Hongi, our na­tional greet­ing

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - MATTHEW SAL­MONS

The hongi, a touch­ing of noses, is known around the world as a New Zealand greet­ing yet not ac­tu­ally used by all Ki­wis. But with the resur­gence of all things Ma¯ori, could that change?

Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury (UC) pro­fes­sor of Ma¯ori re­search, An­gus Macfar­lane, said the ori­gins of the hongi held an im­por­tant role in Ma¯ori mythol­ogy. The god Ta¯ ne-nui-a-Rangi, moulded the shape of the first woman, Hine-ahu-one, from earth and breathed life into her by press­ing his nose against hers.

‘‘Tane is con­sid­ered the pro­gen­i­tor of Te Ao Ma¯ ori (the Ma¯ ori world), and that is where the breath of life came from,’’ Macfar­lane said.

He said the hongi, and the shar­ing of breath, was a sym­bolic show of unity be­tween two peo­ple.

While the hongi could be very solemn de­pend­ing on the oc­ca­sion, it could also be light­hearted and youth­ful, Macfar­lane said.

‘‘I play a lot of ten­nis and I go to the Ma¯ ori tour­na­ment each year. You see, af­ter each match, it’s the hongi. The shak­ing of hands, the rub­bing of noses and the ex­chang­ing of breath.’’

Te Hur­inui Clarke, of the univer­sity’s Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion, said there were many vari­a­tions of the hongi be­tween iwi. For some it was only a touch­ing of noses but oth­ers in­cluded the touch­ing of fore­heads, a metaphor­i­cal ex­change of breath and knowl­edge.

‘‘A hongi isn’t only a phys­i­cal act, it’s also a spir­i­tual act,’’ Clarke said.

Clarke, who came from the Bay of Plenty re­gion, said the hongi in his home­town in­cluded two nose presses; one to greet the in­di­vid­ual the other for their an­ces­tors.

‘‘Of­ten I for­get that we do the dou­ble-tap when we go home. I find my­self do­ing a sin­gle hongi and then get­ting pulled back in for a sec­ond.’’

Clarke said fol­low­ing the lead of some­one more ex­pe­ri­enced in lo­cal tikanga (cus­toms) would avoid con­fu­sion.

‘‘Al­ways lead with your nose though. Any vari­a­tions won’t be that great.’’

Al­though of­ten seen on the marae, Clarke said the hongi was, and al­ways had been, an ev­ery­day greet­ing in Ma¯ ori com­mu­ni­ties.

‘‘It’s not con­fined to for­mal set­tings, it’s also quite in­for­mal.’’

He said he un­der­stood why those un­used to the hongi could find the full face con­tact in­tim­i­dat­ing, even scary.

Both pro­fes­sors said UC had been proac­tive in sup­port of Ma¯ ori iden­tity and cul­ture and it had made no­tice­able dif­fer­ences on cam­pus. Staff and stu­dents tak­ing on board Ma¯ ori prac­tices and prin­ci­ples.

‘‘Peo­ple are start­ing to know that the Ma¯ ori world has a great deal to of­fer. It’s good to have two streams of knowl­edge. You have Western sci­ence and Ma¯ ori knowl­edge and they can be in­ter­twined, they need not be kept sep­a­rate,’’ Macfar­lane said.

He said he would not be of­fended to see the hongi used on a more day-to-day ba­sis, but the greet­ing’s spir­i­tu­al­ity would need to be re­spected.

‘‘We don’t want to put the mean­ing­ful­ness, the depth of the hongi in jeop­ardy, that has to be pro­tected,’’ Macfar­lane said.

To have the hongi used by all New Zealan­ders as a na­tional greet­ing would be some­thing to cel­e­brate, Clarke said.

‘‘I think it would be an in­di­ca­tion of how much more bi­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing there would be be­tween both Ma¯ ori and Pa¯ keha.’’


Cather­ine Duchess of Cam­bridge per­forms the hongi as she vis­its Christchurch City Council Build­ings.

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