The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
April 22, 2009

Te Ika a Maui

Breaking news tonight of a story close to our hearts here at the Eye of the Fish. I’m really pleased that at last someone has decided to start calling the two main Islands more inventive names than North and South. I’m far more excited to live on Te Ika a Maui than on the dull and predictable North Island, and with the South Island being named Te Wai Pounamu, at last we can have some sense of pride in where we live. Although it seems I may be out on a different limb here from boring old mainstream NZ.

Mind you, it used to be different, and could have been worse. Originally the 3 main Islands were to be called New Ulster, New Munster, and New Leinster, if my fishbrain remembers right – and there was even a phase where Stewart Island was held to be important enough that the mainland was to be called Middle Island, or some such tediously terrible nomenclature. If NZ ever wanted to be known as a place with no imagination, then our present North and South would be a good place to start. Vote me in for a name change right away – only about 150 years too slow!

All that aside however, naming of countries and places do tend to have a boringly prosaic manner, probably more than we realise for the most part, unless you happen to be a polyglot, or another type of cunning linguist. The Netherlands just means the Flat Lands, or Low Countries, while Austria just means the Eastern Kingdom (OsterReich), and Yugoslavia simply means the Land of Southern Slavs. There’s bound to be tons more of tedious naming examples, but I’m sure you can tell me more than I can tell you. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nigeria actually stood for Land of Dodgy Email Scammers in Fulani or Yoruba; nor that surprised if Russia stood for Land of Dodgy Email Spammers. (We’re getting hammered here by spam at the old fisheye, and the tireless Russians are breaking down the doors – I’m a little obsessed by them at present).

Meanwhile, of course, while it may be news to some red-neck residents of our land of the long white cloud, we’ve been multi-lingual for years: and other countries know it. Years ago, I got a letter from London addressed to me in Poneke, Aotearoa. It got here faster than one posted the same day and written in English. So if overseas posties can wrap their lips around our sometimes allegedly difficult to pronounce language, then I’m sure we can too. Let North and South be gone !

Seamonkey Madness
22 - 04 - 09

North America. South America.
Boring? Yes. Crazy? No.

Calling your one of your islands a fish? Hmmmmm….

Let’s hope it doesn’t get to W(h)anganui proportions with people heaving bricks through childrens bedroom windows.

Will de Cleene
22 - 04 - 09

The whole thing reminds me of an old sketch, but can’t remember the name of the TV show. It features two Australians on a porch with one explaining to the other his recent trip to NZ. Examples:

There’s three islands. The top one’s called the North Island.
And the bottom one’s called the South Island?
No, that’s the middle one…

They have three TV channels. They’re called 1,2 and 3…

I went to Ninety Mile Beach.
It’s ninety miles long?
No.

If anyone knows the show I’m talking about, I’d love to track the whole sketch down.

Maximus
22 - 04 - 09

The DomPost today said that they (NZ Geographic Board) were going to ask various iwi for their prefered names, and that one option might be The Thing of Maui. Oh great. We go from a banal name to just a Thing. No No! Make it the Fish!

erentz
22 - 04 - 09

Only problem I have is whatever name is chosen I think needs to be shortenable. Would it be ok to generally just refer to Te Ika a Maui as simply “Maui” and Te Wai Pounamu as simply “Pounamu” in conversation and writing? I think Pounamu would be confusing. Maui isn’t bad, it works fine in Hawaii. (Shame the weather wasn’t comparable.)

DeepRed
22 - 04 - 09

Mt Egmont & Mt Taranaki are used interchangeably without much controversy, it’s not like the NI & SI are going to be linguistically displaced anytime soon.

Will de Cleene
23 - 04 - 09

How about Tiki and Pou?

Maximus
23 - 04 - 09

erentz, much as i would like to live on Maui, i reckon the Hawaiians have definitely claimed that one first. So i am still gunning for the Fish – the Big Fish – Ika Nui ! Fish are fantastic, fish are fun…. this conversation could run and run.

So, just to spice it up a little – shouldn’t we be looking to change our flag as well? South Africa changed theirs when they had a revolution and axed aparthaid, and Canada just changed theirs cos a graphic designer told them to. We can’t just change ours for the hell of it – what say we roll it all into one: give the Crown lands back to the maori and stop this shameful haggling, change the name of the country away from some dutch zone of frigid dykes (dikes? i forget), change the names of the islands to Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu, and then drop that hideous blue silly flag of ours and take on something that means a bit more.

And quickly, before the Aussies change theirs to a big kangaroo on a barby and we’re left without a good excuse.

Jason
23 - 04 - 09

Hoping you review comments before they’re published – there seems to be no way to contact the fish (pl.), though I considered standing at the edge of the harbour and loudly proclaiming that Civic Square would make a great car park, or that Jervois Quay should have an 80 speed limit in an attempt to attract your attention.

Anyway I’ve been away from a computer for a week and was wanting to forward on some documents I received re: sports centre. You have my email address because I just entered it in this form!

