CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – In the wake of a massacre at two mosques in Christchurch that left 50 people dead, the people of New Zealand’s third largest city are drawing strength from “kia kaha,” a common Maori expression meaning “be strong,” traditional ceremonial dances and embraces between Christian and Muslim leaders.
Despite the grief and mourning which hung in the air in Christchurch, life has started to move on, with moderate Monday morning traffic coupled with a heavy and visible police presence on the city’s streets just three days after the terror attack, which New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern described as the country’s “darkest day.”
“It seemed gloomy. Everything was a bit slow, but everyone seems to be behaving nicer than usual,” Michael Heard, a Canadian who calls Christchurch home, told EFE.
“Kia kaha, kia kaha, kia kaha” is the message that has been repeated on the countless cards placed alongside the flowers at various sites in Hagley Park to honor the victims of the tragedy, where thousands of people placed messages of grief and hope.
Heard was one of the people who visited Hagley, across the street from Al-Noor mosque, where 42 people were allegedly shot dead by Australian Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist who has been since been arrested and charged with murder.
Tarrant allegedly killed another seven people at Linwood mosque, while one more died after being taken to a hospital.
Faced with such unprecedented brutality and hate, Heard says that the city has responded with “overwhelming displays of solidarity,” which are the “real New Zealand,” echoing sentiments made by Ardern on Saturday which rejected the extremist ideology behind Friday’s violence.
Among visitors to the memorial at Hagley Park were students from Cashmere High School, who came to mourn their two companions Sayyad Milne and Hamza Mustafa who died in the attacks.
Apart from Hagley Primary School, which has been serving as a center for assisting the victims, all schools in the city resumed classes, where teachers were prepared to deal with their pupils’ trauma and shock.
A group of young people performed “haka,” a ceremonial Maori war dance that has been popularized around the world by the national rugby team, at Al-Noor (which means light in Arabic) mosque, where people also placed candles and messages of condolence.
From Auckland, students of Orewa Primary School spelled out “kia kaha” with their bodies along with a big heart on the grass in their campus, and posted the video to Facebook, the same platform the alleged perpetrator used to live-stream the shootings.
Christian and Muslim leaders have also embraced in public displays of religious solidarity, which have also included prayers by Islamic and Maori leaders at the two mosques which were targeted on Friday.
Both centers have been closed since Tarrant used semi-automatic weapons on people who had congregated for Friday prayers.
The two mosques are expected to reopen by the end of the week, although the New Zealand authorities, assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States and their Australian counterparts, are first hoping to conclude their investigations.
In Islam, burials should be carried out within 24 hours of death, but funerals will likely need to be delayed as autopsies are carried out, prolonging the pain of many of the victim’s relatives.
For Mohammed Ashif and Manyank, who both lost friends and loved ones in the massacre, the wait before they can grieve will continue for several more days.
“It’s very sad, very sad,” Manyank said, his voice faltering. “I don’t know when they are going to be buried.”