September Q&A: Gathering the Kiwis
Simon Leeming has been in this country – mostly in Canterbury, N.H. – since his family came here from New Zealand when he was 18, but his heart still belongs to the land of Kiwis. So much so, he serves as the country’s honorary consul to the six New England states. When he’s not lawyering at Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios in Concord, he’s preparing for a Hangi – a traditional feast of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people – for N.Z. ex-pats living in the U.S.
It’s OK to call New Zealanders “Kiwis”?
New Zealanders have always been referred to as Kiwis. It’s not slang; we take great pride in being Kiwis. It’s after the Kiwi bird, which is fairly unique. It’s nocturnal, doesn’t fly and the male stays with the egg until the chick is born.
Most people have never heard of a hangi. What exactly is it? And how do you pronounce it?
Hung-ee. It’s a traditional social event of the Maoris, which are the indigenous people of New Zealand. You cook in a covered pit in the ground for hours – lamb and beef, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, all in baskets – over super-heated river stones and iron. We use railroad tracks for the iron.
In New Zealand, volcanic rocks are used. They really hold the heat, but there’re no volcanic rocks in New Hampshire, so we use the next best thing. We do have one New Zealand volcanic rock as a symbol of the tradition.
How many pounds of, say, carrots do you cook?
Oh, goodness, we have three or four big sacks, probably 200 pounds. Last year 700 people came and we had just barely enough food. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get 800 or 900 people this year.
Are there that many Kiwis around?
There are probably a million New Zealanders living overseas and, other than Australia, the U.S. has become the country of choice for them. I’d say there are 1,200-1,800 in New England. Last year 12 people came to the hangi all the way from New Zealand. Some came from Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and a lot from greater Boston.
Does New Zealand get the attention it deserves?
It does now, especially after “Lord of the Rings” being filmed there. In the ’70s people didn’t know where New Zealand was; they thought it was part of Australia. Now we get 200,000 U.S. visitors a year and a lot of university kids are spending their junior year abroad in New Zealand.
Tell us about the performers you’ll have at the hangi – the Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre.
They are one of the foremost Maori art and performance groups in New Zealand. A sub-group is based in Canada and they travel widely, primarily going to schools talking about the Maori culture. Many people who will be at the hangi haven’t seen them since they left. It’s going to be quite emotional.
The 8th annual hangi will be held Oct. 11 at Simon Leeming’s home in Canterbury.