New Zealand – an awful name for God’s Own

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Seti Afoa

To’osavili John Key got it wrong. Had he campaigned to change the name of the country instead of the flag, he may have had a better Cause and chance at succeeding. After all, change the name of the country and a new flag is a certainty. 

New Zealand for a name of this beautiful land of ours is a crime on all kiwis. The name is meaningless. 

Given our rich past, the name has no connection at all with the land, the people and its long history. It is neither Maori nor British, the two peoples whose combined history has made this country what it is today. 

The name New Zealand sounds distinctly un-kiwi in its entirety. Say it out loud and hear it for the first time in the context of this discussion, and watch yourself cringe at the Zee sound. 

It is one of only two current words that I know of in the Kiwi vernacular with the letter “Z”. The other is buzzy-bee, a children’s toy. 

The folks who named our country did so from 16,000 miles away not having set foot on these shores or seen the makeup of the land. 

They were cartographers who took charge of maps and drawings supplied by Abel Tasman at the end of his journey of 1642. 

Then, Tasman was the first European to set foot on Kiwi soil; he named these isles Staten Landt on the premise that it was connected to the southern tip of South America. 

When Tasman returned to the Netherlands, mapmakers realised his error – Staten Landt was already taken and the new European discovery was a long way from Cape Horn. 

And thinking the two islands – north and south – looked like their own North Sea land, promptly renamed it Nova Zeelandia. 

Then well over one hundred years later when Dutch seafaring was on the wane and British exploration on the rise, James Cook arrived here in 1770 on the first of his three sailings. Cook Anglicised the name to New Zealand – but still a Dutch name. 

The Dutch, being first in these parts also named the east coast of what is now Australia, New Holland. 

At least the Aussies had the decency to change the name of that continent to Australia, meaning the great southern landmass it was. 

Of recent times there has been a shedding of colonial names in favour of connection of meaning. 

Other name changes from colonial days include Vanuatu for New Hebrides, Samoa for Western Samoa, Kiribati for Gilbert Islands and Hawaii for Sandwich Isles.  

All the while we continue to retain a foreign name that has no connection or relevance to the land and the people. 

If the Dutch had settled these isles themselves from the beginning, then maybe Nova Zeelandia might be appropriate for a name. 

But they did not, and so have no connection to the heatbeat of the place. 

The crime is, and it is a crime – there are very good and appropriate Kiwi names for the land, names that were born of time and by tilling the soil.  

Names that have a connection, a spiritual meaning and historical relevance to the events that took place here. 

Increasingly in protest, I refer to New Zealand as Kiwiland. It is Maori and British.

We seem to lack for originality when it comes to naming landmarks. We have North Island and South Island, the most significant landmarks that define us yet without world recognised names. 

Every other single island around the country has a name but the two obvious landmasses that define us - these places with deep historical connection to the people and the many events that took place since the first arrivals. 

There are other examples of meaningless names for significant kiwi landmarks – Auckland City for example was named after George Eden first Lord of Auckland who, as far as I know did not set foot anywhere near the Pacific let alone on these shores. 

Yet Eden gets a mountain named after him, a super Rugby Stadium and the city. 

We have of course a worthy name for the country – Aotearoa. It was borne of time and place by actual settlers of the land. The same can be said for the city that is Tamaki Makaurau (Tamaki of a thousand lovers referring to the many volcanic cones that define the city).  The shedding of colonial names by countries in the Pacific was in order to return identity of place to the people who actually live in those lands.  

Samoa, meaning Sacred (Sa) Centre (Moa) of the universe is simply Samoa. It is neither east nor west. Removing the colonial title of West returns Samoa to what it is – a country named by Samoans.  

Similarly Vanuatu - meaning a Land (vanua) of Truth (derives from Standing firm as in tu). The timeless home of the Vanuatu people is simply that, Land of firm belief and standing. 

Kiwis should do the same. Our culture is distinctly British-Maori, in this case Kiwi-Maori, we are far removed from colonial Britain and have forged our own version Kiwiness. 

Our celebrations are specifically our own, our languages are English and Te Reo – the latter being the first language of the land. 

Our spirituality are both, our prayers are in English and Maori. We are identified with the our Maori culture around the world with the haka. Our anthem is bi-lingual, again Te Reo and English. Our laws are British based and our spirituality a combination of both. 

All this, yet, the name of the country is of other origin, it is neither Maori or English. 

In an age where we are increasingly searching for authenticity going back to origins and meaning, we continue to ask, “Where did we come from and what is our identity?”

It is all the more reason to rename our place with an appropriate land-borne title. The name New Zealand has no connection to the spirit and soul of the people, place and time.


* Afoa spent much of his adult life in NZ where he lived for 35 years before returning to live and contribute to Samoa the land of his birth.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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