Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Things we believe make us Kiwi

Friendliness and a can-do attitude top a list of traits that New Zealanders think reflect our national identity.

Pita Sharples said Maori identified with New Zealand because of their spirituality, their connection to the land and their genealogy (whakapapa).Photo / Duncan Brown
Pita Sharples said Maori identified with New Zealand because of their spirituality, their connection to the land and their genealogy (whakapapa).Photo / Duncan Brown

For many New Zealanders it's those nostalgic Kiwiana images that spring to mind when we think of our home country: a Buzzy Bee, pavlova, pohutukawa trees and the All Blacks doing the haka.

But what does it really mean to be a Kiwi? Is it being a great sportsman or woman, laid-back with a she'll-be-right-mate attitude, or taking that No8 wire ingenuity to turn your hand to anything?

Or are these stereotypes no longer relevant in today's modern, multi-cultural society?

This week, the Herald is analysing what it means to be a Kiwi, kicking off today with how New Zealanders identify with that notion.

According to new research by Colmar Brunton, the top attribute that New Zealanders agree reflects their identity is friendliness (78 per cent).

Revisit the Herald's list of the 10 greatest Kiwis here.

The figures come from a survey called What it is to be a Kiwi, an internally commissioned Colmar Brunton questionnaire of 1009 people from around the country.

Attributes that Kiwis most identified with included a can-do attitude, proud, easygoing and outdoorsy.

Low-scoring attributes included artistic, sophisticated, risk-takers, and worldly.

Broken down further, people of Maori descent (81 per cent), full-time homemakers (71 per cent), and older people (69 per cent) identified most with being a Kiwi.

Minister of Maori Affairs Dr Pita Sharples said he would have expected a high proportion of Maori to identify with being a New Zealander.

The 72-year-old was first awakened to his need for identity when he went to London in the 1970s to study race relations.

"I got to London and I knew every statue, I knew every street name, I knew Westminster Abbey inside out - I felt I had been brainwashed on the other side of the earth on this place through schooling, through Monopoly, through all sorts of things that we have in New Zealand."

He was so depressed he decided to do something about it.

"We were at the forefront of kohanga reo and kura kaupapa. It's still my fight. I'm working with the Education Ministry and history teachers to put a New Zealand history curriculum into our schools."

Dr Sharples said Maori identified with New Zealand because of their spirituality, their connection to the land and their genealogy (whakapapa).

"I guess the feeling of belonging in New Zealand is through that knowledge."

University of Auckland historian Associate Professor Caroline Daley said national identities became very important for Kiwis in the 1970s when New Zealand began to break away from Britain.

However, nowadays, she said, most New Zealanders had "multiple identities" and no longer felt the national boundary was defining.

"You're Skyping with your family all around the world, you're eating food from all around the world, watching television, movies, reading magazines.

"Your national identity might become more important when you're watching the Olympics and much less important when you're going to Diwali."

University of Waikato historian Professor Cathy Coleborne said concepts of national identity obscured important differences such as gender relations and ethnic differences. "I get really suspect about this idea of creating beliefs about identity because I just think they're really simplistic and they tend to homogenise people."

The series

Today: What makes us Kiwi
Tomorrow: Lifestyle versus cost of living
Wednesday: Travel and moving overseas for employment
Thursday: Pride and culture
Friday: Intellect and success

- NZ Herald

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