Story: Hungarians

Page 3. Hungarian culture

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Maintaining national identity

Small ethnic communities usually struggle to retain a distinct cultural identity. Immediately after their arrival, Hungarian refugees tended to marry other Hungarians, but by as early as 1959, many were marrying non-Hungarians. This contributed to their rapid integration. The retention of language and culture has been difficult in mixed New Zealand–Hungarian households, particularly because the community has not been replenished by further significant migrations since the refugees arrived after 1956.

Clubs and activities

Existing associations were reinvigorated by the arrival of the 1956 Hungarians. To welcome new arrivals, new clubs were also formed in the main centres by Hungarians already in New Zealand. However, most clubs folded in the 1970s. Mistrust within the Hungarian community, divided by political and religious beliefs, contributed to the demise of the Wellington club.

Interest in joining Hungarian associations revived in the mid-1980s. In 2003, cultural groups existed in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Community activities continue to be popular. They include receiving overseas visitors and celebrating Hungary’s national day. Specialist radio programmes are broadcast on Access Radio and Planet FM. There are Hungarian language classes, and a bulletin, Magyar Szó, is published every three months.

Written into the literature

Hungarians have cropped up from time to time in New Zealand literature. Examples include Bruce Mason’s play Birds in the wilderness (1958) and Alan Duff's novel Szabad (2001), which is set in 1950s Budapest during the revolution. In Janet Frame’s novel, Living in the Maniototo (1979), one of the characters is a former refugee.

Commemorating Hungary and New Zealand

St Stephen’s Day (20 August) is Hungary’s national day. On that day in 2003, the Magyar Millennium Park was opened in Wellington. It was created to promote Hungarian–New Zealand relations and understanding. An expression of Hungary’s presence and cultural heritage in New Zealand, it also marks the community’s appreciation toward their adoptive country.

The park features plants typically found in Hungary. A decorative wooden gate (székely kapu), carved in Transylvania and gifted by the Hungarian government, stands at the park’s entrance. A carved wooden plinth (kopjafa) symbolises freedom.

How to cite this page:

Ann Beaglehole, 'Hungarians - Hungarian culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 September 2022)

Story by Ann Beaglehole, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015