Out of Africa - Austro-Melanesian History, Culture and Music

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 1, 2010 12:00pm | Post a Comment
Once upon a time, one or two hundred thousand years ago or so, anatomically human beings appeared on the scene in Africa. About 60,000 years ago, there may have been as many as 5,000 people living on the planet. A number, possibly around 150, decided to cross the Red Sea... following the lead of their cousins, Homo erectus, who'd decided to look for new real estate some 2 million years earlier.

Homo Erectus couple

The humans traveled along the Arabian coast and, once arriving in South Asia, decided to settle down for a while. Over thousands of years, physical differences would develop in humans that spread from this population; lighter skin allowed for the absorption of Vitamin D3 as people moved into less sunny climes. Nowadays we usually call these descendants Asians and white people. But the people that moved on through Southeast Asia to Australia don't have a name nearly as recognized. To my ears, Australoid sounds so clunky... does the "oid" suffix ever sound good? Some of the more widely used terms in their respective cultures include the vague "black," "negrito" and "aborigine." I'm going to stick with Austro-Melanesian (or Australo-Melanesian) for now... If that catches on, maybe future generations will shorten it to AMs, Ausmels or something catchier. But for now, I'd merely like to focus on both the diversity and solidarity of these various peoples.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Whereas India became a post-racial fondue, two island groups between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal existed in relative isolation.

Jarawa lounging

The Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Jangil, Onge, and Sentinelese probably represent the purest example of Africa's original pioneers in Asia.

Traditionally, the music of these islands was vocal, sung either in chorus or solo. The lyrics of their songs, whether about dugong-spearing, bow-making or pig-hunting, could generally be considered work songs.

Malay Peninsula
In southeast Asia, the Mani are a remnant population of the original pioneers that live in modern day Thailand. In Malaysia, the Semang are referred to as one of the nation's groups of orang asli, or "original people." The earliest recorded mention of the Semang in the Malay Peninsula is circa 200 BCE, although their presence obviously stretches much further back.


Mani girls

One of their interesting instruments includes the nose flute. It's pretty much impossible to find any clips though... dang!

Human remains in Papua have been dated to around 50,000 years ago. After India, Papua may've been another major setting point for humans leaving Africa. It was from there that people branched out into Maritime Southeast Asia.

Pro-Independence Papuans observing the Biak Massacre

Study of Papuan music has been discouraged by the Indonesian occupation, which seeks to prevent the promotion of Papuan culture.
In Taiwan, Austronesians were long thought to be the island's aborigines. Nowadays, it's known that there were inhabitants much earlier, the most famous being the so-called (and now vanished or absorbed) Changping Culture.


The Changping culture's best-known site is 八仙洞 (Baxiandong) in Taitung County. In 2009, a team from Academia Sinica discovered and confirmed the age of Taiwan's oldest artifacts inside the cave.
The indigenous peoples of Australia include the Alyawarre, Anmatjera, Arrente, Cammeraygal, Dieri, Eora, Gunai, Gunivugi, Gurindji, Guugu Yimithir, Jarrakan, Kalkadoon, Kamilaroi, Kaurna, Koori Kulin, Lurtija, Maralinga Tjarutja, Murrinh-Patha, Narungga, Ngarrindjeri, Ngunnawal, Noongar, Pitjantjatjara, Spinigex, Tharawal, Tiwi, Warlpiri, Wiradjuri, Wonnarua, Wapa, Yolngu, Yorta Yorta and many others.

Arrarnta boys from Ntaria

They are thought by most to have arrived in Australia between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago. It is believed that first human migration to Australia was achieved when this landmass formed part of the Sahul continent, connected to Papua by a land bridge. Others may've crossed the Timor Sea.

Many forms of traditional music formed across the vast continent. Bunggul developed around the Mann River and is known for its usually epic storytelling. In most cultures there are also clan songs and death wails. The best known symbol of indigenous Australian music is the didgeridoo, one of the oldest known instruments. Traditionally it was played only by men on an aerophone made from eucalyptus with a beeswax mouthpiece. Nowadays they can be made from materials like PVC and are often played by white people with dreadlocks.

