Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Life in the Land of the Long White
I've been asked a number of times why I called my blog "Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud."
My initial response was always that it was a translation of the Maori word for New Zealand: Aotearoa. But after reading a couple of histories about New Zealand, I've discovered that, as usual, it's not as easy as that.
The early Maori had no name for the country they inhabited, according to Michael King. "The North Island was known to them principally as Te Ika a Maui, the Fish of Maui, in recognition of the widely accepted belief that the land had been fished from the depths of the ocean by Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga," he writes in "The Penguin History of New Zealand" - which is not about Penguins or any other birdlife in New Zealnd.
(This also explains why the fish hook -hei matau - represent good luck and safe travel across water.)
Some of the other tribes - or iwi- knew the island as Aotearoa which, he rather unhelpfully adds, could also be translated as "The Land of the Long Clear Day," or "The Long White World."
In the meantime, there were lots of other names for lots of other parts of the country. After the wide circulation of an Englishman's (mythologized) version of the story of the Maori settling of New Zealand, more and more Maori began to use the name Aotearoa. And so it has stuck.
This is a widely accepted arrival point for the adoption of Aotearoa. Just where that term came from is another disputed legend. One commonly accepted version is that Aotearoa was the name of the canoe of the explorer Kupe, and he named the land after it. And, of course, there are many variations to this story of discovery.
So, when I'm asked the question now, I just say, "Because I think it is a very beautiful name that does justice to the poetry of the land," and hope that I'm not being disrespectful.