Sunday, November 13, 2016

A personal look at New Zealand today

It’s easy to see why New Zealand would be regarded as the backpackers’ paradise. In one thin chapter of the Lonely Planet devoted to “Extreme New Zealand,” the description of activities include: bungy jumping, spelunking, hang gliding, mountain biking, rock climbing, skydiving, jet boating, parasailing, kiteboarding, scuba diving, sea kayaking and white water rafting—a partial list of activities designed for those seeking an adrenalin rush or two.       

My wife and I were part of a group of 12 that just toured New Zealand. Other than my youngest sister and her husband, the rest of us were family and friends well into their 70s. The one “youngster” that joined our group who we did not know beforehand was in her late ‘50s taking a break from work.

Although one out of three of this group did do the bungy jump, (while the rest of us enjoyed the spectacle) we didn’t do much that would qualify as “extreme” but found New Zealand enjoyable for a host of other reasons.       

We got around both North and South islands by flying on the regional jets of Air New Zealand. In exchange for missing some of the gorgeous scenery we would have seen along the highways, we covered more in the two weeks of New Zealand. 

Consisted of two main islands, North and South, the country is nearly 30% longer than California, but much skinnier in the east-west direction as California has nearly 60% more area than New Zealand—California also has 8 times more people.

The South Island broke away from Gondwanan, the ancient supercontinent, before the arrival of mammals and the gradual formation of the North Island through geological times was the result of deposits from volcanic eruption over the eons. Thus the flora and fauna were allowed to evolve into unique forms greatly different from the rest of the world.

Flightless birds, such as the moa and the kiwi were residents unique to New Zealand. Unfortunately with the arrival of man and their pets, the moa was soon driven to extinction. We had to settle for taking a photo of some of us standing next to the life-size statue by the harbor of Queenstown.

Kiwi birds, now a protected species, are nocturnal. To see them we paid to enter darkened aviary and squint at the brown round objects walking on the floor of a simulated forest. The bird is the national mascot and New Zealanders often refer themselves as Kiwi, the bird and not the fruit that originated from China.

For a tour guide, we got lucky. Overseas Adventure Travel, the tour operator, assigned Devlin Tikitiki to our group. Devlin was a Kiwi but also a Maori who studied and now taught Maori history, culture and language. Throughout the tour, Devlin would entertain us with Maori lore and legend and sang Maori songs and chants.

It also helped to begin our tour in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and a visit to Te Papa, the national museum where a trove of Maori artifacts were on display and Maori customs explained.

From Devlin we learned that the Polynesians were great navigators who sailed across the vast Pacific on their double-hulled seagoing canoes (wakas). The ancestors may have originated from the island of Taiwan and migrated eastward and reached as far north as Hawaii, as far east as the Easter Island and finally settled in New Zealand around 8-900 years ago. The Polynesians that settled on New Zealand became known as the Maoris.  There are now strong genetic and linguistic evidence to support this conclusion.

The Polynesians/Maoris followed the ocean currents and winds and observed the positions of the sun, moon and stars. They also watched for and followed the flights of sea birds. Since they did not have a written language, they passed on their knowledge by oral tradition from one generation to the next, a feat I found especially impressive. I wasn’t the only one. Generations in the West looked into alternative explanations and evidence before accepting the seafaring prowess of the Polynesians.

Legendary English explorer, Captain James Cook, was probably the first to observe the linguistic similarity of the Hawaiian and the Maori and come to appreciate the Polynesian knowledge of the Pacific Ocean. He invited one to sail with him as he explored and charted New Zealand and the many islands in the Pacific.

In the late 18th century, Cook reported to Great Britain and Europe of what he found in New Zealand. Thus the migration of Europeans began. By 1840 the British Crown entered the Treaty of Waitangi with as many of the many Maori tribes scattered throughout New Zealand as possible in order to “protect” the Maori under the wings of British imperialism and give encroachment of Maori lands by the new settlers some legal cover.

When Europeans first begin to arrive in New Zealand, there were around 100,000 Maoris already living there. There are now about 600,000 living in New Zealand that claims some sort of Maori lineage. My research did not tell me how many of the original numbers of Maoris survived from the disease and warfare, nor the numbers today that could be considered “pure” Maori, i.e., an ancestry free of mixed marriages.

We do know that the white New Zealanders were not as brutal as the North Americans that systematically wiped out the native Indian populations. There are a number of reasons for the difference in behavior. First, the Europeans that migrated from their original homeland wanted to get away from the culture of class distinction and oppression. They came to New Zealand with an egalitarian mindset. Second, there was plenty of land to go around and third, the Maori farmers provided important sources of food that would feed the new arrivals as well.