The Melanesian subregion of Oceania, (from Greek: μέλας "black" and νῆσος, "islands") includes Amplett Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, d'Entrecasteaux Islands, Fiji, Louisiade Archipelago, Maluku Islands, New Caledonia, Papua, Norfolk Island, Raja Ampat Islands, Rotuma, Schouten Islands, Santa Cruz Islands, Solomon Islands, Torres Strait Islands, Trobriand Islands, Vanuatu and Woodlark Island.

Solomon Islander Children

Some of the islands were settled around 33,000 years ago via boats, and in some cases, land bridges. For tens of thousands of years, they were the only game in town, until, around 4,000 years ago, the Austronesians arrived, resulting in a long period of interaction that resulted in many complex changes in genetics, languages, and culture. In the case of remote Fiji, it appears that the Melanesians actually arrived after their neighbors, the Austronesians, around 2,500 years ago.

Vocal music is very common across Melanesia. Folk instruments included many kinds of drums, flutes, pipes and slit-log gongs.

The indigenous Aetas live primarily in The Philippines' northern Luzon Island. Their Austronesian neighbors, the Ilocano, called them pugut, meaning a sort of forest spirit. They probably arrived to the Philippines some 30,000 years ago via land bridge.

Aeta Men

The Aeta have a musical heritage consisting of various types of agung ensembles. Agung are gongs which provide drone without any accompanying melodic instrument.
The Micronesian subregion of Oceania includes Kiribati, the Marianas, the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands, Nauru and Wake Island. The islands were settled by successive waves from Melanesia and Austronesia between 3000 BCE and 1300 CE.

Dancers from Kiribati

Their primarily vocal folk music is based around mythology and rituals and covers a range of styles believed to have been introduced in dreams and trances, rather than composed by people. 

Austronesia - Don't Tease Ya

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 28, 2010 11:25pm | Post a Comment

Until recently, Austronesian wasn't a self-designation. The name comes from Latin auster (south wind) plus Greek nêsos (island). Of course, historically, Inuits and Aztecs never referred to themselves, in collective solidarity, as "Indians" or "Native Americans," but that doesn't mean we can't see similarities now. Having just  just returned from Taiwan, I've observed a growing pride by some Taiwanese Austronesians in their culture. In June, the International Austronesian Conference was held in Taiwan.

It's probably happening amongst other Austronesians, too, and if anyone wants to buy me a plane ticket to see first hand, I will be there as soon as possible.

Covering a vast area of the Earth, the Austronesians never established a large, centralized authority. Unlike the Mongols, Turks, English or Russians, the Austronesians didn't conquer and assert their sovereignty. Rather, they explored and spread, intermingling when they encountered natives, trading with neighbors and populating previously uninhabited islands. What they left is a vast cultural and linguistic umbrella, on par with the Bantu, Indo-Europeans, Afroasiatics and Uralics.

Madagascar's Austronesian President Andry Rajoelina

I first learned of Austronesians when I was channel surfing and randomly came upon an unknown TV program. I watched in fascination as I tried to figure out where the documentary was taking place. It turned out to be Madagascar, the large island originally settled sometime around 300BC - 500AD by Austronesian pioneers. I'm sure we didn't talk about Asians being indigenous to part of Africa in school, and my interest was piqued.

Taiwanese Aborigines

The ancestors of the Austronesians came from southern China and settled the Penghu Islands and Taiwan between 10000 and 6000 BCE. New evidence suggests they weren't the first on the scene. At the time, Taiwan was still home to the Australo-Melanesians who may've been descended from the first migration out of Africa and may've arrived arrived some 23,000 years earlier.

Between 5000 and 2500 BCE, population growth fueled the great Austronesian expansion. The early settlers landed in Luzon to the south where they again encountered and intermingled with the Australo-Melanesian natives, the Negritos.

