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Rediscovering being Dutch at a hui

Rediscovering the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ of the Dutch at a hui

by Jaap Jasperse

Michelle & girls


This Labour weekend marked a pilgrimage to Hamilton gardens for many people with Dutch roots or with an interest in culture from the Netherlands. The Saturday also featured a Dutch hui, or “HoeWie”: presentations and discussion on How (=”Hoe”) are we doing and Who (=”Wie”) exactly are we?

New Zealand has long been a well-loved emigration target for many Dutch who have generally settled in very well. So well in fact, that there is little recognition of Dutch culture despite the fact that about 22,000 Dutch-born people live here. New Zealand has about 150,000 people with Dutch roots: about one-quarter live in the Auckland region, one-eighths each in the Canterbury, Waikato and Wellington regions, with the remainder elsewhere.

You could say that the Dutch are the prototype of the successful immigrant: as such they are invisible in society. The downside of that excellent integration is there is very little sense of community among them. That’s a pity, not only for the immigrants themselves but also for second- and third-generation Dutch Kiwis who get little opportunity to learn their language and odd habits, or sample their delicatessen.

Dutch societies exist (fourteen to be precise) throughout the country as do a number of cultural groups such as folk dancers, choirs and drama groups. Once every two or three years they all come together to show off their culture and share it with other ethnic communities.

Last weekend was a very successful happening again with several thousands of visitors enjoying themselves during two days’ watching and participating in song and (clog-) dance and theatre, sampling Dutch delicatessen, art and craft, and catching up with friends. There was definitely an atmosphere of “gezelligheid”, this almost untranslatable concept of “social togetherness” that creates and sustains family and friendship bonds.

In addition, the Dutch Forum “Onze Hoe Wie” brought people together to discuss important issues and to build a network for developing new initiatives; and so to build a brighter future for the Dutch community in New Zealand.

The Dutch Ambassador Annelies Boogaerdt, New Plymouth MP Harry Duynhoven and Hamilton City Councillor Peter Bos formally opened the meeting in which several special subjects featured.

First, what is so special about the Dutch, and their communities in New Zealand?

Keynote speaker Jacob Vossestein from the Netherlands specialises in teaching immigrants there how the Dutch can be different from what they are used to or may expect. Drawing strongly on his interesting book “Dealing with the Dutch”, he described the various ways the Netherlands can be viewed: nostalgic, permissive, sporty, multicultural etc.

Marketing man Gus van der Roer pointed out a key difference. “The Dutch are too honest to be polite, the Kiwis are too polite to be honest”. While respecting our differences, much co-operation was possible. Otto Groen illustrated how the Dutch had played a part in the hospitality industry taking off in New Zealand.

Both Suzan van der Pas and Jacques Poot of Waikato University spoke about the success of Dutch men and women in New Zealand society and some of the practical limitations of living so far away from a lot of the action – although the Internet has brought people a lot together. As en example, Professor Poot said that within a 3-hour flight radius from Amsterdam, about 300 million people were accessible. A different story from Auckland, from where you could not even get to Australia in that time!

A major theme of the day was the aging of first-generation immigrants who came here in the 1950s. It is noticeable that of the 22,000 Dutch immigrants, 40 per cent is now over 65 years old. Compare this to 16 per cent for the entire New Zealand population.

Both Ineke Cruzee and Ingrid Seebus spoke about the use of the Dutch language in New Zealand and Australia, respectively. Both had researched how older, permanent immigrants had been forced to drop their mother tongue upon arrival and had not passed it on to their children. Many now regret this and may find themselves isolated as with age their knowledge of their later-acquired language may fade. (How different from the immigrants of today who may come over for a trial or temporary position.)

The highlight session of the day was delivered by Jos Jongenelen, Petra Neeleman and Margaret Martin. Each spoke about the implications of the great wave of immigrants of the 1950 and 1960s. They stressed the importance for the elderly to get good care in an environment they feel at home in, and to be able to speak the language they had grown up with. There is so much we could do to improve the quality of their care. Ms Neeleman’s simple mantra “If it is to be, it is up to me” struck a wonderful chord with the audience – most of whom themselves had at least half a century behind them.

The third theme was, how can we pass on the Dutch culture within and across generations, both to children and grandchildren, as well as “other” New Zealanders?

Dutch-born race relations commissioner Joris de Bres and his Kiwi daughter Julia spoke about what it meant for them to be Dutch. Being one of only a few of her generation at the event, Ms de Bres pleaded for making Dutch connections obvious and accessible – not just through nostalgia to a Holland that once was, but more so to the vibrant and interesting place it remains today.

Arjan van der Boon explained the well-advanced plans for a Dutch Museum that could be developed next-door to the real Dutch – and operating – windmill in Foxton; the Horowhenua District Council has already shown interest for a joint project. Key to the development was the input from volunteers and donations: somewhere near the $5 million was required.

Whereto from here?
One of the objectives for the HoeWie was to establish a Council that could speak on behalf of all the Dutch in New Zealand. Boyd Klap pleaded strongly for unity, and called for volunteers to take such a Council to a next stage and also to see how funds could be raised.

Detailed proceedings are planned to be made available though the Festijn’s website early in December.

For further information contact the Proceedings Editor Dr Jaap Jasperse []


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