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Background to the Dunedin Haggis Ceremony

Dunedin ( the Celtic name for Edinburgh) was founded by Scottish settlers in the late 1840's and is home to New Zealand's first University. Following the discovery of gold in Cental Otago 1860's Dunedin became the largest city in New Zealand.

When the first settlers arrived on board their sailing ships from Scotland, they were extremely fortunate to have as their spirtual guide none other than the Reverend Thomas Burns, nephew of Robert Burns, the internationally renowned poet and songwriter of 18th Century Scotland. Descendants of Robert Burns still live in the Dunedin community today, so we have a direct link not only with Scotland, but also with Robert Burns himself. Such is the admiration and respect within our community for Robert Burns that his statue occupies an honoured site at the top of our central city 'Octagon'. One of Robert Burns many achievemenets was to pen the first song the world sings as we enter each new year, 'Auld Lang Syne'.

In 1785 Burns took the Scottish national dish 'the haggis'and used it as a focal point and metaphor to make a statement as pertinent today, over 200 years later, as it was then. On observing his fellow countrymen and women turn away from their own culture to embrace those of England and the Continent, he recited his poem over 'the haggis'. In his poem Burns encourages his countrymen and women not to turn away from their own culture. Since then the 'Address to the Haggis'has been likened to a Highland Chieftain's Procession. The Haggis takes the part of the Chieftain himself. He is led in by his 'Ghillie Piobhear'(or piper) who is followed by the 'Ghillie Mhor'(the Guard of Honour or Sword Bearer) then comes the Ghillie Cowe (adviser to the Chieftan and commander of his forces) and finally, the 'Ghillie Usque Bae'(Whisky Bearer).

When Burns opens the 'Address to the Haggis'he speaks of how large the haggis is, of how well rounded it is and how it reminds him of looking at a distant hill - the inference being that the Scots who are strong in their own culture are as well rounded and solid as the hills of their homeland. Burns speaks of the juice that seeps out through the pores of the Haggis, and says it reminds him of whisky. He compares it with the other fashionable foods of the day from other countries and says that he has seen the people who eat these dishes of food and they are no match for the Scots, for they could not run through a flooded field, or across a battlefield to save their clan or family, whereas Burns felt that the Scots could, helped by the strength given to them by the eating of the superior Haggis. At the end of the address Burns asks the powers that be, that if they wish the Scottish people to always be grateful, they should forever make sure that they have sufficient haggis to eat.

The ingredients originally used in the haggis were, for financial reasons, the cheapest cuts of meat and offal. Today however, the Dunedin made haggis comprises only prime lamb and beef, along with a little liver, onions, seasoning and Otago oatmeal. The final magnificent product, on cutting open, resembles in appearances and taste, a coarse pate.

Although Robert Burn's 'Address to the Haggis'; revolves around food, the message he relates is wise and deep, and just as enduring today.

Protect your culture, for in losing it, you lose your identity.

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