Mentawai Islanders

From there they migrated to the rest of the Philppines, and then the islands of the Celebes Sea, including Borneo, Maluku, Sulawesi and Sumatra (now part of Indonesia and Malaysia). Around 1200 BCE, Austronesians settled in Fiji, Papua, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the rest of Melanesia and then, to Micronesia, including Guam, Kiritbati, Nauru, Palau and Yap.

Rapa Nui

From there, in around 1000 BCE, they moved on to the previously uninhabited islands of Polynesia and the rest of the Pacific. Between 0 and 500 CE, a western group of Austronesians discovered and settled the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. By 300, the Austronesians discovered Rapa Nui. From there they may've traveled to Chile, and made contact with the Mapuche. By 400, they discovered Hawaii. Around 800, they discovered Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Ruins of the Champa Kingdom

From their Oceanic bases, some Austronesians returned to the Asian mainland. In the first millennium CE, they traded with China and India and established the kingdoms of Majapahit, Melayu and Srivijaya. Around 900, the Austronesian Kingdom of Champa thrived from its base in Vietnam. Today, Austronesian groups still live in parts of Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Not surprisingly, all the Austronesian cultures viewed the sea as the most important part of their existence. Their skill with watercraft allowed them to move far beyond the territory of their Australo-Melanesian neighbors to far flung, uninhabited corners of the world. Most Austronesians believed in an omnipotent being and also practiced animism, shamanism and ancestor worship. Body art was also important to most Austronesians. In fact, the word "tattoo" is Polynesian.

Today there are around 380 million people of Austronesian ethnicity. In Taiwan, there's something of an Austronesian reawakening taking place, especially in the south. In Taitung, the Tiehua Village regularly features indigenous performers and I caught a performance by Puyuma/Ami singer Panai. Traditionally, the voice is the most important instrument in Austronesian music. There are also various metal percussion instruments like the gangsa and kulintangs of the Philippines and the gamelan of Indonesia. Other percussion uses the performer's body, with clapping, knee slapping and stomping.

Thanks to Lai Xiao Mei for being my guide at Taiwan's National Museum of Prehistory, LanYang Museum and for being a helpful and informative hostess.

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Rowland Heights, Los Angeles County's Little Taipei

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 28, 2010 08:30pm | Post a Comment

A view of lower Rowland Heights from the hills

Little Taipei is a nickname for Rowland Heights, a city in the San Gabriel Valley. To vote for more Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of a future entry, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. Rowland Heights is a community neighbored by City of Industry to the north, Diamond Bar to the northeast, Chino Hills to the east, unincorporated Orange County to the south, La Habra Heights to the southwest, and Hacienda Heights to the west.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Rowland Heights -- made without aesthetic consideration for my eyes only

World Journal, International Daily News, Sing Tao, the Epoch Times, the China Press or the Zhong Guo Daily at a bus stop


Rowland Heights' location in the southeastern corner of the SGV was earlier part of the Mexican Rancho La Puente. In 1842, shortly before the Mexican-American War, the land was sold to John Rowland and William Workman. In 1868, they divided it and established the Workman Temple Homestead near what's now the corner of Gale and Nogales. Much of what became Rowland Heights was covered with hog lots and later orange groves until nearly a century later, when postwar prosperity, the extension of the 60 Freeway and a greater trend toward suburbanization led Angelenos eastward into the area.


In 1949, after the defeat of the Nationalist Kuomintang army by the Communist Party of China, approximately two million mainland Chinese refugees (waishengren or 49ers) moved to Taiwan, joining the population of indigenous Austronesians (a group which also includes the Malagasy of Madagascar, Filipinos, Indonesians and Polynesians), who'd lived there from some four to eight thousand years as well as Mainland Chinese descendants who'd lived there for centuries. Following Mao Zedong's death in 1979, a power struggle erupted between the Gang of Four, Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping. The political uncertainty that ensued over the next four years provided the impetus for some relatively wealthy residents in Taiwan and Hong Kong to pack their bags and move to the San Gabriel Valley, especially in Monterey Park, which was advertised in China as "The Asian Beverly Hills."

