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Asia Minute

Asia Minute: Time for a name change for New Zealand?

New Zealand Wellington International Airport
Nick Perry/AP
/
AP
A giant sign painted near the main runway of the Wellington International Airport greets travelers returning home in Wellington, New Zealand Monday, April 19, 2021. The sign reads "Welcome Whanau" with the second word an Indigenous Maori word meaning family. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

New Zealand is heading for a new round of discussion about a long-running issue. The question is a basic one: what to name the country.

Some 70,000 New Zealanders have signed a petition to Parliament to officially change the name of the country to Aotearoa.

That’s the Maori name for the area — usually translated to English as “land of the long white cloud” — a reference to cloud formations used by Polynesian navigators.

The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to come across the archipelago now known as New Zealand — and in 1642 he called it “Staten Land.”

A few years later, mapmakers renamed it Nova Zeelandia — after a Dutch province.

The British captain James Cook later made that “New Zealand.”

Indigenous rights and narratives were not prioritized for many years in the country. And neither was the native language.

Radio New Zealand reports fluency was 90% among Maori in 1910 — falling to 26% in 1950 to 20% today.

The leader of the Maori Party says the only way to restore the language is to make it more visible.

He adds that renaming the country would be part of that.

The petition on the name change now goes to a Parliamentary committee — which can recommend a bill — or even a national referendum on the issue.

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