New Zealand is the youngest country on earth - the last major landmass to be discovered. It has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting both our Maori and European heritage. Amazing Maori historic sites and taonga (treasures), some dating back almost a thousand years, are a contrast to many beautiful colonial buildings. A walk around any New Zealand city today shows a culturally diverse and fascinating country.
The commonly accepted Maori name for the country is Aotearoa ('land of the long white cloud'). Some believe it was given by the early Polynesian navigator Kupe, but it came into widespread use only in the late 19th century. There are also Maori names for both the North Island and the South Island, most commonly Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui) and Te Wai Pounamu (greenstone waters). From New Zealand's sub-tropical far north - where visitors can stand on the tip of the North Island to witness the merging of two oceans, to the deep south of the South Island - the last landmass before the ice shelves of Antarctica, each region has individual character and stories to tell. Few countries in the world can boast New Zealand's range of natural features - from high peaks in vast mountain ranges to sub-tropical rainforests, lush rolling farmland to geothermal activity, white and black sand beaches to desert-like plains and unpopulated islands - all within one compact land.
New Zealanders colloquially refer to themselves as "Kiwis," after the country's native bird. New Zealand's first settlers, the Maori, named the kiwi bird for the sound of its chirp - kiwi, kiwi, kiwi! This flightless bird, about the size of a domestic hen, has an extremely long beak and plumage that is more like hair than feathers. New Zealanders have adopted this nocturnal, flightless and endearing creature as their national emblem. Referring to New Zealanders as Kiwis probably dates back to the First World War, when New Zealand soldiers first acquired this nickname. In the international financial markets, New Zealand's basic currency unit, the New Zealand dollar, is frequently called 'the kiwi' The dollar coin features a kiwi bird on one side. Perhaps the best-known kiwi is the delicious kiwifruit. Originating in China, kiwifruit were grown in New Zealand domestic gardens for decades as 'Chinese gooseberries'. However, when enterprising New Zealand farmers began propagating the fruit intensively for export, it was given the name kiwifruit and has since achieved worldwide fame.
National identity was one of the three themes identified by the Labour-led government as government priorities for the period 2006-2016 (alongside 'economic transformation' and 'families - young and old') (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2006). In relation to national identity, the goal for the government was for: "all New Zealanders to be able to take pride in who and what we are, through our arts, culture, film, sports and music, our appreciation of our natural environment, our understanding of our history and our stance on international issues."
New Zealanders share a strong national identity, have a sense of belonging, and value cultural diversity. Maori, European/Pakeha, Pacific people, and other groups and communities are able to pass different cultural traditions on to future generations. Maori culture is valued and protected. Two statutory holidays relate to national identity. Waitangi Day is on 6 February, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, and has been a holiday since 1974. Anzac Day, on 25 April, is commemorated as the anniversary of the 1915 landing of New Zealand troops during the First World War at Gallipoli, on the western coast of Turkey.
Formulations of national identity in New Zealand have often included reference to egalitarianism and classlessness, national values that attempt to distinguish between traditional British society and the 'Britain of the South Seas'. The articulation of collective identity among the settler population in New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th centuries drew on both old and new concepts, including the highlighting of ties with Britain as well as the notion of 'superior stock'.
Nationalism in New Zealand seems to have sprung into existence suddenly in the late 19th Century. The federation of the Australian provinces first raised the real issue. Should New Zealand become a State of the Commonwealth, thus merging her political existence in that of Australia, or should she continue to pursue an independent career? In this crisis New Zealand realised the value of the Empire. Considerations of defence, commerce, and fiscal advantage had been urged upon her as reasons for entering the Commonwealth. But, on reflection, it seemed to the people that the same, or compensating, advantages were already provided by the Empire, or might be expected in the future. So they felt that the question of federation need not be settled off-hand. Then came the Great War. New Zealand sent contingents and war correspondents. In a few months New Zealanders at home were telling each other that they were a people by themselves, with characteristics and virtues peculiarly their own, which distinguished them even from their distant neighbours, the Australians.
While New Zealand is still heavily influenced by its colonial heritage, the country now has its own strong sense of identity. While still a member of the British Commonwealth, and maintaining close, friendly relations with the USA, New Zealand now has a far more independent trading and foreign policy. Since the mid 1980s, New Zealand has been a nuclear free zone, with its armed forces primarily focused on peacekeeping in the Pacific region. Today, even conservative politicians talk openly about New Zealand eventually becoming a republic - something unheard of until quite recently.
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