Soon, Monterey Park acquired to new nicknames, "Mandarin Park" and "Little Taipei." Those appellations were soon dropped after many ethnically Chinese (Hoa) left Vietnam after experiencing anti-Chinese persecution there. After a moratorium against development of new shopping centers in Monterey Park went into effect, Chinese-Americans began to move to neighboring Alhambra.  Meanwhile, given the growing wealth of mainland Chinese and Monterey Park's reputation abroad, many mainlanders began to move to the San Gabriel Valley as well. In 1990, Monterey Park became the first Asian majority city in the US, albeit one where Vietnamese and Cantonese were by then heard as often as Mandarin.


A few years earlier, as Monterey Park and Alhambra had begun to grow increasingly crowded, wealthier, established Taiwanese-Americans began to eye other nearby cities like San Gabriel, Rosemead, Arcadia, Temple City, Artesia, Irvine, Cerritos, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights. Although Monterey Park was marketed as "The Asian Beverly Hills," if anything that nickname seems more appropriate for Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights (or Arcasia or Chan Marino... fine!). If anyone wants to film a reality show in the vein of MTV's The Hills and BET's Baldwin Hills, I highly recommend that someone pitch The Heights to the good folks at LA-18. The city is characterized by green, rolling hills with sprawling (if not especially attractive) hillside McMansions in the south, and the Asian-American shopping district along Colima in the north.


Up until the mid-1980s, Rowland Heights had been predominantly Anglo and Latino. Now they make up the minorities, with Latinos making up 27% and whites making up 17%. Although Taiwanese make up the largest ethnic group in the neighborhood, monied Korean-Americans, mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers and Hoa have followed the Taiwnese-American wave, creating something of a wealthy, pan-East Asian fusion suburb where Koreans and Mainland Chinese often serve Japanese or Taiwanese food and Hoa run foot massage parlors, hair and nail salons. There are also quite a few spas, come to think of it.


Rowland Heights' main draw is its many restaurants. Every April, Pathfinder Park hosts the Taste of the Heights festival. Thankfully, chains are mostly eschewed. Not long ago a Taco Bell became a pho restaurant. On the day Tim and I were exploring, we popped into New Garden, a Mandarin Restaurant. I was first intrigued by the blue roof tiles, which I associate with Koreans. Inside the TVs were tuned to KBS. They started us off with onions, jjajang sauce and kim chi. The customers and employees engaged one another in Korean. It was slightly unexpected but, more importantly, it was delicious!

The most represented cuisine in Rowland Heights is Taiwanese, but as this not even comprehensive list hopefully shows, there are many Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican joints too... not to mention an above average number of yogurt places, tea bars, bakeries and even two Cajun restaurants. The first time I ate in Rowland Heights was a chilly winter night at a Macaroni Grill. Behold the variety!

