This month I got to learn more about New Zealand. This is the first country I’ve pulled for Locally Foreign that I’ve actually been to! Because of that, my dad’s connections to NZ, and me being from a closely-related country, I started with a fair amount of base knowledge. However, there was so much more that I got a chance to learn about.
I really gravitated to learning about Maori history, politics, and culture. That included the use of Aotearoa as the country’s name, the revitalization of te reo Maori, the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori law, ta moko tattoos, the haka, Maori heavy metal, and reading The Bone People. I also got to learn about the Moriori, as well as New Zealand’s own colonies: Niue, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, and previously, Samoa.
In Canada, we have an image of New Zealand as having much better relations between settlers and Indigenous people than we do. However, there is still plenty of racism against Maori (including formal complaints when te reo is used on TV) and it still doesn’t shake the reality of both Canada and New Zealand as settler colonies in the first place, with all the violence, displacement, and cultural damage that entails. But between the later arrival of Europeans, the power of the Maori during the New Zealand Wars (both weakened and honed from the previous Musket Wars), and the cultural and linguistic closeness of the iwis, it feels like Maori are in a position to advance self-determination in a way that is less readily available to other Indigenous peoples right now. The huge revival of Maori culture and language, especially in wider New Zealand society, and the Treaty of Waitangi as a living document in current law are powerful examples that the rest of the world can learn from.
I also got to learn about other bits of life in New Zealand – there’s more good podcasts than you can shake a stick at, including two great history ones, a look at New Zealand’s housing crisis, its relationship with China, or reflections on the tragedies of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings or the 2011 earthquake (and the slow work repairing its iconic ruined cathedral). I also got a chance to learn more about the unique wildlife of Aotearoa, see some of the sillier side of politics, and check out two blockbuster Kiwi films; The Piano and What We Do in the Shadows.
As for food, the biggest thing I noticed was how many dishes are contested between New Zealand and Australia. I didn’t get a chance to attempt pavlova, but alongside Anzac biscuits, Minties, and flat whites, there’s a lot of antipodean overlap and arguing over who invented what. I was shocked that “regular coffee” (aka drip coffee) is almost unheard of in NZ. I also got a giant box of snacks (1,2,3), took a crack at trying non-sauv blanc wines, warmed up to Marmite, and attempted to make Kiwi onion dip while missing an ingredient.
This month has really made me want to go back to New Zealand now as an adult – catch me on the hiking trails! Kia ora, Aotearoa!