The decade beginning 1980 has been a transformative one for New Zealand as the country undertook social and economic reform. By vigorously declaring itself as an anti-nuclear state, the U.S. was forced to downgrade its relationship with the Kiwis from being an ally to being just friends. The New Zealanders also reviewed their relations with the Maori and came to recognize the Maori language and culture as something special and a worthy national treasure.

Renaissance of a culture that relies on oral tradition could be difficult after generations of rust and lack of practice. Fortunately, in the case of the Maoris, the missionaries that came at the turn of the 20th century invented a phonetic alphabet to replicate the Maori language in order to introduce the Bible to the Maori population. The Maori Bible provided the means to put all the oral traditions into a written form and thus facilitated the passing down of the Maori language and stories.

The revival of Maori customs and traditions comes in handy in today’s New Zealand. Tourists are invariably curious about the culture of the country they are visiting. In Kiwi land, without the Maori culture to talk about and the sacred marae meeting house to show, the tour guide would only have the sets of trolls and Golem in Wellington, created by moviemaker Sir Peter Jackson for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to show as local culture.

The All Black national rugby team has been dominating the international rugby world and is very much an integral part of the New Zealand culture. On days they play, just about every TV is tuned to the game. On the day we were leaving Auckland to return to the U.S., the national rugby team was playing and overwhelming the visiting Australian team to make history by winning 18 in a row.

The New Zealand team is known for the haka, a Maori war dance, which the team performs in front of their opponent before commencing the match. The dance consists of loud chants and shouts, vigorous body movements and stamping feet, and distorted face with bulging eyes and the tongue hanging out, all of which is designed to intimidate the other side before the first whistle. Even if you don’t understand rugby, seeing the haka by the burly rugby players would be worth the price of admission.

New Zealand also had a gold rush not long after the gold rush in California and Australia. The rush attracted Chinese gold miners and they encountered discrimination in ways similar to what they encountered in the U.S. One of the gold rush sites was Arrow River near Queenstown. As the exhibit by the river in today’s Arrowtown told the story, by 1865 the easy picking of alluvial gold were largely taken and the European miners began to move on to other places that promised easier picking.

The local authorities concerned that the settlement would become a ghost town invited the Chinese miners to come and rework the tailings.  They were surprised when the Chinese miners were able to extract more gold from the river where previous miners thought were exhausted.

Soon the Chinese presence aroused resentment and feelings of racial prejudice. To discourage further migration, in 1881 New Zealand imposed a poll tax on every entering Chinese, about the time the US imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1883.

The Chinese in New Zealand, according to the exhibit, felt the verbal sting of racial bias but never experienced physical violence and loss of lives, as was the case in the U.S. (There were 5000 Chinese and about 1% of the NZ population at the time.)

In 2002, the prime minister, Helen Clark, formally apologized to the Chinese community for past discriminatory practices against their forefathers. Two years later, the government in a gesture of reconciliation gave a lump sum of 5 million NZ dollars to the community, which the Chinese community put into “Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust.”

The trustees were all descendants of the early Chinese settlers. So far funds from the trust have gone to support projects that preserve the memory of the early Chinese immigrants and to preserve the history, language and culture associated with the early settlers.

Through a mutual friend living in San Francisco, I was introduced to Kai Luey and his wife, Rose, living in Auckland. Kai is a trustee of the poll tax heritage trust, an international business executive and a recognized civic leader of the Chinese community in Auckland.

According to the 2013 census, there are 171,411 Chinese living in New Zealand representing 4.3% of the total population. Only 30 some thousands of the census were descended from the early settlers. The rest immigrated to NZ after 1960. Kai told me that today Chinese in New Zealand enjoy a level playing field. He has been among the group of Chinese that made donations to city park of Auckland and to support the NZ Olympic team in Beijing 2008.

Energetic Kai has been the organizer of a series of annual “going bananas” conferences for the Chinese in New Zealand. In the U.S., banana is a derisive term used to accuse someone that looks like an Asian on the outside but is a westerner inside.

In New Zealand, banana celebrates the successful integration of the Chinese into the mainstream. This is reflective of a progressive country that welcomes diversity, consistent with a tradition that goes back to 1893 when women gained the right to vote, the first nation to do so anywhere in the world.


Droni said...

George, good article and easy reading. But 4 in the group did the bungy jump...Jim, Bob, Dick and Sandy.

destination you said...

You have written so well on your New Zealand trip, It is a beautiful place to visit once and there are many place to enjoy the life, It is good for my knowledge. Find the best Tour Guide New Zealand to know the best places of New Zealand to visit.