Archive for the 'Kerryn Pollock' Category

To wear or not to wear


Clothes have practical, cultural and symbolic purposes. They keep us warm and shield us from the hot sun. They may demonstrate the wearer’s social status, class and gender. They can function like birds’ plumage, helping the wearer to attract a mate by looking smart or glamorous. Going without clothes indicates a desire to throw aside the cultural baggage that comes with clothing, or to simply enjoy the feeling of sun and fresh air on bare skin. We explore this topic in four new stories, which we highlight today: Māori clothing and adornment – kākahu Māori, Clothes, Naturism and Beauty contests.

Te Mutu and his sons wearing cloaks (click for image credit)

Te Mutu and his sons wearing different kinds of cloaks (click for image credit)

In traditional Māori communities, Men’s and women’s clothes were pretty similar, but certain items were restricted to people of high status, as this whakataukī (saying) illustrates:

He māhiti ki runga, he paepaeroa ki raro
Koia nei te kākahu o te rangatira!

A dog hair cloak on top, a fine cloak underneath
These are the garments of a chief!

Clothes were an extension of personal mana, which is why few early chiefly garments have survived – they were often buried with their owner or hidden after death. Some garments were simply practical and worn by all. The rain cloak was woven in such a way that the rain ran down the fibre and onto the ground, keeping the wearer dry.

Māori began wearing European clothes very soon after European settlement, and often combined them with traditional garments. Our story on clothes provides a great overview of changing fashions since the 19th century. Women have gone from long skirts and dresses, corsets, crinolines and bustles to loose waists, short hems and trousers. Men’s clothes haven’t changed nearly as much, but a man in a three-piece suit on an ordinary day is conspicuous rather than commonplace these days.

Infant fashion, 1900 (click for image credit)

Infant fashion, 1900 (click for image credit)

In the 19th and early 20th centuries boy babies and toddlers routinely wore dresses – clothing became more gendered as children aged. In the 21st century gendered clothing is pervasive but not always consistently – some girls are seen swathed in pink while others wear clothes a typical boy would be equally at home in.

In New Zealand nudists, or naturists as they were called from the 1950s, first threw off their sartorial shackles in the 1930s. The naturism story charts their often difficult road to social acceptance in the country that associated nudity with sex and loose morals. Naturists believed that nakedness had nothing to do with sex and was instead a healthy, natural family activity.

New Zealand seemed a nation of prudes to European immigrants, who were used to public nakedness. When bikini-wearing Dutch woman Reet Zwetsloot was told she had to wear a one-piece suit by an attendant at the Upper Hutt swimming pool in 1950, she amused herself and embarrassed him by asking which piece she should remove. Public nakedness is less shocking in the 2000s, though encountering a naked person in an unexpected place can still result in complaints.

Mary Woodward, Miss New Zealand 1949 (click for image credit)

Mary Woodward, Miss New Zealand 1949 (click for image credit)

Beauty contests hinge on looks and personality, but the right set of clothes can boost a contestant’s chances of winning the coveted crown. We have a short and sweet story on beauty contests. Soon after it was published the winner of Miss New Zealand of 1949, Mary Woodward, contacted us, and subsequently provided us with a wonderful story about the contest, which was a fundraiser for members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Read it and transport yourself with Mary back to the glory days of 1949.

In celebration of daily life

An art deco living room, recreated in the 2000s (click for image credit)

An art deco living room, recreated in the 2000s (click for image credit)

Today we mark the launch of three stories about domestic life in New Zealand: Home décor and furnishings, Card and board games and puzzles, and Sewing, knitting and other textile crafts.

Over the past year or so, we at Te Ara have been enjoyably preoccupied with the minutiae of daily life in New Zealand, from the time Māori first settled here to the present day. Perhaps more than any other theme we’ve covered, there is something for everyone here – after all, daily life is something we all experience by virtue of being alive.

For many people their home is the centre of their universe. The way an interior is decorated speaks of design trends and social patterns, but also tells us a lot about the personality of the people who live in it. Nancy Swarbrick explores this in the Home décor and furnishings story and, as you might expect, it is pleasingly decorated with a variety of images that illuminate the story and help readers to visualise the home interiors prevalent in previous generations.

