Rediscovering the 'how' and the 'who' of the Dutch at a 'hui'
Labour weekend 2008 marked a pilgrimage to the Hamilton Gardens Pavilion for many people with Dutch roots or with an interest in culture from the Netherlands, who wanted to attend Het Festijn. Saturday 25 October also featured presentations and discussion on 'How' (=Hoe) are we doing and 'Who' (=wie) exactly are we? The title is thus a play of words on the Maori word for meeting, 'hui' which is pronounced exactly the same way as HoeWie.
New Zealand has long been a well-loved emigration target for many Dutch who have generally settled in very well. So well in fact, that there is little recognition of Dutch culture despite the fact that at least 22,000 Dutch-born people live here. New Zealand has about 150,000 people with Dutch roots: about one-quarter live in the Auckland region, one-eighth each in the Canterbury, Waikato and Wellington regions, with the remainder dispersed throughout the country.
You could say that the Dutch are the prototype of the successful immigrant: they have assimilated so well that they are invisible in society. The downside of that excellent integration is, there is very little sense of community among the Dutch. That's a pity, not only for the immigrants themselves but also for second- and third-generation Dutch Kiwis who get little opportunity to learn their language and odd habits, or sample their delicatessen.
Dutch societies exist (fourteen to be precise) throughout the country as do a number of cultural groups such as folk dancers, choirs and drama groups. Once every two or three years they all come together at Het Festijn to show off their culture and share it with other ethnic communities.
This Festijn weekend was a very successful happening again with several thousands of visitors enjoying themselves during the two days: watching and participating in song and (clog-) dance and theatre, sampling Dutch delicatessen, art and craft, and catching up with friends. There was definitely an atmosphere of 'gezelligheid', this almost untranslatable concept of 'social togetherness' that creates and sustains family and friendship bonds.
Even the weather felt typically Dutch: some rain and wind and sunshine in the afternoon. So, many got to see the beautiful city gardens as well, that have been designed to traditional Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, American, English, and Maori patterns.
At the official opening of Het Festijn, City Councillor Peter Bos suggested it was about time the city added a Dutch garden (featuring tulips of course, among many other species). The councillor announced his vision of establishing a register as well, where all people of Dutch descent could record their origins and details of first arrivals, so that their descendants would have a resource to trace their family history and roots.
This meeting had been organised to discuss the 'hoe' (how) and 'wie' (who) of Dutch community development. 'Onze HoeWie' translates into 'our hui'. The integration into local Dutch language use, of the well-know Maori word for a gathering, signalled very well the purpose of the day.
Professor Jacques Poot, Convener of the Organising Committee explained:
"First-, second- or third-generation Dutch immigrants can feel rightly proud of being part of New Zealand society, as well as of our Dutch heritage. In the past, immigration was a matter of absorbing as quickly as possible the culture of the host society. With a history of global travel and trade, and foreign language ability, the Dutch have always been very good at that: they have become 'invisible migrants'. But these days, it is accepted that a variety of cultural backgrounds enriches society and can generate more understanding, co-operation and trust. This is called 'social capital' which can contribute to greater prosperity and wellbeing.
"Various organisations such as the New Zealand Netherlands Foundation and the Federation of New Zealand Netherlands Societies keep the Dutch culture alive. But in a country with a low population density and immigrants widely distributed, there has been a fair bit of fragmentation of activities and a lack of information exchange.
"The goal of the Dutch Forum 'Onze Hoe Wie' is to bring people together to discuss important issues and to build a network for developing new initiatives; and so to build a brighter future for the Dutch community in New Zealand."
The printed proceedings (108 pages A4, colour) are available for NZ$30.00 (inclusive of GST, packaging and postage within New Zealand). Order by email.
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