Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Circling suitcases in the sand

The first phrase in my first notebook of the year was 'Becoming a New Zealander - one life-long process of becoming a New Zealander - becoming part of this land.'

Wellington celebrated 150 years of its existence on 19 January. And to commemorate the first 'organised' [some call it that] European settlers coming ashore to New Zealand, there was a bit of a party on the Petone foreshore. No sailing ships, but there was a waka. The most evidential remembrance of those first arrivals (apart from a few people in fancy 19th century dress) was a great pile of suitcases - about the size of a large bonfire - on the beach.

A little later, I noticed people marching those suitcases from one end of a line on the beach to the other. The line was sometimes straight, sometimes curved, sometimes spiralled in on itself, depending on the rather erratic instructions of a slightly agitated man in 19th century garb. The story was: it was the 'excess baggage' of a young 19-year-old immigrant, and we had to get all his luggage from the end of the beach where it had arrived to the immigration office (aka Settlers Museum).

Amazing how many people saw this apparently pointless exercise of moving suitcases in the sand, and joined in - including me and my two daughters.

I felt there was some symbolism in this. I have written about 'unpacking your bags' more than once in this blog, so won't unpack that phrase for your now (read the links).

Instead, I wondered if these suitcases on the Petone foreshore reflected all the 'stuff' we have brought from overseas - physical possessions, cultural baggage and ways of doing things, and memories of other times and places. 'Stuff' those of us who are living now have brought on board the Aotearoa 'waka', and stuff that has been handed down as a legacy from our ancestors - good and bad. How much of it is a good fit for this land, and how much is waste, or out of place? These days, it's not only the 'excess baggage' of tourist trinkets and duty-free liquor we may bring on board, but also most of our clothes, shores, electronic goods, linen, whiteware and much of our food is sourced from offshore - is this really living?

We bring it all in and shift it around, sometimes creating mazes and traps for ourselves - but to what real, ulitimate purpose? Some questions for today. Answers some other time - or add your thoughts below.

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