If you’re looking for Wednesday Wanderings, just wander back a page to find out what sunflowers and the rock band Queen have in common. Or read on…
JANE: Alan, last week you brought up the question of loan words from other
languages that enter English, specifically, Maori words into the local New Zealand version of English.
Can you give us a few interesting ones?
ALAN: Well perhaps the most obvious is that Maori refer to non-Maori people as pakeha, and many non-Maori New Zealanders like me think of themselves as pakeha, even though the word is actually a little insulting in its original context.
JANE: That’s interesting. I believe something similar has happened here in the Southwest with the Navajo term Belacani. I’d heard that it was a somewhat derogatory term, but two Navajos working with Jim say it’s merely descriptive. It means something like “people who turn red in the sun, but are pale in the shade.” I can see why early translators would have figured this was derogatory.
Although it hasn’t entered into general use, it seems to have lost some of its sting. There’s a trading post in Santa Fe called “Belacani.”
ALAN: That sounds like a very similar concept. Isn’t it fascinating that two utterly different cultures have a word for that idea? The original meaning of pakeha is specifically a white person of European descent – it appears to be a neologism coined by the Maori to describe these weird pale-skinned people who turned up out of the blue one day.
JANE: Many years ago, for an anthology called Visions of Liberty, I wrote a short story set in New Zealand called “Pakeha,” in which the word and the qualities it has come to stand for are central to the tale.
So, tell me some other Maori words that have entered New Zealand English.
ALAN: There are lots of other examples. We are all of us, of course, Tangata Whenua, which translates as “the people of the land”. Obviously, that is the Maori description of their own place in the world as first settlers, but those of us who feel a strong sense of identity with the place where we live could equally well describe ourselves that way.
There are times when our Government makes unpopular decisions and naturally we all want to protest and make our feelings known. Most countries would have a protest march and a demonstration, but we have a hikoi.
A meeting held to discuss important matters is a hui.
We all like to eat, and food (kai) is an important part of everyone’s life. The sea (moana) surrounds us and provides a rich harvest of kai moana. Barbecues are very popular, of course, but so are hangi where the food is wrapped in leaves (these days they use aluminium foil) and buried in a pit lined with hot stones and just left to itself for hours and hours. In the evening, you dig the food up and have a feast.
JANE: Here we go with food again… I love seafood. Go on…
ALAN: But don’t confuse a hangi with a hongi. The latter is a greeting where you touch foreheads and noses with another person in an encounter. It serves a similar purpose to a handshake and is often used together with a handshake on formal occasions, particularly when taking part in a powhiri; a Maori welcoming ceremony which has become very much part of our culture. Visiting dignitaries are often greeted with a powhiri when they arrive in the country. I was once honoured with a powhiri. I found it to be a hugely emotional experience, very touching.
JANE: Not that I don’t think you’re worthy, but was there a special occasion for your powhiri?
ALAN: Well, yes and no. My parents-in-law were visiting from Australia and we took them on a tour of the South Island. We visited a place that offered “A Genuine Maori Experience”. It was obviously geared very much towards tourists, but nevertheless it was a perfectly genuine reflection of Maori protocols.
A young lady called Tina who was dressed in traditional costume and who had the proper facial moku (tattoo) introduced herself to us and welcomed us.
“You,” she explained, “are visitors to our land. But before you can be properly welcomed, we must know who your chief is. Which one of you is the chief?”
Every eyeball in the audience clicked into place and stared at me.
“Are you the chief?” asked Tina.
“Yes,” I said, “I suppose I am.”
“And is the beautiful woman beside you your queen?”
“Indeed she is.”
And so I became a chief for a day and Robin became a queen.
Tina led us off into the forest, explaining points of interest to us along the way. Suddenly an enormous tattooed Maori warrior jumped out of the bush and confronted us. Eyes popping, tongue sticking out, he waved his spear and roared a challenge. He placed a small, leafed branch on the ground and retreated. I picked it up and held it, thus indicating that I was coming in peace.
I was astonished at the overwhelming emotion of the moment, the sense of taking part in a truly foreign and yet at the same time oddly familiar ritual. There was a feeling of spiritual rightness about the moment. I felt very strongly the deep cultural heritage with which I was now involved. It was all extremely moving,
Later, as we left, I planted the small leafed branch that I had been presented with in the soil. It seemed wrong to take the branch away with me. It belonged here in the forest. But I couldn’t bring myself to simply discard it either. Probably it won’t take root, but nevertheless planting it seemed like the right sort of gesture to make.
JANE: That’s all very interesting, but are these really loan words, or are they just Maori words that you have learned? To me there is a big difference. I know a Spanish word for “watermelon” is sandia – and so do most locals, since the mountains that border Albuquerque to the east are called the “Sandias.” However, I have never been offered a slice of sandia anywhere. Therefore, to me, it is not a “loan word.”
However, burrito, chalupa, quesadilla have all become loan words. They are used by preference, even when American marketers have tried to introduce terms like “wrap” for burrito.
ALAN: Good point! Let me think about that and I’ll discuss it with you next week.