Anthem argument

Sigh. Here we go again. There must be some sort of law that dictates we are required to have a strange, and ultimately futile, debate about the Maori version of the national anthem once every couple of years.

Our instigator this summer was New Plymouth district councillor Murray Chong, who publicly expressed his ''shame'' in singing the Maori version of the anthem, and when pressed, declared he only needed to sing ''the original version''.

Cr Chong, perhaps infused with the comedic spirit of his namesake, American performer and famed marijuana advocate Tommy Chong, had earlier leaped from a previous cause, proclaiming he was fine with flying the racist Confederate flag at a Taranaki car festival.

His Maori anthem comment produced the usual sort of aftermath. There was a brief flare-up on social media. A petition calling for Cr Chong's resignation was circulated. Cr Chong apologised for causing any offence - though interestingly stood by a pre-election promise of ''saying it like I see it''. What a crusader.

What motivates anyone, let alone an elected official, to pursue this tired argument?

E Ihowa Atua, to give the Maori version of the anthem its official name, has been around a long time.

It was written by T.H. Smith in 1878, three years after the Thomas Bracken-penned original English anthem, though it is not a direct translation.

The Maori anthem was relatively hidden until about the late 1990s, when a growing acceptance of the importance of celebrating te reo included the realisation both versions of the anthem should be performed.

Famously, the debate ignited most furiously after singer Hinewehi Mohi's unilateral decision to sing the Maori version only at the 1999 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal.

Embracing our indigenous culture, and the taonga that is its language, is now second nature to most of us. As Don Rowe wrote in The Spinoff last year, going without the Maori version of the anthem is ''almost unimaginable''.

Mostly gone are the days of shocking disparity at major events when there would be near-silence while the Maori anthem was performed before an explosion of singing at the first lines of God Defend New Zealand.

Our children sing the Maori anthem at school, and all major international sports events include both anthems as a matter of course - and how does that do any harm?

For many, the Maori version actually rolls off the tongue much more sweetly than the dry English dirge.

Perhaps the real question of value is whether God Defend New Zealand needs updating - but that is a debate for another day

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