"Relationships with Water" by Luci Attala
21 June 2022
Relationships with Water
by Luci Attala
You may imagine water is ordinary but paying attention to how water is understood by different indigenous groups has taught me some profound lessons about sharing, value and my connection to the landscape.
Many people take their water supply for granted; they open the tap and expect water to flow. A sense of entitlement regarding water is connected to the bills one pays. The commodification of water has helped generate the fantasy that water has monetary value – and that it is enough to pay cash to gain unlimited access to it.
For those individuals who must walk kilometres in intense heat every day to fill just one jerry can, water holds a different value. Every drop of water must be used and treated with the utmost care because water cannot be held in containers for too long. In the heat, stagnant water transforms and becomes dangerous - so excess must be shared - freed from confinement to ensure safety.
Watching water shows that it refuses to stay still for long; it bashes on container walls and urges onwards. It not only flows it also shapeshifts and transforms. As a liquid it pours, flows and soaks; as a gas it evaporates. It even, remarkably, floats in itself as ice. Water’s incessant fluctuations and relaxed molecular bonds means its work of connecting continents and transporting substances across geographies is never finished. Water pushes and smooths. Its power cracks open rocks; it shuffles, rearranges and deposits; its silvery mercurial influence dances the desiccated into life, and animates the barren. Consequently, the human urge to corral, channel and contain water indefinitely is resisted by the liquid. It finds ways to keep moving. It seeps, splashes, disperses or vaporises. Because to hold on to it risks the hazards of stagnation – where water can turn on you, inspirited with disease it will violently strip the water out of your body until you realise you must treat it with respect.
Water’s materiality teaches us about economics; it demonstrates the importance of sharing and the dangers of hoarding. The significance of water cannot be overstated, but how do you value it?
This is the English version of the text that has been published in Tchendukua's newsletter.