I remember a few years ago being at a huge Swiss Convention, there was speeches, a meal, and lots of folk dancing, put on by many people of different cultures. It was a spectacular, colourful evening. One Swiss guy who had come to New Zealand back in the 1940’s, by boat, with his wife and small baby girl. Neither of them spoke English or knew anyone, made the comment “the kiwis do not make you feel like a visitor, even today one is never felt like a visitor when they come to New Zealand.” He was referring to the fact that since the first day he arrived he decided to make New Zealand his home because of the warmth of the welcome he and his family received, the feeling of being in a family.
Whanau pronounced Far – now. Meaning extended family.
The word “whanau” is becoming a popular Maori word in New Zealand language today. Families not only consist of blood relatives, but also Elders (senior adults, men or women of wisdom) and friends. It is not uncommon to be invited to a home for dinner or an event and on hearing that the “whanau” will be there, finding between 5 – 20 people to one sitting. Half of them may not be blood related but are regarded as family anyway, “whanau”.
This family unity and feeling is what makes New Zealand very unique, we love to please and entertain, share looking after the children and the elderly, and regard each others homes as our own. The Maori people especially are big on sharing and often there are large gatherings for any occasion big or small. Sleep-overs are common.
I had the joy of sharing such true kiwi hospitality with some English friends my husband and I met very briefly while touring through Norway many years ago. We had stayed in contact and a few years later they visited our shores and we accompanied them around the South Island before they spent Christmas with us at our home. On Christmas morning the phone went and a friend from work (a Maori woman) invited us for dinner at their place suggesting they would cook for us a hangi (traditional Maori way of cooking food in the ground) as I had mentioned of our friends first intended visit to New Zealand. Her comment “come join the “whanau” for dinner”. I smiled to myself knowing this would be an interesting evening for my overseas friends.
Scroll half way down this link to read about hangi ovens…http://www.newzealandexposed.com/maori-food.html
When we first arrived in the late afternoon there were about 10 people there already and by early evening 60 people had arrived. But what struck my friends was the gentle, warm hospitality, the respect that each person paid them as they arrived. From the smallest child to the eldest adult they single filed past my bewildered friends each giving them a “hongi” a pressing of noses (traditional Maori welcome) with them, beaming with smiles of welcome. The night rolled on with a feast of pork, lamb, chicken, kumara (sweet Maori potato), potatoes, pumpkin, taro, and vegetables. A feast for an army. Many had helped earlier in the day preparing the kai (meal) and bring plates of food when they returned in the early evening. It is normal to just pitch in and help with any event no matter how big or small.
My workmate and her “whanau” provided a night of shear entertainment with guitars playing, singing and dancing, when I next glanced at my watch it was already 3am, we could not believe the time had gone so fast and were offered bedrooms to stay the night, (another common practice), but declined graciously. I believe many did stay and were treated to a feed of leftovers the next day, as they continued to play and sing. To this day my English friends regard that day as one of the best Christmas’s ever, in fact it was the highlight of their New Zealand visit.
In New Zealand demonstration of affection is normal in public unlike some countries that we have visited in our visits overseas. Here we may kiss and hug each other on greeting or partners holding hands in the street. There is no law against showing affection here. After the last huge earthquake in Christchurch earlier this year, I witnessed traffic at an intersection stopped while people hugged each other, obviously grateful for being alive, but mainly to feel the love and friendship of fellow kiwis. It was very humbling to see.
It is believed that should you befriend a kiwi for any length of time regardless if they are pakeha (of non Maori blood) or Maori you automatically become part of their “whanau.” It is the New Zealand way, it is the kiwi way.
After writing this up and before posting I discovered the following “saying” on a fellow writer’s face book post later in the day it was serendipity……
Family isn’t always blood.
It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs.
The ones who accept you for who you are.
The ones who would do anything to see you smile,
and who love you no matter what.