Monday 20 December 2010

High New Zealand Art and Culture

We're in Wellington Botanical Gardens on a beautiful hot summers afternoon. The bandstand's been taken over by a motley bunch who look like they've spent the night there.
On the stage is a big tattooed Maori bashing a cardboard box and a couple of plastic buckets. He stops. There's a polite pause, to be absolutely sure he's finished, and a warm cheer and clap from the audience. He's joined by a singer. After that there's an impromptu haka, then a couple of Japanese tourists step up and take a turn. I'd have stayed longer, only we've got a ferry to catch.

The night before we'd been on the front with a couple of thousand or so teenagers and their families watching Wellington xmas tree lights going on with a cover band blasting out Bon Jovi and other rock classics. School is out, but kids, and their parents, are a lot freer here and there's 'no worries' - maybe the mauritanga makes the difference.

Mauris were here only 600 years before the first European settlers. Some think they were too friendly, as their land was carved up and sold on. The Mauri culture is largely passed on through families by storytelling, song and dance. Although culture has changed and adapted through the centuries, Kiwi folk tradition doesn't appear to be sneered at in quite the same way folk is in the UK - can you imagine the English Rugby team donning bells for a quick Morris meet before a game?

Any folk tradition is by people for people, open to anyone, young or old, to bash out a tune, tell a story, carve some wood, whatever. I've heard people say, 'There's no culture in New Zealand'. As a foreigner coming in, it's true there's American, Asian, European, Polynesian, all sorts of foreign influences; But there is also something very Kiwi. Like the story of Kiwi flora and fauna, it's very inviting to new settlers, precious, unique and in need of some protection.

Us outside Puke Ariki

Arthur and Jag play Moo Poo
Palms in the library
Fortunately, heritage is something I think Kiwis do very well. Photo is us outside Puke Ariki in New Plymouth - a combined museum, library heritage tourist info centre. In the library part (see photos) to scale model palms, moo poo game, where oil comes from display, and a few books.
Then there's Te Taupo in Wellington - a massive living museum packed with artefacts, small buildings, musical instruments you can play with/in. Even the smaller places we've been - Waitomo Caves have a museum including a video of the lifecycle of a glow worm, some mockup caves to explore, feelie boxes, Victorian front room, and school class photos from 1920s with all names, showing long history of integration and tolerance in NZ.

There's Art and Culture (high Art, high Culture). It's professional and exquisite. Then there's other cultural stuff. It's amateur and anyone can do it. In New Zealand, is there more value attached to experimenting creatively and culturally than to experiencing Creativity and Culture (High Art/Culture)?

I don't know, but only in New Zealand will Bon Jovi, a Haka and 'O little Town of Bethlehem' naturally follow each other in a gig, and all go down well.

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