New Zealand is a great big little country.
I am too young to really feel like I was ever a part of a cultural identity.
The imagery was still there, when I was a young lad. Black singlets and stubby shorts and floppy hats and keys left in the ignition and long hot summers and obedient border collies rounding up fluffy white sheep.
Iconic characters like Fred Dagg played up to the image New Zealanders had of by-gone days, people like Colin Meads were the real deal. A time when life was apparently better, easier, more wholesome and safer, less complicated. Probably, maybe, life really was all of those things. Certainly sounds like it, when you talk to the oldies who grew up in prior generations.
Even in my time, memory banks are full of long sandy beaches, tall grasses browned off, home to the chirp of crickets and grasshoppers. Rose tinted glasses or not, I don’t recall there being any real drama or concern, certainly not on a global scale and not really at a national level.
Of course, I was young, so I wasn’t aware of the ‘big’ issues. By the time walls were being demolished in Germany, I was becoming old enough to appreciate and understand what was going on a bit more and that, coupled with the advent of the internet and truly international media awareness, gave not just me, but every Kiwi who cared to, a greater global awareness.
For good and bad, Kiwis were suddenly aware of the world around us and, with just as many pro’s and con’s, the world knew we were here too. If anyone bothered to look.
Tourism was not something I was aware of years ago, despite being raised on the fringes of one of New Zealand’s tourist hot-spots. As a teen, the Southern Lakes District, namely Queenstown and Wanaka, were the party capitals for us Dunedinites, when it came to New Years celebrations and summer fun. A few hours drive and you were into it.
At the time I never looked up and took too much note of the diverse groups and couples and loners moving through that part of the world. I wasn’t blind to it, but the relevance of it meant little. I drank in the sun with my mates, cooled off in the alpine fed lakes and when we had sobered up and as the sunburn settled, we drove back to our lives in Dunedin.
Look up now and it is easy to see things have moved on, beyond backpacking Europeans and bus loads of Far East Asians. Our towns and cities are full of the sounds, sights and aromas of people and their cultures, from all over the globe. No complaints from this guy, no fear that a potential job has been taken away from me, that the price I have to pay for a house has been adversely affected. I like a bit of spice, colour and variety in my diet, so bring it on I say.
I like some cultural variety too. I like the thought my kids can go to school and share the classroom and playground with a genuine mix of all the ethnicities the world has to offer. The food and the music and the fables and legends and traits and habits and all the rest, from foreign lands, virtually all of which have far longer and deeper histories than ours.
But, when does cultural appreciation reach saturation?
You gotta have it. Awareness of the differences of folk and the things which motivate those differences, is a good thing and cool, especially for our kids to be getting at school and not just from their peers. Cultural activity and participation and awareness is an important part of any curriculum.
The same has to be said of New Zealand’s unique cultural position. Our geographical position on the globe gives us a Pacific identity, encompassing much of Island culture. Not to mention, though obviously I am now making special mention, of our Maori culture.
I say ‘our’ because Maori culture is specific and unique to New Zealand. More or less. Therefore, even for no other reason, we should be celebrating that, nurturing and enhancing and supporting and doing all things necessary to keep Maori culture alive and well and right at the forefront of our lives.
It is good to see local schools here getting heavily involved in Kapa Haka. So involved in fact, my kids are sick of it.
They now dread going to school and I can’t actually recall a time they came home and told me about the academic work they had been involved in for the day. I get that, with a festival coming up, things can get a little competitive and of course each school, their pupils and staff, want to put their best foot forward.
Shouldn’t something like Kapa Haka be fun? A celebration? My older girls loved it at first, have always been into it no matter what school they have attended. But now, the fun has been burned out of them. That’s right, they have reached Kapa Haka burnout.
Such is the ill feeling towards the song and dance routines, I feel there is a greater chance the performance, come festival day, is going to be flat and uninspired. Three full days a week have been committed to the learning of combined lyrics and actions, over the curse of a number of weeks. Now there is talk of attending the regional’s as well, meaning there is little end in sight.
Meaning too, there is little academic learning taking place.
Sure, this is the final term of the year. The better part of a child’s lessons should well and truly have taken place. Now is the time for polishing and refining, maybe revisiting some areas and tackling the weak points. For a pupil like Number One, this is her final year before going on to high school, surely a time to be looking to take that next step, researching how to go about doing so, in order for the transition to be as smooth and complete and uncomplicated as possible.
I’m from down south. Even between islands there can be quite the cultural divide, but not a division so strong I can’t embrace the beauty and joy of a skilled, practiced and well honed Kapa Haka. But, I want to see that joy expressed on the kids faces, not a pained, tortured tiredness. I can’t help feeling it might be worth sacrificing a bit of sloppiness, a missed poi twirl here, a fudged line there, for the sake of enjoyment.
Embracing cultural awareness, participating in it, should be about joy and fun and laughter and a celebration of new and old, a coming together in mutual appreciation.
Something our kids should revel in, should enjoy.