New Zealand Attorney-General Chris Finlayson joked last week about a peculiar conspiracy theory that is percolating through facebook, twitter, and the comments threads of left-leaning blogs. The theory's proponents insist that John Key will gain 'unparalleled power' if Kiwis decide to remove the Union Jack from their flag in the upcoming referendum. The Union Jack apparently represents something called 'due authority', and without the protection of its ancient symmetries New Zealanders will lose their democratic as well as legal rights.
But it is not only the left that has been busy making conspiracy theories out of changes to national symbols. Recently I whiled away an hour or so talking with a group of commenters at the right-wing Kiwiblog who believe that evidence for a sinister and secret campaign to 'Maorify' New Zealand can be found on the set of revised banknotes recently released by the government. They have noticed that, on the back of these notes, this country's name is given as 'Aotearoa New Zealand', rather than simply 'New Zealand'.
Here's the exchange I had at Kiwiblog:
‘Aotearoa’?? Did I miss the Referendum where we voted to change the name of our Country?
I didn’t know that Maori had a reserve bank. I guess Aotearoa's a synthetic term created by a language committee years ago. If so, then Maori as a language is doomed. Once a language withers away to the point where academic committees (and not native speakers of it) formulate new vocabulary for it, i.e., the language itself has too weak a gravitational pull to draw in words from other languages into its orbit, then it’s pretty much beyond the point of no return.
Aotearoa was created by a 'committee' hundreds of years ago. King Tawhiao, who was featured on the original NZ banknote series of 1934, was running a bank in the 1880s. It looks like some people still haven’t reconciled themselves to the Maori Language Act. Once the Act made Maori an official language more of the Maori language began appearing in official documents and on state symbols.
“Aotearoa” now shares the billing with “New Zealand” on the notes. First, the flag, then the Republic of Aotearoa.
If you look at the original New Zealand banknotes, which were issued in 1934, you can find the visage of King Tawhiao, leader of the war against the British Empire and printer of his own currency!
I think that those who claim that the new notes are evidence of some sort of ‘Maorification’ of the New Zealand state are unaware that, historically, the state has tended to appropriate and reuse images associated with Maori sovereignty and separatism. The very name New Zealand is a case in point. It was of course coined by a European, but for many decades it was almost always used to refer to Maori and Maori society. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century did it begin to have a wider usage. I suspect that the meaning of Aotearoa is now broadening, in much the same way.
Jack 5 wrote:
This time, Scott, it’s part of a political agenda. There are moves, backed by many in the MSM, to change the official name from “New Zealand”. No doubt, the idea is to retain “New Zealand” for trade purposes. The fact that National is starting to be blamed for it, or at least going along with it, should cause some reflection. How long can the country count on Winston Peters providing a safe diversion for those unhappy with the trend?
Surely there were also political considerations involved in earlier revisions of the name for these islands, and in earlier decisions to use Maori symbols and names for official purposes? The name of these islands and the symbols used to represent them have historically been subject to change, and I suspect they’ll continue to change. I think it would be a mistake to equate the use of Maori words or imagery with some sort of change in power relations. A century ago most Pakeha referred to this country as Maoriland. I doubt whether that reflected Maori hegemony.
However, to me it seems the Left and liberals (in the American sense) are pushing towards renaming the country from “New Zealand” to “Aotearoa”.
It’s interesting that the Reserve Bank, one of the most powerful State institutions, should of its own volition move to give “Aotearoa” billing with “New Zealand” on a new series of banknotes.
Unlike the Federal Reserve System with its governors, committees and 12 banks, there is little counterbalance to the power of the RBNZ governor (at present, Graeme Wheeler). The Reserve Bank board doesn’t seem to vote on the OCR level for example. Perhaps the “Aotearoa” move isn’t Wheeler’s but the board trying to show it has some useful role (it’s sometimes justified as providing reassurance and general moral backing to the governor).
Have these islands ever had an official name, in the sense that you imply? The Geographical Board was set up to settle the official names of places within New Zealand, but it hasn’t given official names to a huge number of places, including some of our largest cities and islands. I notice that the Geographical Board uses the name Aotearoa as well as New Zealand in its self-description. I suspect that, once Maori became an official language in 1986, the name New Zealand came increasingly to be given alongside Aotearoa, which was treated as its Maori translation.
But the point I’d make is that it’s rather ironic for Pakeha to treat New Zealand as some sort of besieged symbol of the European parts of the country’s past, when the name New Zealand, or Niu Tereni, was for so long associated with and used by Maori. It’s like the Aussies claiming pavlova.
The lack of understanding of the history of the name 'New Zealand' leads many Pakeha to misinterpret the Treaty of Waitangi. The English version of the Treaty refers to 'natives of New Zealand', a term which today might be used to refer to anybody, Maori or Pakeha, who was born in these islands. In 1840, though, 'New Zealand' and 'New Zealanders' always referred to Maori people and their society. It is a mistake, then, to read back into the Treaty a reference to the multi-ethnic society that has developed in these islands over the last one hundred and seventy or so years.
I like the name Pig Island, which was used by whalers and sealers in the nineteenth century and then revived by James K Baxter.
You’re not impressed by “New Zealand” as the name of the archipelago. Well the second word is the Danish spelling of a Netherlands province, and the first is English. Would you be happy with New Sealand, or just Sealand?
I prefer to keep “New Zealand”. It’s sort of grown on the place, I feel. It’s certainly our export trade mark, and gives a fairly distinctive abbreviation – NZ. How would you abbreviate Aotearoa? Ao? Aa? At? And Aotearoan would be a mouthful when someone asks where you come from.
With English the current dominant international language, “New Zealand” fits into it more easily than “Aotearoa.”
I don’t mind 'New Zealand' at all, specially if those who use it are aware of its history as an effectively Maori name, but I don’t mind Aotearoa or Maoriland or Pig Island either. I like the idea of keeping multiple names alive, because these names remind us of the complexity and contingency of our history.
I’ve been reading Tony Ballantyne’s book Webs of Empire, which makes the point that New Zealand isn’t something that stepped complete onto the stage of history, but rather the product of a whole series of accidents and improvisations and compromises. I was recently trying to find out something of the history of Stewart Island/Rakiura in the early 1860s, and was amazed to learn that the island was not even a part of New Zealand until the middle of that decade. Parliament had to pass a deed of annexation to get the place.
The Kermadecs came decades later, in an annexation that set the stage for the expansion of New Zealand into the tropical Pacific. To all intents and purposes, Rarotonga was a more integral part of New Zealand than the Ureweras in 1900.
Here’s a paper given in 1885 by WH Blyth to the Auckland Institute on the subject of the name New Zealand. The author notes the very close connection that the name has to Maori when he says that:
‘The Maori, by his native worth, has made the name so conspicuous in the past that its expungement would almost seem the symbol of the effacement of this most interesting of the native races’.
Blyth examines Zealandia, South Britain, and Britain of the South, which were popular names for these islands in the 19th century; Australbion, which was apparently advocated by the Rev Richard Taylor; and Cooksland, which was put forward by Haast. He finishes, though, by polemicising in favour of yet another name: Hesperia!
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]