Monday, September 17, 2007

The Godwits Fly

A bar-tailed godwit, or just godwit to most Kiwis, has been found to have flown 11,500 kilometers (7,145 miles) nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand - without taking a break for food or drink - in nine days. Apparently it's the longest nonstop bird migration ever measured.

The godwit's a bit of an icon in NZ, first immortalized in Robin Hyde's NZ classic of 1938, The Godwits Fly, and required reading for any NZ lit course. In those early days, New Zealanders (we weren't really 'Kiwis' then) pretty much saw Britain as the "Mother Country", and anyone who was anybody, particularly within the arts, believed they had to escape to the Mother Country to find themselves and thus some identity. Katherine Mansfield was a prime example.

Thus the godwit was the embodiment of the flight north - the big escape to a not so parochial land. In The Godwits Fly, Hyde speaks of a childhood lesson on the migrant godwits, “They fly north, they fly north…. Most of us here are human godwits; our north is mostly England. Our youth, our best, our intelligent, brave and beautiful, must make the long migration, under a compulsion they hardly understand”.

In some respects this "compulsion" still exists (there's me, for one...). Kiwis now believe in the "Big OE" (overseas experience), but they're typically happier to return these days. (Mind you, it's believed we have around a million ex-pats living somewhere overseas, and with a resident population of only 4 million, that's a fair few Kiwis floating around.)

What was exciting in NZ literature in these early years is that you can slowly observe the process of change by which writers resolved these tensions and “became New Zealand” … “whole people, not exiles or minds divided”.



Michael said...

While they probably didn't stay away as long, young Canadians did a 'Big OE' as well. Like Kiwi's, this trend is disappearing as we have also started feeling more 'Canadian', staying home and finding ourselves here. Now the 'Big OE' happens later in life, some people even heading overseas to paddle!

Capt'n "O" Dark 30 said...

Careful now... next thing you know you'll be trading your greenland paddle in for a white picket fence... say it ain't so,

Having crosse paths at sea and on land... i'll miss the exchange of tale talls from Kiwis and Aussies alike...

I'm from Wisconsin... so I am Canadian! :-)