They move from the humble, practical interiors of early Pākehā settlers, to the amazingly full rooms favoured by Victorians (it’s hard to resist the word clutter), to the sparseness evident in the bungalows of the early 20th century and fully realised by the modernists of the 1940s. We see a return to colonial styles in the 1970s and the influence of New Zealand’s Pacific locale later in the century. One of my favourite of the images and media is a slide-through of different wallpapers from the 1890s to the 1920s.

Māori playing cards, 1840s (click for image credit)

Māori playing cards, 1840s (click for image credit)

Playing board games and cards is a popular recreational activity in many homes and Mark Derby looks at the different games people have played in New Zealand in his story. Scholars have disagreed about whether Māori played board games before European settlement. While they certainly took up European games such as draughts with gusto, the Māori board games mengamenga and tōrere were very popular in the earliest years of European contact, which may mean they were a wholly Māori creation.

Board games and cards were similarly popular among Europeans, and in the early days of settlement there wasn’t much else to do in the way of recreation. Though gambling has long been frowned upon, dab-hands at card games have never been able to resist playing for money – the risk of losing all in no way outweighing the excitement this prospect adds to the game. But you don’t need to engage in vices to have fun: we have an entirely risk-free and virtuous Victorian-era game of Changeable Gentlemen on Te Ara which you can play.

These beautiful hand-made fabric items, dating from the 1940s to 1960s, would have been used around the home

These beautiful hand-made fabric items, dating from the 1940s to 1960s, would have been used around the home

Knitting and sewing are domestic activities that are both recreation and work and, like many hand-craft activities, have made a come back in recent years. I look at the history of sewing, knitting and other textile crafts and chart the change from necessity to hobby, while acknowledging that necessity did not preclude enjoyment. It was interesting to learn that knitting only became really popular during the First World War, when knitting for servicemen abroad became a patriotic duty. We’ve got a great film clip of women knitting for victory during the Second World War. I wonder how many of these garments made it back home?

Enjoy wandering through our other daily life stories, where you can explore alcohol and drugs, bodies and clothing, food and drink, home and daily life, leisure and pastimes, and social customs and language. Many of these stories have been published already and they will all be online by early September.

The census and the languages spoken in New Zealand

Children learning Māori - the second-most spoken language in New Zealand (click for image credit)

Children learning Māori - the second-most-spoken language in New Zealand (click for image credit)

It’s census time again, and this time the census can’t come too soon – it was originally scheduled for March 2011 but was postponed due to the Christchurch earthquake. We blogged about this at the time. At Te Ara we use census data all the time, so we are geekily looking forward to the release of the 2013 data in due course. The last census was in 2006.

The census gathers data on a wide range of subjects, one of which is languages spoken in New Zealand. A few weeks ago a group of us were discussing names for entries on New Zealand words and phrases, and Kiwi speech patterns, and we realised that we don’t have an entry on language diversity in New Zealand. This is something that will hopefully be remedied in the future. For now, here’s a quick look at what recent censuses tell us about this subject.

The census measures the languages that people resident in New Zealand on census night can speak up to a level where they can have a conversation about everyday things in it. Unsurprisingly, in 2006 the most common language was English (95.9% of people). It’s interesting to think about that small group of people who can’t have a conversation in English. It’s hard visiting a country whose language you can’t speak, so I wonder what life is like for non-English speakers in New Zealand. Another fascinating fact is that 20% of people who can’t speak English were born in New Zealand.

The next most common language spoken in New Zealand in 2006 was Māori – 4% of people could have an everyday conversation in Māori. More people spoke Māori in 2001, but fewer in 1996, so it will be interesting to see how this has changed by 2013.

Multilingualism is on the increase as New Zealand becomes more ethnically diverse. In 2006, 43% more people could speak two or more languages than in 1996. The Auckland region had the highest proportion of multilingual people in 2006 because it had the most ethnically diverse population.

If you want to learn more about language diversity in New Zealand, go to ‘QuickStats about culture and identity’ on the Statistics New Zealand website and download the tables. You’ll find, for example, that 4,305 people spoke Persian in 2006, compared to 1,584 in 1996, and that the number of Tamil speakers grew 138% in that 10-year period. In 2006, 2% of New Zealanders couldn’t speak any language, most likely because they were too young to talk. In tonight’s census their voices, or at least their spoken languages, will be recorded.