#1 Pho, #1 Sun, 5 Minute Bowl/VNS Chicken, A Taco Pub 2, Abarca's Taco Pub, Ajisen, Aoyama, Apo Apo, BCD Tofu House, Baimon, Banana Bay, Banana Cafe, Banana Split Garden, Beef Noodle King, Beer Station, Berri Yogurt, Bin Bin Konjac, Boston Kitchen, Cake House Richmond, Cannan, Capital Seafood, Casa Alvarez, Casa Blanca, Cham Sut Gol, Chef's China Kitchen, China Gate, Chu Ga, Class 302, Coconut Bay, Coconut Station, Country Bistro, Country Chicken, Diamond Bakery, Ding's Garden, Dolphin Bay, Eastern Express, FFY Noodle House, Feedable BBQ Buffet, Flavor of Beijing, Food to Go, Four Seasons Steak House, Ga Ju Soon, Gaju Soft Tofu Restaurant, Genie's Donuts, Genki Living, Go Hyang, Golden China Restaurant, Golden Noodle & Grill, Good Morning Bakery, Good Time Cafe, Graziano's, Green Tea Terrace, Gungjung Sulruntang, Hainan Tasty Chicken, Hanashima Noodle House, Hang Out Tea House, Happy Dolphin Bay, Happy Harbor, Happy Sheep, Happy Veggie Garden, Hong Kong Fishball House, Hong Kong Palace, Howondang, Hsin Hsin Shao Mei, Hsin Hsin Shau Mei, Hunan, Ichi Ichi Fusion Shabu & Tempura, JJ Bakery, JMP, Jang Gun, Jang Mo Jip, Java Cafe, Java Spice, Jin Mae, Joe's Crab Shack, Jungle Teabar, Kanpai, Kee Wah, Kiki Baker, King's Bakery, King's Palace, Kingswood Teppan Steak House, Korea House, Korean Garden, Lee's, Leung Kee, Little Bean, Lollicup, Long Choa Shou, Lucky Panda, MJ Cafe, Manie's, Maxim Cafe, Michael's Cajun Seafood, Miga, Misong Sushi, Momo, Mountain, New Capital Seafood, New Garden, New Golden City, Newport Seafood, Niko Niko, Nini Bakery, No 1 Noodle House, Nodaji, Noodle House, Ong Ga Nae, Ong Go Jib, Ono, Pan Kitchen, Pho 2007, Pho Ha, Pho Mani, Pho Noodle House, Pho Rowland, Phoenix Food Bootique, Pizza & Chicken Love Letter, Plaza Deli, President Thai, Q Noodle House, Qoo Tea Stand, Red Ant Caft, Rockstar Noodle House & Tea Bar, Rolling Wok, Rowland Garden, Royal Spring, Ruby Palace, Sam Han, Sapporo Ya, Sato, Sea Harbour Seafood, Seafood Village Rowland Heights, Seo Ho Don Katsu, Shufeng, Simbala, Splash Corner, Supreme Dragon, Taipei Golden Garden Pork Chop Noodle and Rice, Tanbi, Taoyuan Small Eatery, Tea Station, Ten Ren, The Boiling Crab, The Brochette, The Hot Pots, The Noodle Island, The Shack, Three Family Village, Tianjin Goubuli, To Ten Ko, Tofu King, Tofu Village, Toku, Tokyo Shabu Shabu, Tous Les Jours, Tutti Frutti Yogurt, Vanille De Patissierie, Vietnam Restaurant, Vip China, Wonderful Japanese Cuisine, Yang-Pyun Shin Nae, Yei San Jib, Yogurtland, Yu Chun, Yuki Sushi and Yummy House.

If you're a chef, there are also several large markets targeted toward Asian-Americans: 99 Ranch Market, Shun Fat Supermarket (which replaced a Vons), Do Re Mi Market (formerly known as Han Gook Market), Greenland Market, Galleria Market, T S Emporium and HK2 Food District. Tim pointed out what he thought was a supermarket just selling varieties of mushroom. On inspection I surmised that these "mushrooms" were dried sea cucumbers.


Being thoroughly suburban means most of the things to do are typically suburban. There are many shopping plazas to hang out in.

Diamond Plaza on a slow night

The center of nightlife in the city is Diamond Plaza. On weekends, the plaza and the businesses are descended upon by young, mostly Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese, who cruise the parking lot, hang out, play cards, etc.

Hong Kong Plaza is another popular destination, albeit tending to draw a somewhat older crowd.

Yes Plaza is home of Cue Studio, a popular photo/sticker joint and some of the buildings have fake, multi-story facades with shimmering lights behind them at night that give it a kind of Disney simulacrum effect. In fact, Plazas are so popular that at least two restaurants, Life Plaza and Dynasty Plaza are named after... plazas. Other plazas include Colima Plaza, Kumar Plaza, Eagle Plaza, Rowland Heights Plaza, Pacific Plaza, Golden Square and the alleys between plazas.

Colima Plaza

Rowland Heights Plaza

Golden Square

Pacific Plaza


There are few bars (not counting Tea Bars) - 9PM, Stubby's, Lucky 101, Beer Station and Whitney's, a hostess bar. JJ Music Studio is a popular noraebang (song room) where you can sing karaoke with a private audience. There's a pool halls - Man-Wha Billiard. There are some top notch arcades as well: Arcade Infinity, Tilt and MVP Shooters Club.


