, and the like. Whereas the other burns were a big party, this was subdued, serious and contemplative.
The temple burns
So long, temple
Following Kiwiburn I finally parted ways with my travel partner for the past month, Jen from Flagstaff. Adventure Crew dissolved. Temporarily, I reckon. She went south with some friends to hike the Tongariro Crossing while I caught a ride east to find seasonal work in Hawkes Bay. Rumor has it she went a bit crazy and moved in with a flock of kiwis, but it's hard to say how much truth there is to the story. These things tend to get blown a bit out of proportion. In the end we may never know…