Kiwiana is past its use-by date. Is it time to re-imagine our symbols of national identity?
Kiwiana can offer profits and comforting nostalgia, but Kate Pickles explains that a closer examination reveals that this set of symbols representing colonial settler narratives is no longer fit for purpose in the 2020s.
Definitions of Kiwiana vary and the term is widely applied to objects, expressions and pastimes that evoke a sense of national identity. But, as sociologist Claudia Bell has argued, it’s an identity where Pākehā culture is dominant.
When including Indigenous content, Kiwiana has occupied a largely aesthetic and apolitical place. The focus has been on flora and fauna, such as the kiwi itself, the silver fern, koru and pāua shell. Māori incorporation within Kiwiana involves myth-making, traditional costumes and objects such as kete, poi and tiki.
In the 2020s, then, Kiwiana is arguably no longer fit for purpose in a diverse, decolonising nation. Yet these relic symbols persist, part of art and culture in schools and still selling products.
When Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, New Zealand lost its major trading partner and status as “Britain’s farm”. Global oil shocks dealt a further blow, ending the post-war economic “golden weather”. Decolonisation spread from the economy to the social, cultural and political worlds.