Monday, September 15, 2008

New Zealand, from A to Z

On the 6th of August 2008, New Zealand has issued a souvenir sheet containing not less than 26 stamps. Why 26 ? Because this is an “A to Z” of New Zealand, one stamp for each letter of the alphabet, and each showing something uniquely New Zealand. Here is the full souvenir sheet.

Why am I interested in those stamps ? Because some of them are linked to rugby and therefore will fall into my collection of rugby stamps.

Three stamps have a direct link with my favorite sport. The first one is the stamp with the letter H. H is for Haka. Haka is the generic name of Maori traditional dances which are widely known because the All blacks, the international rugby union team of New Zealand, performs a haka prior to all international matches. Even if this is a dance, the haka looks very virile and sometimes violent. Its first objective is to show the strength of the New Zealand team and to impress (frighten ?) the opposite team, in order to influence the victory. Over the year the All blacks have performed several types of haka, but the most widely known is for sure the “Ka Mate”. This is the one that is illustrated on the H stamp, with its lyrics written inside the H letter.
The Ka Mate tells the story of an ancient chief, Te Rauparaha, and celebrates his escape from death. It is therefore interpreted as a celebration of life over death.
In 2005, the All blacks have introduced a new haka, entitled “Kapa o Pango”, which is used for exceptional occasions and has triggered a small scandale. Effectively it ends with a drawing of the thumb down the throat, that was interpreted as a “throat-slitting” action directed at the opposite team. Since 2007, this very criticized gesture has been removed from the Kapa o Pango.
I have had the chance to attend to several games played by the All blacks and I must admit that the haka is always a very impressive moment. Sometimes the opposite team tries to find a way to answer back to the haka. For me the best answer was the one from the French team (of course ;-) ) during the quarter final of last Rugby World Cup : just at the beginning of the haka the French players have dropped their jackets, reveling blue, white and red tee shirts and therefore figuring the French flag ! This is a moment I will never forget (not to speak about the improbable victory of France against the All black ).

The second stamp which is related to rugby is the L for “Log o’ wood” the common name of the Ranfurly Shield, which is the most prestigious trophy in New Zealand’s domestic rugby union competition.

The stamp pictures the shield itself, which initially was made for soccer competition and which was modified to picture a rugby scene instead of a soccer goal !

The third stamp that has a direct link to rugby is the one picturing the P, for Pinetree. As suggested by the rugby ball, here the Pinetree which is mentioned is the nickname of Colin Meads a very famous rugby player born in 1936 who played 133 times for the All blacks from 1957 until 1971. He was nicknamed Pinetree by his fellow players because of his impressive physical assets.

Just to be complete, I should mention two other stamps that have a less direct link to rugby. The R stamp pictures Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) a New Zealand physicist who is considered as the father of the nuclear physics and who was a very successful rugby player in his youth.

And the D stamp, pictures “the Dog”, a character from Footrot Flats, a very famous comic strip written by cartoonist Murray Ball who was also a rugby player in his youth.

Rugby is very present in his comics, since Wal, the hero, is a rugby union player, not a very good one, who dreams to play one day for the All Blacks !

Thank you Dominique from
Les timbrés du rugby for this information !

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