Sienna Craig's Words of Wisdom

Shared in the April 20, 2020 NAP Weekly Newsletter

Contributed by Professor Sienna Craig, Anthropology Department

Dear NAP/NAH/NAD Students,

I hope this note finds you and your family doing well, wherever you are. Thank you for inviting me into this virtual space. I don't take the invitation for granted, and I appreciate it. 

This week, I have been reflecting a lot on the meaning of touch. It occurred to me sometime this past week that the last people I hugged – besides my husband, daughter, and cat – were the students on the FSP that I lead in Aotearoa New Zealand last term, when I said goodbye to them on a warm and rainy summer evening in Auckland, on March 9.  This was a strange and somewhat uncanny thought. This memory also brought back many other recollections of our time together, learning from Māori scholars, activists, artists, educators, and getting to know ourselves, each other, and parts of this beautiful and troubled world through engagement with and through Māori ways of knowing, seeing, and being, as well as critical reflections on settler colonialism and its legacies – the focus of this FSP. 

On the last days of the program, we were welcomed onto Waimako Marae, in the Waikaremoana region, on Te Ika A Māui, also known as the North Island. We spent four intensive days together learnign kapa haka (Māori movement and martial arts) and waiata, song of all sorts, and also laughing, cooking, cleaning, hiking, sharing together. We were guided through this experience  by three generations of Māori women – people who radiated strength and compassion, pride and warmth. During these four days, we hugged each other a lot. We sang and danced close to each other, held in the belly of the wharenui, the carved ancestral house. We were told about how this building is itself – in the stories it holds, in its architecture, weavings, and carvings, is at once the body of an ancestor and "like an encyclopedia and a university." We were also told that to be inside the marae is to dwell in the past, in a realm of ancient knowing. The women of Waimako encouraged us to look out across the open space that marks the entrance to the marae and to consider our futures – individual and collective – from this place of reflection and learning. Being there, with Dartmouth students and my LING colleague Prof. Laura McPherson, was, as always, a gift and a blessing. 

Thinking back to Aotearoa, and to my students, has left me with a sense of gratitude and longing, by turns, here in this pandemic moment. I have enjoyed the forms of virtual connection that have opened up in this strange space-time of lockdown – like having FaceTime Fridays with my college roommates – but we human beings need and want all five senses. I have been left thinking about what happens to us, over time, with touch stripped away?  How will we find our ways back to different forms of physical closeness when we emerge from this moment? What might we learn to value differently as we reconnect? 

I love poetry. During these hard times, it has kept me going. Today, I read and marveled at the amazing Indigenous woman, writer, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo's poem, "Perhaps the World Ends Here." Despite the somewhat morbid title, this poem is about joy, family, kitchen tables. Small things that hold big wisdom. I hope you enjoy it. 

Be well,