I couldn't find any movies that were filmed in Rowland Heights other than a couple of shorts, The Reclamation of David Simms and Escape. I'm sure there are some budding musicians, too. Rowland Heights, not surprisingly, has several piano stores. Amoeba has a very healthy Asian Cinema section, although one that tends to favor artier fare. There are a few really good DVD/VCD/VHS/Video Games/Music stores with a wide array of more popular stuff. Video 94 rents films and video games. Amax has a variety of music, movies and knick-knacks from China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan as well as English-singing acts favored by Asians such as Air Supply and The Carpenters. Jade focuses mostly on Chinese music and movies. Sunrize Video mostly specializes in rental of K-Dramas. There's also KJ Video.

Amax Music House
Jade Entertainment

Sunrize Video


Special thanks to filmmaker and musician Tiffany Huang, who, as a former Hacienda Heights resident had helpful tips about Rowland Heights, where her doctor's office was, and where she studied for her SATs.


Like the Far Eastside on Facebook

Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold

New Zealand Day or, Happy Waitangi Day

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 6, 2008 03:04pm | Post a Comment
Happy New Zealand Day!

                                The Haast's Eagle, the largest bird of prey (until extinction) attacking a flightless moa (also extinct)

The islands that make up what today is known as New Zealand were, for centuries, uninhabited by people. Due to isolation, the islands hosted many distinct creatures and were dominated by large birds. There were no land mammals, only bats and the marine variety on the coast.

                          a Maori warrior                                                               a group of Moriori

Austronesians came from Polynesia sometime between 800 and 1300 A.D, making New Zealand one of the last major land masses to be settled by people. These people organized into groups called hapu. Over time, they came to refer to themselves collectively as Māori. They called the North Island Te Ika a Māui (the fish of Māui) and the South Island Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of jade) or Te Waka a Māui (the canoe of Māui). Around 1500, a group split off and migrated to Rekohu and developed a culture known as Moriori. These people embraced Pacifism which served them poorly when they were massacred and cannibalized by the Maori in the 1830s. The remaining Moriori, who'd adapted to the harsh climate of Rekohu, died out completely in the early 20th century.

                                    Able Tasman                                                                               James Cook

In 1642, Abel Tasman encountered the Maori, who killed some of his men. He erroneously assumed the land was attached to a continent off the coast of Argentina and called the country Staten Landt.

About 30 years later, the next European showed up, British explorer James Cook in 1769. After discovering the islands were in fact islands, cartographers had labeled them Nova Zeelandia, Latin for "New Zeeland," after a province in the Netherlands. Sealers, whalers, traders and escaped convicts from Australia began to colonize the islands. The traders traded metal tools, guns and potatoes in exchange for timber and sex. By the 1830s, these Pakehas numbered in the thousands. Many Maori adopted European manners and many Europeans adopted Maori ways, having been said to have "gone native" or become Pakeha Maori.


Predictably, the introduction and influx of guns brought on inter-tribal wars -- known in this case as the Musket Wars. Coupled with disease, 10 to 50 percent of the Maori died in the first part of the 19th century. Due to the perceived severity of the situation, Queen Victoria sent William Hobson, who negotiated the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori on February 6th, 1840 which established New Zealand as a nation with guarantees of rights for Maori although the Maori and English texts are said to say different things and were boycotted by some Maori.

In the decades following, the so-called New Zealand Land Wars provided cover for a British land grab of 95% of remaining Maori lands. Many predicted extinction for the indigenous people, who instead fought for rights and began to recover. In the early 20th century, some people started calling New Zealand Aotearoa (usually translated as "Land of the Long, White Cloud") to reflect its pre-European identity.

New Zealander Film

The first screening of a movie in New Zealand took place in 1896 as part of a show presented by Charles Godfrey's Vaudeville Company. The first homegrown filmmaker was Alfred Whitehouse, who made ten films between 1898 and 1900. The first feature film was Hinemoa which premiered in Auckland in 1914.

