What defines our nationality

For a moment all you hear is silence, the sound of people standing to pay their respect. The black hearse quietly rolls by, swinging through the black iron gates of the school before coming to a gentle stop. Stood before the hearse blocking its path was an army of boys, standing shoulder to shoulder in rows 10 people deep. An eruption of 1700 voices chanting in unison breaks the silence.

“Ki raro
Kia Rite
Kia Rite
Kia Mau
Torona Titaha

The musical words continue, accompanied by stomping feet, waving of arms, protruding of tongues and eyes, as the young men move together coming to rest on their knees united. A gentle hush falls over the crowd. A single voice cries out, sending the masses into a louder, more powerful and intense dance. Their grief and respect clearly visible with their movements and song, that draws them in closer around the hearse. Actions and words that have been performed by their fathers and forefathers for generations before, in battle and celebration. A highly energised but blood chilling cry can be heard before silence once again falls. The boys silently retreat to clear a path for the hearse. Heads bow on each boy that they quietly farewell their fallen.

The Haka performed by Palmerston North Boys High School as their send off for teacher Dawson Tamatea was captured on video and via social media it went viral. With over 6 million views in a month, international media picked up the story. It dampened the eyes and tingled the spines of many around the world whilst showing the world a small piece of New Zealand culture. The Haka (a traditional Maori dance) is already familiar to many; mostly rugby fans that have seen the All Blacks perform it prior to a rugby match. This story however, showcased the Haka on a much higher level.

This story for me invoked a torrent of emotions. It encapsulated the real essence of being a Kiwi (New Zealander) and brought to the surface a real sense of national pride, in the same way Champagne or Foie Gras does for the French and the Kangaroo or Wallaby might do for the Australians. I wear my nationality like a layer of clothing. It is interwoven into my identity in the same way my eyes are blue and my hair is blonde (well most of the time). When questioned on my nationality, I proudly reply, “I’m a kiwi”. I can’t lie, my thick, twangy accent won’t let me but why would I want to? I class myself lucky to hold the passport of such a beautiful country.

I often wonder if my son is going to be able to answer the question of his origin with the same ease that I do. Born in Australia, I am told he sounds Australian, he speaks French with an Australian accent and Australian life is all he knows. The Australian Government does not however recognise him as being Australian due to the temporary visas my husband and I have. Born to a NZ mother and French father, by descent he has the right to call himself a New Zealander and French without having lived in either country. So he is French/New Zealander but lives an Aussie life.

So what does define our nationality? Is it country where on when we were born, the soil we squished between our toes growing up or the accent we speak with? Those criteria would make my son Australian. Is it the politicians? By their laws, he is not Australian. The Oxford Dictionary defines Nationality as “The status of belonging to a particular nation”. What dictates that Status? The passports we are entitled to.

By marriage I am entitled to make a claim for the French nationality (there are French language tests to pass, processes to clear), which I am mid process trying to obtain. So when complete, would this make me French? By the laws of the Government, it would, as I would be allowed a French passport. Would it change my question of my nationality? No.

My nationality is defined by the place I call home, the team I support, the Haka, the way my eyes water when I hear the NZ anthem. These small things that bring out my national pride make up the bigger picture of my nationality, not the paperwork I hold.


2 thoughts

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