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Bar News - January 4, 2008

A Lawyerís Life: Annual Hangi keeps Concord Attorney Connected with New Zealand


Simon Leeming and friend carry buckets of food to be cooked in an earthen firepit at the Leemings' Hangi, a celebration for New Zealand ex-patriots.

As New Zealandís Honorary Consul to New England, I recently hosted the seventh annual "Hangi," a gathering at my home for New Zealand expatriates living in the States. Attendance at the Hangi has grown each year, with close to 700 attending the seventh one. This year saw New Zealanders, (often nicknamed Kiwis after New Zealandís native flightless bird), come from near and far (with 12 coming in specially from New Zealand) to enjoy the iconic Kiwi event. The food is cooked in the ground, and those gathered for the Hangi eat, drink and celebrate in a tradition that goes way back into the heritage of New Zealandís indigenous Maori people.

To Kiwis living in the States, getting to the Hangi has become an important way of keeping in contact with, and remaining culturally connected to, the homeland. I was pleasantly surprised during a recent trip back home to discover that many in New Zealand had also heard about our Hangi.

I left New Zealand in the early 1970ís and attended university in Boston and in Wales. I went on to Suffolk Law School and began as a lawyer in Boston in 1981. My property professor, at the beginning of our initial first-year class, warned us all that the law is a cruel taskmaster. Twenty-seven years of practice have confirmed the truth of that warning. While rewarding in many respects, the law has been a demanding calling. By remaining involved in the land of my birth and upbringing, and by keeping those home fires burning through the intervening years, I have been able to keep a focus outside of the daily grind, somewhat beyond the reach of that cruel taskmaster.

Throughout the years I have been a member of, and often a board member of, a number of New Zealand organizations in the States. In 2000 New Zealand added a New England consulate to its diplomatic missions and I was fortunate to be appointed as honorary consul to the post. The first Hangi in 2001, just after September 11th, was planned as a way to draw area New Zealanders together. In attendance, in addition to the many Kiwis, were family and friends, clients and neighbors, along with some local lawyers. The event provided a great antidote to that difficult and uncertain post-9/11 time, with a very laid-back and relaxed New Zealand atmosphere, spreading some much needed good will and good cheer.

New Zealand is a bi-cultural country, with 15 percent of its population being of Maori descent and the rest descended from settlers who began arriving in the early 1800s, mainly from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and then from other European countries, the Pacific Islands and the Pacific Rim nations. Race relations between the Maori people and the later-arriving New Zealanders, while by no means perfect, have been pretty good, especially in more recent years. The Maori language is still widely spoken and has seen resurgence, and Maori culture has remained relatively intact. The Maori heritage is a significant part of modern New Zealand and Maori words, phrases, ideas and traditions are a big part of the countryís cultural fabric.

The Hangi is one such Maori tradition and has become an iconic part of contemporary New Zealand life. Reference to a Hangi includes a recognition of the traditional method of cooking and the coming together of peoples for the event. Stones, which have been heated for hours, are laid in a cooking pit. Wire baskets filled with meats and vegetables are placed on top, overlaid with water-soaked burlap bags and then a layer of earth. The pit acts as a steam oven as the food is cooked for three to four hours. The event is a day-long affair and involves food preparation, oven preparation, socializing, Maori music and performance, ceremony, and, in these days, the indispensable keg or two of beer.

At my Hangi the Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre of New Zealand, which has a troupe continuously on tour in the States, provides the music and dance performance. We have a rugby match earlier in the day, a welcome ceremony, with a few speeches and some Maori songs, and then some other events just before the food is served late in the afternoon.

It is not by chance that the annual Hangi coincides with Columbus Day weekend, which is, of course, a great time in New England with the fall weather and foliage. Like the Maori and the settlers that followed them to New Zealand, Christopher Columbus was a great explorer, and all who followed him to this country were great adventurers, leaving their homelands for a new life. Having the Hangi over the weekend named in honor of Columbus is most appropriate. Discovery and colonizing is all about establishing new ways of life. To New Zealanders over here the Hangi has become a way of connecting back home while engaged in the continuing adventure of establishing new roots over here.

The Hangi is but one aspect of my consular role. From time to time I assist the New Zealand Ambassador to the United States and other New Zealand officials when they are in New England. I remain involved (in a very minor way) in New Zealandís attempts to secure a free trade agreement with the United States. There is always a small delegation of New Zealand officials in New Hampshire for the Presidential Primary, to observe, and where possible, meet the candidates on the stump. There are many other interesting aspects and I very much enjoy the role, providing as it does, an outlet from day-to-day practice and the demands of the taskmaster. The consulís role has opened many doors, generated many interesting clients, and created easy conversation and common ground with clients, other lawyers, and the many people I deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Simon Leeming is a director of Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau and Pachios, Concord. He is a member of the NH, Maine and Mass. Bars and is a barrister and solicitor in New Zealand. He lives in Canterbury with his wife and five children.

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