Sweet as bro

Poster for a French cultural festival (click for image credit)

Poster for a French cultural festival (click for image credit)

Over the weekend we hosted a couple of French couchsurfers who were in town to experience the Wellington round of the rugby Sevens tournament and anything else that came their way. In case you don’t know, couchsurfing is when you stay with a private home for free while visiting a new place. We hooked up with Jules and Patrice through the Couchsurfing website – we are listed on there as a place to stay in Wellington.

This was our first couchsurfing hosting experience. My partner Alexander joined the website while travelling in the UK and Europe last year, and though he didn’t end up staying with anyone, he did meet up socially with fellow travellers through the website. Once home, Alexander was keen to host some travellers, but I wasn’t so sure – I value my private space and am known to be a social curmudgeon at times, but I decided to be brave and give it a go.

We looked at the requests for accommodation we’d received and liked the sound of Jules, a young guy in his early 20s from Grasse in the south-east of France. He’d been in New Zealand since early December last year and his father Patrice was going to join him for a week. Jules said he didn’t want his father to sleep in the car as he’d been doing while travelling around – I liked the sound of a solicitous son!

Alexander met Jules and Patrice outside Te Papa, which was their first stop in Wellington, on Friday evening and brought them home. I was immediately struck by their warmth and enthusiasm for New Zealand and the experiences they’d had driving down the North Island over the past couple of days. They both thought they were in paradise and Patrice kept exclaiming in wonder, both in French and gorgeously accented English, which both of them spoke very well. They found the idiosyncrasies of New Zealand speech and language amusing – their favourite New Zealand expression was ‘Sweet as bro,’ which they kept repeating and laughing over, and they found our pronunciation of ‘left’ hilarious.

They had a great time watching all the costumed Sevens fans – something they said you’d never see in France – and watching the games on a screen in town. We invited some friends round for a potluck dinner on Saturday night and it ended up being quite international – as well as our French guests, we had an American immigrant and an Italian traveller. The night ended with Alexander and his mate Joe taking Jules and Patrice to a gig at a warehouse in Miramar. They were gobsmacked when one musician smashed his guitar – this was something new to them.

Hosting Jules and Patrice was a great experience. I loved their positivity and enjoyment of New Zealand. They’d been told New Zealand was a quiet, slow place but they soon learned their source was misinformed. We farewelled them on Sunday, wishing them well for their journey back to Auckland via Taranaki and the King Country. Sweet as bros and au revoir.

Flags and royal visitors

Union Jack and colonial flags postcard from around the start of the 20th century

Union Jack and colonial flags postcard from around the start of the 20th century (click for image credit)

Royal visits to New Zealand are traditionally a flag-waving affair, and royalty fans will have an opportunity to dust off their flags when Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, tour Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and the Manawatū region in November. Ever helpful in matters of protocol, cultural processes and historical precedents, Te Ara, NZHistory and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage provide prospective flag-bearers with information on flags and flag protocol. You’ve really got no excuse if you make any flag blunders.

According to the Stuff news website, the people of Manawatū were under the impression that the Union Jack (the British flag) and related bunting were banned during the royal visit because organisers wanted to promote New Zealand. Stuff’s headline, ‘Union Jack banned for royal visit’, is not actually borne out by the contents of the article, which makes it clear that the ‘ban’ is rather a suggestion that the New Zealand flag would be the appropriate flag to fly.

If the Queen was visiting, then the flag situation would be clear – her personal flag for New Zealand would be flown. Not many people are likely to have this flag though.
There is historical precedent for the use of the Union Jack while royalty is in New Zealand. During past royal tours in more enthusiastic times, New Zealand was carpeted with Union Jacks. In fact, the Union Jack was regularly flown in New Zealand in ordinary circumstances until the 1950s, even though we’d had our own flag since 1902.

For those who are interested in such matters, it is appropriate to fly the Union Jack, based on precedent. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage advises that it is appropriate to fly the Union Jack in recognition of a distinguished British visitor. And of course, New Zealand’s flag contains a Union Jack in the upper left quarter, so you can cover both bases if you fly this one.