Flowering of Scotland

By Dionne Christian

Scottish ancestry looms larfe in the background of many New Zealanders. Dionne Christian investigates how the tradtions are being kept alive

Competitors line up for the sword dance at Turakina Highland Games.
Competitors line up for the sword dance at Turakina Highland Games.

Bagpipes, haggis, tartan and the New Year anthem Auld Lang Syne: all enduring cultural symbols of one of our early migrant groups, the Scots. But there's more to Scottish life as we discovered when we went in search of Caledonian traditions.

Be a sport

Since 1920 Auckland has held an annual Scottish Highland Games complete with traditional events like caber-tossing, sheaf and haggis tossing, tug o'war and historical fighting. Naturally the music comes courtesy of pipe bands (don't miss the chilling massed pipe bands at 4.30pm) and there is highland and country dancing. In Clan Avenue historians share their knowledge of Scottish history, migration and how Scottish heritage stays alive in New Zealand. This year, two world chiefs of the clan MacLeod will be piped in by the visiting Bendigo Pipe Band, representing the Australasian Clan MacLeod (who also have their own world gathering this weekend). The kids will love the Highland Cattle.

Auckland Highland Games: Today 11 am to 5pm. Three Kings Domain, corner Mt Eden and Mt Albert Rds, Three Kings.

scottish.org.nz.

On New Year's Day it's the turn of the Waipu Highland Games (voted by the International Highland Games Association as the best in the world). Thousands of holiday-makers descend on this Northland town for more piping, fiddling, drumming, highland dancing, athletics and heavy-weight field events, like caber tossing. There's also a Tartan in the Park fashion competition. When the games end, the party continues at the Waipu Community Coronation Hall with a traditional Scottish dance, the ceilidh (pronounced kaylee).

Surely the most Scottish of small towns in New Zealand, Waipu's early settlers were refugees from Scotland's 1817 land clearances, led here in 1845 by Rev Norman McLeod from their first settlement in Nova Scotia.

Otis Prescott-Mason takes a turn with the caber at Turakina.
Otis Prescott-Mason takes a turn with the caber at Turakina.

The heritage trail of landmarks and buildings takes about two hours by car. Don't miss the Waipu Museum - its website rightly boasts it is the best small museum in New Zealand - as the multimedia displays make you wonder just how forebears endured so much and lived to tell their tales. A trip to Waipu wouldn't be complete without lunch at the Pizza Barn 'n Bar, decked out with memorabilia as well as a lot of tartan.

Saturday, 8 February 2014 is Paeroa's turn for highland games and Tattoo on at the Paeroa Domain. The evening Tattoo is a family friendly spectacle featuring massed pipe bands and mace flourishing, an Ode to the Haggis, farmers' walk, toast to the caber, and more.

Keep an eye out in February too, for the Howick Military Tattoo at Lloyd Elsmore Park.

Celebrate the Bard

When the Scots refer to "the Bard", they don't mean Shakespeare, rather poet Robbie Burns who wrote Auld Lang Syne and is regarded as Scotland's National Poet.

Burns' birthday (January 25) is an annual international celebration. The Burns Night supper always includes special prayers (the Selkirk Grace), bagpiping and the cutting of Scotland's favourite dish, haggis. The Auckland Robbie Burns Society commemorates the writer's life and works at its regular meetings of readings, songs and music. For more, contact Tom Shiels on 483-6832 or Dave Small on 576-5985.

Dress to Kilt

In case you missed it, International Tartan Day is celebrated in New Zealand on July 1. The biggest tartan day party in New Zealand is the Waipu in Tartan festival, a wearable arts awards with enticing categories like Dressed to Kilt, McKiwi, Fireside, Brave Heart and The Engine Room. The festival also includes a ball, clan dinner, whiskey tasting and a Kirking o' the Tartan ceremony. Say what? This celebrates the 1782 repeal of the 1746 law that forbade Scots from wearing Highland dress.

The Art n' Tartan wearable art awards at Waipu.
The Art n' Tartan wearable art awards at Waipu.

Encounters with animals

Highland cattle's big, shaggy coats and curly horns make them look distinctly different from your average dairy cow. The New Zealand Highland Cattle Society, formed in 1993 to help develop the breed, now involves more than 400 farmers. See these beautiful beasts at A&P shows, regional and club events and also at today's Auckland Highland Games).

Do the Highland fling - or the Highland reel

The three distinct forms of Scottish dancing - highland, country and ceilidh - are all are danced in New Zealand. The New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing and the international Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing run the competitive sport, with children dancing from as young as three. There is also a Piping and Dancing Association here. New Zealand even has its own Highland Dance Company so older dancers can keep on tapping their toes in associations in Dunedin, Christchurch, Blenheim, Wellington, Hawkes Bay and Auckland. The performers have completed a couple of mini tours and plan a North Island tour next year.

Scottish country dancing for groups; its close relation ceilidh dancing involves dancers being guided by a caller. The Scottish Country Dancing Club offers fitness, friendship and fun while the Ceilidh Club meets monthly for family-friendly dances. learnScotsfiddle@gmail.com; nzahnd.org.nz; sobhd.net; piping-dancing.org.nz

Keeping heritage alive

Caledonian clubs and societies keep Scottish heritage alive in New Zealand through dance or music while the Scottish Clans Association hosts traditional Burns Night celebration and the Kirking o' the Tartan ceremony. The Combined Council of Scottish Societies has information on all of these. If you're on the trail of Scottish ancestors, there's a Scottish interest group affiliated to the NZ Society of Genealogists.

Music

Scottish music? Images of bagpipes are immediately conjured up, with good reason: we have the highest number of pipe bands per capita in the world. The City of Auckland Pipe Band runs bagpiping and drumming lessons and though you don't have to be Scottish (or like haggis) to join, you do have to wear a kilt. But there's more to Scottish music than bagpipes. The Auckland Celtic Music club plays the harp, lute, fiddle, violin, accordion, whistles and flutes, and the bodhran, a type of drum (contact john.hawthorn@xtra.co.nz), and there's also a Scottish Fiddle Club.

Cityofaucklandpipeband.org.nz or check out the Royal NZ Pipe Bands Association for other bands nzpipebands.org.nz; freewebs.com

- NZ Herald

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