On February 6th New Zealanders celebrate a national holiday. On and off during the 20th century it was called both Waitangi Day and New Zealand Day in commemoration of the signing of the Waitangi Treaty in 1840. This treaty, agreed to by most of the native Maori chiefs, gave Queen Victoria and the British Government the right to buy land and granted the Maoris the rights and privileges of British subjects. Over the years, because two different versions of this treaty have existed there have been social and legal protests with numerous land claims and disputes. A fund now exists to plan events around New Zealand to celebrate this holiday, promoting the coming together of the two cultures, the Maoris who settled in New Zealand over 1,000 years ago from Polynesia and the more recent Europeans’ arrival 350 years ago.
Maori art and culture are a major part of the everyday life of New Zealand, particularly the appropriation of graphic designs used in Maori wood and bone carvings which can be found in the modern painting, sculpture and architecture of native and non-native artists alike. Another important contribution from the Maori culture lies in their rich oral tradition that has provided legends and stories for all the children of New Zealand.
One such legend sheds light on the icon of New Zealand, the kiwi. Even today scientists have difficulty in classifying this small, brown and gray, flightless, nocturnal creature, often called both a bird and an “honorary mammal.” The kiwi is unusual in two major ways, it is the only bird to have nostrils at the end of its beak and it produces the largest egg, in proportion to its body size of any bird in the world. One Maori legend sheds some light on the kiwi’s peculiarities. The legend contends that at one time the kiwi was a beautiful, colorful bird that could fly, but it sacrificed its beauty and wings to save the forest for all. Tane, the father of the forest, called on all the birds to save the forest from a plague of insects that attacked the bark, roots and leaves of the trees. He asked the birds to leave their treetops and the company of other birds and live in the darkness of the forest floor, foraging not for fruits and berries, but for insects for their daily meals. Only the kiwi agreed to this sacrifice. Tane punished the other birds, but proclaimed that the kiwi’s sacrifice would be rewarded, that he would be a symbol of the country and all the people would be proud to take his name. And indeed, today all New Zealanders are proud to call themselves, kiwis.
Owen, Alwyn. How the Kiwi Lost its Wings. Auckland: Reed Pub.,
Copyright 2005© Lauren Brosnihan
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Monday, 31-Jan-2005 12:05:52 EST