New Zealand’s national anthems. Yes, anthems!

So how many people in New Zealand realise that we have two national anthems? I bet not a lot.

Everyone knows God Defend New Zealand/Aotearoa. Well, at least the first verse anyway.

There are actually five verses in total. You may have heard part of the third verse in the Royal New Zealand Navy ad.

The words to God Defend New Zealand/Aotearoa were written by Thomas Bracken back in the 1870s. These were then used in a competition to compose a national air (tune or song) for New Zealand, with John Joseph Woods, a teacher from Otago, winning with his now familiar composition.

Cover of Hear our voices, we entreatThe song’s popularity grew throughout the the 19th century and became one of the most popular songs in the 20th century.

It became our national song in 1940, but wasn’t adopted as one of our official national anthems until 1977! This was as a result of a petition to parliament the previous year.

Hinewehi Mohi sang God defend New Zealand/Aotearoa in te reo Māori only before the All Blacks versus England match at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, causing a huge public debate in New Zealand. Wow, I remember that. Some people were outraged and others said “about time”.

It just shows you how one person’s brave act can change history. Everyone now expects both languages to be sung. As it should be.

Our other national anthem is God Save the Queen. Yes, the British national anthem. I’m sure most New Zealanders wouldn’t know the words to this, but as a proud dual citizen – the child of a British parent, and with strong Loyalist Grandparents – I can belt this out. Well, verses 1 & 3, haha.

It is usually only used when Her Majesty The Queen, a member of the Royal Family, or the Governor-General is officially present, or when loyalty to the Crown is emphasised.

The Ministry for Culture & Heritage/Manatū Taonga website has lyrics to both God Defend New Zealand/Aotearoa and God Save the Queen if you’re feeling inspired to learn all the verses.

Or you could check out the following:

The best national anthem in the world

Cover of MandelaAll over the world, at this time of mourning for the passing of Nelson Mandela, people will be thirsty for information about this great man. Some will read the many books, maybe take out a DVD or two, or watch tv for documentaries.

But I will listen to music.

I’ll start with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) who spent years in exile because of his political beliefs. Then maybe I’ll indulge in a little resistance music from my CDs – the best came from rebellious young Afrikaans men. Next I’ll lighten up with some Paul Simon gems from Graceland and kick back with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and their wonderful harmonies.

But I will always build up to South Africa’s National Anthem: Nkosi SikeleliAfrika (God Bless Africa). Here is a version of it. Written by a schoolteacher for a church hymn competition which he won in 1897, later  the singing of it became an act of political defiance against Apartheid and finally it was incorporated with Die Stem and sung at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. South Africa has eleven official languages and five of them are represented in this anthem: Xhosa at the start, followed by Zulu, then the completely different sounding Sotho. After that Afrikaans and finally English.

You are certain to hear it in this week of mourning for Mandela. When I hear it I am taken right back to all the occasions when it was sung at the Zulu College at which I lectured. Everyone stands. There is a small silence. Hand on heart, Black Power salute from some of the men. Then the singing begins – in five languages, sometimes in two-part harmony, the softer female voices answered by the powerful bass of the men: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – God bless Africa.

Every nation loves its own national anthem, I know that. But for  me this is the best one in the world. Indulge me just this one week, because for all its poverty, corruption, droughts and AIDS problems, God did bless Africa. He sent us Nelson Mandela.