Maximus
24 - 04 - 09

Jason, welcome back. You can always contact us at contact@eyeofthefish.org and both Philip and Maximus have access to that and can (and should) answer. If you forward the articles to there in email form that’s fine, otherwise let me know and we’ll meet you down a shady alley and slip you a bag full of cash if you’ve got some good stuff!

However, the prospect of Wellingtonians standing at the edge of the harbour and proclaiming loudly is such a good idea that I do thoroughly recommend that you try it. There’s a guy been standing there for quite a while now, solid looking chap called Solace, who seems as though he’s on the verge of saying something – but nada, zip, nothing. Not a peep. Dull bloke. Nice colour. Anyway, so: shout away !

LAS
24 - 04 - 09

Maori academic Ranganui Walker talks about Te Ika a Maui as follows:

“with the head of the fish in Wellington, which is appropriate because that’s where Government is, and the wings being Cape Egmont and the East Cape, and the tail being Northland,”

Wings…??? Sounds a bit fishy to me. Maximus, do I need a lesson in fish anatomy before I start to consider matters of geography?

Sorry, must go. Off to the supermarket to buy some fish fingers…

Maximus
24 - 04 - 09

Ouch. Fish fingers: As Morissey said, Meat is Murder.

Speaking of which, does anyone else find the TV show Carter’s Gone Fishing to be a horrific and nasty affair? All that slaughter on the water….

Honeywood
24 - 04 - 09

“with the head of the fish in Wellington, which is appropriate because that’s where Government is, and the wings being Cape Egmont and the East Cape, and the tail being Northland,”
At what point did Maori mythology adopt a Western-centric, cartographic view of the whenua? I know that Maori had (and still have, presumably) extraordinary powers of navigation but is there any evidence that this was assembled into maps sufficiently graphic to develop the idea of the North Island being the shape of a fish? Is this a case of Maori appropriating post-colonial views of New Zealand to suit their own agenda? Could be a first (and perhaps overdue….).

Jason
24 - 04 - 09

I’m unable to comment with any authority on Maori history, but I understand that the Maui legends are found in various forms throughout Polynesia, fishing up islands, creating fire, &c. I also understand that most or all geographical features were named before colonisation, but that no maps were made.

It would only take a traveller with knowledge of the names and a good sense of direction to form a map in his head, and to then tell the story to everyone he met. If this were the case, I don’t think it would necessarily have to be well perceived in his head. Walking down the Ngauranga Gorge (with Rongotai still underwater) you get a good impression of a mouth.

Standing at height you could probably perceive Northland to be tail-like. Same goes for the Hawke Bay/Jawbone comparison. Standing on Ruapehu you can see almost coast to coast, as well.

It’s probably just a case of post-colonial paraeidolia. Like clouds, islands can be perceived as many different objects. I’m a cynical bastard and I can see the stingray shape, so it wouldn’t take much to spread around once the Brits arrived and surveyed the place.

It isn’t the first case of Maori appropriating post-colonial views for their own agenda though. I recall something about some Maori priests adapting Old Testament beliefs to give them status, though that is as detailed as my recollection gets, so this could be completely wrong and ignorant!

I really enjoy saying ‘post-colonial paraeidolia’.

Maximus
26 - 04 - 09

and for more comments on the subject, you can also refer to Poneke’s blog (yes, he has resurrected himself in a most Lazarus-like manner), here: http://poneke.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/names/

It’s nice to see Poneke back, as he’s a proper journalist, and therefore a big fish in our pond, unlike us who of course are just little Fish.

Maui’s fish, of course, had its head closest to the big waka of Te Wai Pounamu, as that is the way you catch a fish – with a hook in its mouth. So its no wonder that the head is here (and yes, Dr Walker was post-rationalising it, something we do every day as architects after all), and the fins / wings (eurocentric nomenclature, in a post-colonial paraeidolia kind of way again – fish call them their hands) are the extremities to the east and west. (thanks, Jason and LAS).

Of course, that leaves Stewart Island as the Anchor Stone i believe, which seems highly appropriate.

Duncan
27 - 04 - 09

I like the idea of more exciting names for your islands. From the other side of the ditch, we’re hardly in a position to make fun of the boring island names. Three of our states are geographical; (Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia); two are named after queens (Victoria and Queensland – not Priscilla) and one after a particularly dire part of Britain (New South Wales). Only Tasmania has a name of any sort of originality at all – and even that’s a step down from the original Van Diemen’s land.

Maximus
28 - 04 - 09

greetings Duncan. You do know, don’t you, that we’ve always referred to your piece of dirt as the West Island…?

Maximus
28 - 04 - 09

…although of course we’ve also got our fair share of plodders when it comes to provinces. We’ve a Northland in the far end of the North Island, and a Southland in the bottom tip of the South Island. East Cape out… oh, look, its all too boring for words. All the more kudos to the Geog Board for livening up our tedious little land.

Tasmania sounds great. Priscillaville even better. If there are any royalists or monarchists left in Oz, you could even have a Camillaville. But you’re right – van Diemen’s land would have been better still.