As you know from my post a few weeks ago, this year we celebrated American Independence Day with a reception in Christchurch on July 4th. We waited until the first week in August for our receptions in Auckland and Wellington so that we would not cause conflicts with local mid-winter vacations or the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington.
The two North Island events had a special focus. We celebrated not only the 235th anniversary of American Independence but also America and New Zealand’s shared Polynesian culture … with dance, music, food, videos, speeches, special guests, and more.
The theme has deep resonance. America and Aotearoa have been, are, and always will be Pacific nations, and that is one of the most powerful of the ties that bind us together. Both lands were settled initially by Pacific migrations. Both peoples have defended the Pacific against aggression, at high cost.
It seemed fitting and timely to remind ourselves just how much we have in common, not only civically and philosophically but culturally. The linkages are often surprising, energizing, and synergistic. Because it’s usually better to demonstrate than to describe, and to be specific rather than generalized, we decided to focus on one of many excellent exemplars … the strong resonance between our nations’ respective native Hawaiian and Maori citizens.
There is no better illustration of the vibrancy, depth, and historical importance of America’s Pacific heritage than our 50th State, Hawaii, which sits at the heart of the North Pacific, closer to Wellington and Auckland than to Washington.
When I was in Honolulu for a security conference last year I spoke with Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie and Hawaii Tourism Authority President Mike McCartney about our plans. They were both enthusiastic, helped mobilize the Tourism Authority’s Auckland office to assist, and introduced us to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Founded in 1963, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a 42-acre facility on the north shore of Oahu comprising a large lagoon, waterfalls, native flora, and eight separate villages celebrating native Hawaii, Samoa, Aotearoa Maori, Fiji, Tonga, Rapa Nui, Tahiti, and Marquesas cultures. The villages offer performances, food, sports, craft demonstrations, and more.
In collaboration with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Center loaned us the services of seven of their best dancers, singers, and musicians for a week. The Authority also arranged to send us chefs, foods, landscape videos, and kukui leis from Hawaii to ensure that the events were as authentic as possible for our 800 guests at the Telstra Clear Center in Manukau (on August 2nd) and Westpac Stadium in Wellington (on August 4th).
As guests arrived at each event they were serenaded with Hawaiian music and welcomed with leis. After ample time for guests to socialize, the programs started with impressive performances by local kapa haka groups … from Kia Aroha College (in Auckland) and from Wellington High School.
Our Hawaiian visitors called from off stage to make their presence known, and they were then welcomed into the room by their Maori cousins in the traditional manner of both cultures.
Once friendly intent was established and tapu was dispelled, the manuhiri took the stage and performed several traditional Hawaiian dances.
When the opening performances were finished, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie joined us by video to offer Independence Day remarks. The Governor made special note of the cultural linkages between Hawaii and Aotearoa.
The Secretary is an impossible act to follow, but I nonetheless offered my own thoughts on the occasion of American Independence Day, focusing on the depth, breadth, and power of the historical and cultural links between the United States and New Zealand.
Our Marines then presented the Colors, and good friends of ours led the assembled guests in the American national anthem. In Auckland our vocalists were from Kia Aroha College. In Wellington The Fource traveled down from Aotea College to sing.
In Wellington the Honourable Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs, offered remarks on the great strength and importance of the New Zealand / United States bilateral relationship. He spoke eloquently about the ongoing exchange of high-level visitors, our multi-layered bilateral cooperation, and next year’s 70th anniversary of the Marines arriving in New Zealand.
In Auckland, Su’a William Sio, Member of Parliament from Mangere, spoke passionately about the long and mutually beneficial history of relations between our two countries, the power of people-to-people engagement, and the importance of holding events such as ours in the heart of Auckland’s Pasifika community.
After the Kiwi elected officials spoke, we sang the New Zealand national anthem in English and Maori, led again by The Fource (in Wellington) and our friends from Kia Aroha College (in Auckland). Per grand tradition we then brought the formal proceedings to a close by exchanging toasts to our respective Heads of State and Peoples.
Our Hawaiian friends then reclaimed the stage to perform additional songs and dances, further demonstrating the great diversity, energy, and beauty of native Hawaiian culture.
As with any Polynesian celebration, there was plenty to eat and drink. Although not of Hawaiian origin, iconic wines and whiskeys from the United States mainland were featured.
Our friends from Hancocks Wines & Spirits Merchants, Beam Global, Lion Nathan, and Pernod Ricard NZ set up several tasting stations so that guests could sample the nectar of a dozen different American distilleries.
And our friends at Chateau St Michelle, Hafner, Via Pacifica, J Lohr, Et Cetera, and Bogle sent us an assortment of their world- class reds and whites to tantalize the wine lovers in attendance.
Hawaii’s renowned Chef Mavro and his team flew down to introduce Kiwis to his innovative cuisine based on fresh Hawaiian ingredients. Recently named one of the eleven most important French chefs working in the United States, Chef Mavro prepared signature salmon, tuna, and other hors d’oeuvres at cooking stations in the rooms.
The guests seemed to enjoy the proceedings, and the events in each city ran a couple of hours past their scheduled end times.
Among the attendees were Speaker of the Parliament Lockwood Smith, Government Ministers Murray McCully, Gerry Brownlee, Chris Finlayson, Tim Groser, and Nathan Guy, Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff, other current and former Members of Parliament, Her Worship Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Lady June Hillary, a couple dozen of my university student advisors, members of the diplomatic corps, and other notable personages too numerous to list.
In addition to the tireless work of my colleagues at the Embassy and the Consulate General, many people contributed to the success of the events. Besides those already mentioned above, we are grateful to Accenture, Boeing, Ceres NZ, Christchurch Engine Centre, Distilled Spirits, Magtek, Microsoft, and 2 Degrees for helping make the evenings possible.
Special thanks again go to the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Our visitors from Hawaii were extremely generous with their time. They not only appeared at the two Independence Day events but visited several schools in Auckland and Wellington and performed to a packed house at Te Papa.
It was wonderful to be able to demonstrate in a tangible, vibrant, and visceral way not only the many linkages but the sincere affection between our two Peoples.
As I said in my remarks at the events, the relationship between our two countries is as deep, warm, and strong as it has been since the US Marines and Eleanor Roosevelt landed in Aotearoa after the outbreak of the great Pacific War … and that feels natural, right, and good.
Kati ake i konei. Ma te Atua koutou e manaaki.
‘O kēia ka panina ‘o ko’u ha’i ‘ōlelo – a na nā pōmaika’i a ke akua e helele’i o luna ‘oukou.