Tuesday, February 15, 2011

English or Pacific?

After the amazing trip to the Maori Marae, Fulbright orientation continued to amaze. We had a wonderful introduction to the flora and fauna of New Zealand, during which we learned why NZ is full of such huge, and many flightless, birds – there were no land predators. The big debate is whether there are one or two native mammals in NZ. Yes, one or two. They know of a very small bat that does not act like other bats, and they just recently found the remains of what might have been another mammal, but no one is sure.

Sadly, the Maori and then the Europeans brought rats, pigs, dogs, etc. to the country and almost overnight wiped out the vast majority of the huge, flightless birds. Today, the kiwi bird is the most well-known flightless bird that remains in the country, and it has iconic status here, especially in that New Zealanders often refer to themselves as kiwis, though not as often as I had expected. ;)

Then, after this amazing introduction, we took a guided tour through the Otari Bush right within the city limits of Wellington. You would have no idea, however, that you were in a city. We saw an 800-year-old Rimu, which is one of the native trees in New Zealand, few of which remain that old because of all the logging and fires by people.

 Yes, this is a group of Fulbright Fellows and Scholars hugging the 800-year-old tree. :)

Yes, that is actually sun and blue sky in Wellington. We were so lucky!

The next day, we learned all about the peopling of the Pacific, the migration from Taiwan through the islands, all the way to Hawaii. Not much is known for sure, but my big question throughout the presentation, and one that I asked, was, “how did they miss Australia?” When people talk about the Pacific Islands, they include New Zealand, but not Australia because the migration never went there. It is the largest landmass, by far, in the region, and people made it through vast ocean space to end up in Hawaii, but they never went to Australia. This is a question I will continue to ponder.

It leads to another interesting issue, and one brought up by our flora and fauna speaker. Is New Zealand an English nation or a Pacific Island? He told us that when he was growing up, prior to the 1980s, really, New Zealand was British through and through. New Zealanders were proud to send their men to fight in England’s wars, proud of their English status, and certainly fish and chips are available everywhere. But then something started to change. The Maori population got louder, began to question the role and implementation of the Treaty of Waitangi – the document that “created” European New Zealand, New Zealand began to have its own trade with nearby nations, as opposed to sending all its goods to England, and they realized that they are a small, isolated land mass, but surrounded by Pacific Islands, all of which have their own cultures and customs, many of which are anciently shared with the Maori.

Overtime New Zealand has started to see itself as a Pacific Island instead of as a British country. New Zealand is, however, still a part of the British commonwealth, but more than half of our speakers, including the ones talking specifically about the political climate, discussed the growing belief that New Zealand will form a Republic soon. There has even been talk of changing the flag from the Union Jack / Southern Cross to a picture of the Silver Leaf – the national plant (and absolutely beautiful) of New Zealand, and I even heard someone mention the idea of renaming the country to Aotearoa, the Maori name for the country, meaning Land of the Long White Cloud. In other words, though they take tea at 10 and 4, New Zealand is finding its roots as a Pacific Nation more appealing.

All of this was great as we ended orientation with a discussion with a Member of Parliament and a tour of the Parliament building. It was loads of interesting and useful information, and after being oriented, I feel so much more prepared to engage with the community here, and so excited and honored to be part of a culture coming to grips with its place in the world. I certainly did not give this topic enough justice here, and I am sure I will add more in the future, but this post is long enough.

Namaste and Blessings!

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

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