New Zealand - Achaion Akti
In times past, “Achaion Akti” (The farthest shore of the Achaians) was the phrase the Ancient Greeks used to describe Cyprus. However the farthest country where one can now find Greeks is New Zealand. Among those tribes that make the Greek nation; such as Athenians, Cretans, Macedonians, Ithacians, Aegean Islanders, Akarnanians; and living in New Zealand about six hundred are of Greek Cypriots descent. There is also a very small number of Turkish Cypriots.
About two and a half hours by air southeast from Australia and spanning 1600kms New Zealand is a country of diverse landscapes and climates. From the subtropical north to the Antarctic south at Scott Base, New Zealand is a land of steaming volcanoes, glacial alpine mountains, panoramic lakes and lush, green, fertile plains.
Made up of mainly three islands, it contains - according to last year's census - just over 3.7 million people. The official languages are English and Maori. The latter is the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand who discovered those islands through very long and dangerous sea journeys and settled them over a thousand years ago.
Well known for its favored son, the conqueror of Everest Sir Edmund Hillary, its successful marketing of bungy jumping, the Chinese gooseberry, otherwise known as the kiwifruit, and its innovative and inventive modern mixed economy, New Zealand under a Labour Government is boasting of a 2.4% inflation and 3.6 growth rate. It has 6.3% of its workforce unemployed.
It is, however, not a land without problems. Being one of the first countries to whole-heartedly embrace, in the early eighties, market driven economics it suffered almost irreparable damage as unemployment and crime rates skyrocketed. Now the Government is buying back the national airline, elements of the railway network and setting up another bank to replace the Bank of New Zealand which it sold to private interests. It does this with the realization that the private sector does not always serve the people's or the country's interests, and, as many bankruptcies have proven is not as it was claimed, ad nauseam, more efficient.
The first Greek to arrive and settle in this former British colony is thought to be a nineteenth century whaler who jumped ship and settled in Dunedin. Cypriots Greeks arrived sometime in the 1920s. As Cyprus was also a British colony and its inhabitants were entitled to British passports, it was easy for them to enter New Zealand either directly from Cyprus or from Australia, where many had gone and worked in restaurants or labored in the mines of New South Wales and the cane fields of Queensland. Some of the earliest Cypriots were from villages like Marathovounos and Palechori. All were economic refugees, leaving, like many thousands of other Cypriots to escape unemployment, famine or drought, and to find work by which they could support their families. Many men sent back home for their wives or had arranged marriages, where women left their villages traveled in trepidation for six weeks on impersonal ships to meet and marry total strangers. A very small number of men became totally estranged from their families and had lonely deaths.
Recent research carried out by Wellington, based psychiatric nurse Athena Gavriel for her doctorate thesis has unearthed the heavy psychological pricel that those immigrants had paid for the security and wealth that was given to them by New Zealand. Athena's father was a Greek Cypriot.
In their latter years, some of the original Cypriot immigrants returned to Cyprus and successfully reintegrated themselves into Cypriot society. In many cases, however, their children did not accompany them back. Many of those became refugees and returned to New Zealand to remake all that they had lost. Others stayed behind and still live in Cyprus .
Helping each other with interest-free loans the early Greek Cypriots of New Zealand worked very hard many establishing themselves in restaurant and fish and chip shop businesses. Many of their children joined the professional classes, becoming accountants, psychologists and teachers. Almost all of their children's children are unable to speak or write Greek although they are able to understand it. In the last twenty years, however, many first-generation Cypriots have sent their children back to Cyprus to acquaint themselves with their roots, and that has led to a cultural renaissance within this distant Cypriot community.
Greek Cypriots were originally responsible for the establishment of the Pan Hellenic Association of New Zealand and contributed to the purchasing of the building that still houses this association, serving as its President and on committees for many terms. It was a Cypriot who donated the first building that became the Greek Orthodox Church of Wellington. The Cypriot Brotherhood was renamed The Cypriot Association of Wellington and their most ambitious project was the building and furnishing of their new hall in a suburb of the capital. Many gave their craft, labour and time to build this debt free community center, which is used for weddings, Kafenio and taverna evenings and other community events.
One of the injustices they are trying to currently address is the matter of transferable pensions. Unlike mainland Greeks, Cypriots cannot receive their pension in Cyprus if they wish to retire here. They have taken their case to the New Zealand and Cypriot Governments and neither have as yet satisfactorily addressed this basic human rights grievance.
During World War II, many Greek Cypriots fought for New Zealand in the Pacific and in Europe. This contribution to New Zealand society has being added to by future generations of law-abiding citizens who have made their mark in different sectors of New Zealand life. However, despite the distance many still have links with Cyprus. A weekly hourly radio program informs them of Cypriot current events and allows them to enjoy the latest music hits and current popular jokes from their homeland. They have also worked hard to lobby the New Zealand Parliament and have taken part in public demonstrations against the injustice that is still perpetrated on their homeland by the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Having re-established their links with the land of their ancestors the children of those early Greek Cypriot-New Zealand immigrants have now passed on to their children the most important psychological commodity that one can have: a cultural identity, something that many other immigrants from other lands have lost.
Christodoulos Moisa was born in New Zealand of Greek Cypriot parents from Marathovounos and Angastina, in 1948. He spent six years of his childhood and eighteen months before the Turkish invasion in Cyprus . Moisa is a respected book reviewer and journalist and has had six books of poems published, eight exhibitions of paintings, drawings and photographs. He is currently head of art in a public New Zealand secondary school. He lives in Raumati South, just north of Wellington. He is a regular visitor to Cyprus and has recently contributed the cover illustration and a poem to the Greek and Turkish Cypriot Anthology of Cypriot Literature, Weeping Island sponsored by the United Nations.