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Culmailie Hikoi
by Brian Reid
Special to Anglicans Online, I Advent 1998

I began writing this article with the intention that it be a news story about the Hikoi of Hope, a protest event that took place in New Zealand in September of 1998. In researching this complex event, the story kept getting bigger and deeper and fuzzier and more personal, so finally I decided to switch it from being a news story to a first-person feature, and, well, here you are. If you just want the news instead of my long reflection on it, here it is.

One of the wonders of writing for the web is that you can use hyperlinks to provide access to primary materials and to other points of view, so that the reader needn't take your word for anything. You can also put in links to background and depth information, instead of using what in print media would be called a sidebar.

From Scotland to the colonies: emigrate or die

I am a second/third-generation immigrant to America. My mother's grandparents and my father's parents emigrated from Scotland to America in the 19th and early 20th century respectively. Excepting various travel, I have lived my whole life in America, and though my parents raised me to think of myself as a Scottish highlander, it is awfully hard to be a highlander without ever having seen the highlands. My ancestors were highlander shepherds in Sutherland and Caithness until the 18th century, and were driven out of the highlands as part of the Highland Clearances (click here or here or here for other references, or here for a link to my favorite music about it.) Some highlanders stayed behind in little towns like Wick or big cities like Glasgow, but more emigrated to Canada, New Zealand, and America. When the highlands were cleared and the people were sent away, they were gone forever from Scotland but they all went somewhere, and I'm one of them, three generations later.

A few of the displaced highlanders went to America, as my clan ancestors did, but more went to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. My grandparents were quite forceful in their belief that if we could retain our identity as Scots, we would win, even though other people now held the land that had been the source of our identity. I am quite certain that if anybody had told my great grandfather Jimmie, as he was getting on the boat to America, that his progeny would not be welcome to call themselves highlanders, he would have punched them in the nose.

Within two generations, expatriate highlanders dominated the world wool market, essentially bankrupting the native Scottish wool industry whose need for growth forced them off their land. The cleared highlands now lie largely empty, with neither sheep nor people in them, and serve primarily as a romantic visual backdrop for the descendants of refugees, people like myself, who go back to the mother country and weep for what might have been. I try to teach my children their ethnic heritage, but as every emigrant knows it becomes more difficult with each passing generation to teach the ways of the old country. But all of my life I have had an odd sense that I was separated from the land that was supposed to define me. As a young adult I worked hard to visit all of the places to which other highlander refugees had emigrated, trying to reconstruct a sense of what had been.

New Scotland, New Zealand, or New York?

So when I went to New Zealand in 1986 I was entranced by how Scottish it was, especially in the far south, drinking in all of the deep and undefinable symbolism that haunts immigrants for generations. Many of these people were distant relatives, whose ancestors had found a place that was a lot like Scotland. The city of Dunedin is visually so similar to Edinburgh that it is scary. People joked that New Zealand was a country of 3 million people and 80 million sheep, but I knew the role those sheep had played in world history and I didn't mind one bit. I spent two weeks in New Zealand, and had a profound sense of place.

But New Zealand wasn't empty when they got there

When I was a schoolchild I was taught that brave explorers discovered and colonized America. My children have been taught that cowardly mercenaries stole America from its original inhabitants. Somewhere in between lies the truth. I have heard it said as a simple generalization that the English colonists killed or drove out the native inhabitants while the Spanish and Portuguese married them. My house sits on land that two hundred years ago was inhabited by Ohlone Indians; I have to turn to reference books to find out who or what the Ohlone were, and I do not know anybody at all who claims to have even a drop of Ohlone blood. The original inhabitants of California are mostly gone, and gone with them went any strong sense of place.

When the European emigrants got to New Zealand, there were already people there, and, thanks be to God, a goodly number of them were left unkilled, unconquered, and unanglified. They were the Maori, and they never heard of Old Zealand. They lived in the Land of the Long White Cloud, Aotearoa. Here in America you have to go to obscure corners of the country to find places where the Anglican church and the indigenous people are together, but in New Zealand, the Anglican Church and the Maori people seem to me to have reached a nice equilibrium. There is no Ohlone shopping site on the Internet, cf. Hokomaha.

History is just marinated news

We here at Anglicans Online work hard to find Anglican news and features from all over our world. We rely heavily on search engines and standard news media; we spend hours trolling the wires for stories that will be of worldwide Anglican interest. I remember vividly sitting at my computer in August 1998 reading a story about the Hikoi in The Christchurch Press Online, trying to decide whether or not it warranted a mention in that week's News Centre. I looked around the various Anglican web pages in New Zealand for a reference to it, and the best coverage I could find was an article by Brian Thomas from the Lambeth Daily. I couldn't see that there was anything new to report, and the Hikoi of Hope was already linked in Anglicans Online's "Anglican Resources Around the World." So I decided not to run it as news.

Now on this first Sunday of Advent, 1998, it seems in quick retrospect that the Hikoi of Hope is the biggest Anglican news story out of New Zealand in a long time. While it was happening, it didn't feel to this American's sensibilities like a newsworthy event. It wasn't something that happened and then was done. It didn't have well-defined times, or locations, or dramatic conflict. It was a lot of people working together in groups all over the country to sweep attention towards the nation's capital. It was a statement by the Anglican church that the church should be involved in activist politics. Click here to see a cross section of national media coverage of the Hikoi, ranging from a letter bemoaning the church's getting involved in politics to a report that New Zealand's prime minister refused to get involved with the marchers.

Advent is a new beginning

I think of myself as a Scot, but I don't speak a word of Gaelic. Nor of course do I speak a word of Maori. To me they are both obscure languages that embody the romance of a minority culture. But I am entranced that the Anglicans in New Zealand have reached a sense of equilibrium, of sharing the right to be in this place, with the Maori. The Scots who left the highlands for New Zealand seem to have rediscovered a place, but in order to have it, they had to share that place with the Maori. This reminds me of Advent, of the birth of Christ, very strongly.

To me the greatest international symbolic meaning of the Hikoi is the manner in which it has drawn attention to the co-existence of three cultures in one small country. The immigrants, the Maori, and the Polynesians are mingling words, purpose, and events. The cultures are mingling but not blending. It doesn't seem twee to hear a person named Foulkes speaking Maori words. Calling it a "hikoi" instead of a "march" speaks volumes.

The highland clearances took my ancestors away from their land, and that took something out of them a century has not healed. There was room enough to share Scotland, but the people with the guns did not want to share. In New Zealand the Hikoi was a march through the land, jointly by people who had come to the country and people who were already there, to make a point about the quality of life. There is something about land, about place, that is very fundamental to life, and I think that the organizers of the Hikoi of Hope have shown me how better to see Advent as a new beginning, the eternal hope in the name of Christ.

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