Before the 1970s, the few films New Zealand produced were mostly documentaries. Notable directors included Rudall Hayward and Roger Mirams. Sleeping Dogs from 1977, starring Sam Neill and directed by Roger Donaldson, was the first New Zealand film to play in the USA.1981's Goodbye Pork Pie, Pictures and Smash Palace, whilst not terribly popular internationally, signalled the beginning of a locally commercially successful industry. Utu and The Quiet Earth followed.


In the 1990s, Lee Tamahori's powerful Once Were Warriors set a new record at the box office and Peter Jackson and Jane Campion began to create a buzz internationally among critics and cult-film lovers. Jackson remains one of the few New Zealanders who still makes his films at home, most other talent having defected to Hollywood only to make less interesting fair. Lee Tamahori made Die Another Day and XXX: State of the Union. Two years ago he was arrested whilst dressed as a woman when he offered a BJ to an undercover LAPD officer.

          Jane Campion                         Peter Jackson                            Lee Tamahori                    Roger Donaldson

Music of New Zealand

New Zealand music reflects the nation's Polynesian and British roots whilst also absorbing reggae and hip hop. Often the diverse bands have been tidily lumped together under the term "Kiwi Rock," which encompasses widely disparate bands whose only real commonality is national origin.

In the 1960s, when the British Invasion reached New Zealand's shores, garage bands sprang up across the country. My favorite NZ 60s bands are The Avengers and Ray Columbus.

In the 1970s New Zealander Richard O'Brien wrote the musical Rocky Horror Picture Show, which opened in London in 1973. Back in New Zealand, hard rock flourished from the likes of Alastair RiddellHuman Instinct, Bill T.K., Space Farm, Living Force, Dragon and Hello Sailor, Th'Dudes, but the most famous band was the sort-of quirky Split Enz. Punk bands included The Scavengers, the Suburban Reptiles, Proud Scum and Nocturnal Projections and the Chris Knox-fronted The Enemy.

In the 1980s, Tim Finn from Split Enz formed Crowded House, who was huge for a song or two. The weirder-than-she's-given-credit-for-being Shona Laing, The Exponents, and Dave Dobbyn were also popular. Local Hip Hop (rapped in Maori and English) started with Upper Hutt Posse. But, most celebrated by critics was New Zealand's alternative music, which is often distinguishable by an admirable disinterest in musical technicality coupled with a strong sense of melody roughly comparable to their contemporaries in Scotland.

The aforementioned The Enemy were formed in Dunedin, a southern university town which spawned what is known as the "Dunedin Sound." Pioneers in that scene included Toy Love (also with Chris Knox) and The Same (later The Chills). Flying Nun Records was founded in Christchurch in 1981 and championed the lo-fi bands that followed. "Tally Ho" by The Clean unexpectedly reached the top 20. An amazing number of talented bands (considering how small the population is) followed including The Tall Dwarfs, Straitjacket Fits, The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, Headless Chickens, Bailter Space, The Verlaines, Able Tasmans, The Sneaky Feelings, The Bats, The Bilders, the 3Ds, The Gordons, The Terminals, Bird Nest Roys, The Dead C, Loves Ugly Children, Look Blue Go Purple, The DoubleHappys and Alastair Gailbraith. In 1999 Matthew Bannister of The Sneaky Feelings wrote Positively George Street: A Personal History of the Sneaky Feelings and the Dunedin Sound about the New Zealand music industry of the 1980s, including, of course, Flying Nun.

In the 1990s, the Maori group, Otara Millionaires Club or OMC gave us "How Bizarre," which is still New Zealand's highest selling single. Flying Nun remained significant with new signings including the Mint Chicks, The D4, HDU, Garageland, Gerling, PanAm, Betchadupa, Ghost Club, The Subliminals and Adam Brand. A 41 track DVD called Very Short Films includes 41 different videos from Flying Nun's roster that is essential for people who like what has been described as "high-end pop with a twist."

In the 2000s, the British press pumped up The Datsuns with typical hype. In New Zealand, a local style known as Urban Pasifika grew out of local hip-hop and incorporated a sweet, chart-friendly sound.

Anyway, Happy New Zealand Day!

Become a fan of Eric's Blog on Facebook!