Monday, September 3, 2012

G'day from the Land of Kiwis

Land of the Kiwi?

Welcome to New Zealand, the land of Kiwis.  No, not the fruit, the people of New Zealand call themselves Kiwis.  Not totally sure why, but pretty sure it is after one of the native birds of New Zealand, the kiwi.  A cute little flightless bird that is found only on the islands of New Zealand.  A cute name for a bird so why not call themselves it too right? Sure.  Anyway, by now you know our next country, again picked by my daughter, again a pretty purple on the map - I'm noticing a trend. 
New Zealand is an island nation in the southwest Pacific Ocean.  For those playing along on the map, it's 41.2ºS/174.7ºE at the capital city of Wellington, which gives it the distinction of being the southernmost capital city in the world.  I hadn't realized Antartica had no cities.  Another fun thing about New Zealand is that it was the last land mass to be populated by humans (and most other mammals too) and because of that was able to develop some very unique bird, animal and plant species.  3 species of bats were the only native land mammals before human boats came with their rats and other assorted vermin.  However, the oceans and beaches that surround the country are full of marine mammals (whales, seals, dolphins, etc) and other marine creatures.  I never really associated New Zealand with penguins, but we learned that more penguin species live there than anywhere else (I see a penguin art project in the near future).

Not exactly "native" to New Zealand, but the first people to settle there, were the Maori people.  These Eastern Polynesian people are believed to have set out in huge canoes from the Cook Islands in search of new lands.  They seem to have gotten to New Zealand sometime between 800 to 1300 , although most sites said 1200-ish.  They are a very decorative people, with designs and symbols painted or carved into every aspect of their culture- including themselves!  Maori tattoos (moko) were given as a rite of passage into adulthood and a symbol of status and rank.  They were different from other tattoos in that they were chiseled into the skin, creating a ridge of scar tissue - OUCH!!! Men and women got the moko. although women generally only got them on the chin and lip area, while men got them on their faces, buttocks, thighs and backs.  Another reason I'm glad to be a woman :)  The custom started to fade out in the 1860's, as the Maori wanted to blend in with the white New Zealanders, but a resurgence in cultural identity in the 1990's has seen an increase again.  However cool they seem, if you are not a Maori it is a real insult to them if you copy their symbols.  The rite of "te moko" is a sacred one to the Maori people and it's usually not done after a wild night in Vegas (a la the Hangover ) or for a fun face painting project - darn!  So lets learn how to count to 10 in the Maori language instead.
 1 - tahi      2 - rua      3- toru     4- wha      5 - rima      6 - ono
 7 - whitu    8 - waru    9 - iwa     10- tekau

Now you can count in "te reo" or "the language" of the Maori.