Saturday, April 12, 2014
The A to Z Challenge: K is for Kiwi
(One thing we never use "kiwi" for is the fruit. To us it's always "kiwifruit", and it gives pause for thought whenever I hear someone talk of eating a kiwi!)
"Kiwi" originally referred only to the bird, an endearing (at least we think so!) stocky, flightless creature, with some unbirdlike characteristics all its own, like nostrils at the end of its long beak, cat-like whiskers at the beak's base, and soft feathers that are almost more like mammal hair than typical bird plumage. They're fully protected, but are relatively rare now—I saw my first one in the wild, as opposed to in a special kiwi house, just last year.
Kiwi became accepted as our national symbol around 1900, appearing on stamps and bank notes, trademarks and crests. Back then it stood for the country, but during the First World War something changed: it started to mean the people of New Zealand. These soldiers, many of them very young, were on the other side of the world, as far away as possible from their loved ones, and facing imminent danger. The kiwi is a creature found in its natural habitat only in New Zealand, and when a colloquial term was needed that referred to New Zealanders and could refer to no one else, they used the name of that familiar bird.
The name took root. We had become Kiwis. It's still how we typically refer to ourselves.
At the end of the war, thousands of Kiwi soldiers were packed into Sling Camp in southern England, waiting to return home. While they waited, they carved a reminder of home into the chalk of the hill overlooking the camp. It's still there today.