New Zealand gives part of its culture as gift to World Expo

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The Independent Online

As far as gifts go, they don't come much more impressive than the surprise New Zealand has in store for China at this year's World Expo in Shanghai.

The centerpiece of the New Zealand pavilion at the May 1 to October 31 Expo will be a seven-ton wood canoe - or "waka'' - carved from a 3,500-year-old kauri tree.

Maori craftsmen in New Zealand have been working on the carving for the past few months and say the tree chosen was a relative of Tane Mahuta, hailed as the god of the forest in the indigenous New Zealand culture.

The finishing touches will be put to the carving once it arrives in Shanghai late next week and after it takes pride of place at the New Zealand pavilion for the six months from May, it will be handed over as a present to the Chinese nation.

"It's really sad sending this rakau [tree] away never to come back," master carver James Rickard told New Zealand media this week.

But the gift will certainly be appreciated by the more than 70 million visitors expected to wander through World Expo this year.

New Zealand has spent an estimated NZ$30 million (15 million euros) on its 2,000 square meter Expo site, which has been themed "Cities of Nature: Living between Land and Sky.'' A website for the pavilion is expected to be launched in March.

The native Maori culture plays a major role in plans for the pavilion, which will include an exhibition telling a "modern variation of the Maori story of how humans were created, in which forests and people are not seen as separate, but as different aspects of the same creative spirit,'' according to organizers, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

The pavilion will also feature Maori dancing groups - called "Kapa Haka'' groups - performing daily, while also highlighting a "unique showcase of New Zealand culture, innovation and technology.''

"New Zealand has plenty to bring to the Shanghai 2010 theme of 'Better City, Better Life,''' according to a NZTE spokesperson.

"Although New Zealand has a small population of almost 4.3 million, it is highly urbanized with some 86 percent of people living in cities or towns.''

The Shanghai World Expo ( has attracted participation from more than 200 nations and organizations.