Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Aotearoa, A Cultural Heritage

One of the amazing things I am grateful for from my time in South Africa is the exposure to other cultures and ideas, different ways of celebrating facets of life. One amazing way I was able to see this was through the international rugby scene.

You see, the first time you watch rugby, it can be a little confusing, seeing all the scrums and lineouts that are called seemingly at random until some of the rules are learnt, but something that stands out for anyone, whether a tenderfoot or a veteran, is the All Blacks.

You see, New Zealand has this amazing national policy celebrating their Maori heritage, after all, they were there on Aotearoa before the very first Englishmen ever called it "New Zealand". The policy was made as part of an effort to help retain the Maori culture by making it a part of the national image.

Now, most people may look at the Haka as a war dance, or something done before sports games to intimidate opponents, but it has a far richer meaning that, as a foreigner, I do not even begin to have the right to express.

I remember a couple years ago, when the NZ national basketball team was playing in the US in the Spain Basketball World Cup, the majority of the US was dumbfounded, watching the New Zealanders shouting, stomping their feet, slapping their bodies, and making ferocious grimaces. I remember watching the replay, listening to the ESPN commentators, watching the confusion on the US teams' faces. To me, it was priceless.

Now, New Zealand's not the only nation to do some kind of war dance before sporting engagements. Samoa has the Siva Tau, Tonga has the Sipi Tau, and many other polynesian nations have a similar performance. Even the University of Hawai'i football team performs a haka before games, though the NCAA does not allow them to do it with the other team on the field as they are not allowed to "intimidate" the opponents.

But the Haka goes deeper. Like I said before, it's a celebration of a deeper heritage. Take, for example, Jonah Lomu's funeral. Arguably the greatest rugby player, he was a national icon for New Zealand.

Or take this haka performed by the family of the bride at her wedding.

What I enjoy seeing, though, is my American friends' interest and celebration of the Haka. That awareness of celebration of cultural diversity is an amazing catalyst to begin discussing the problems within our own country. America is supposedly the melting pot, but as I wrote a long time ago (albeit far more naively), we seem to be more like a really chunky stew, or, better yet, a potjie. We have a diversity of cultures here. we are not a homogeneity of whiteness. There is African-American culture, various Hispanic cultures, Asian cultures, African cultures, Native American cultures (unfortunately, many are mere remnants), even varying European cultures, and yet, the only ones we routinely celebrate and accept are the last.

Now, I'm not talking about heritage months, but I am talking about what heritage months are symptoms of. I'm sorry, but if we have to put in place heritage months for cultures to be celebrated and recognised, then we don't really celebrate and recognise them, do we?

So, to Aotearoa, New Zealand, I applaud you for recognising and seeking to celebrate your cultural heritage.

America, what would you look like were you to truly accept and celebrate the diverse members within yourself?