Thursday, January 7, 2016

Can't go to New Zealand without seeing some Maori culture

One thing I didn't realize before I went to New Zealand is how YOUNG the country is! Like America and Australia, New Zealand has an indigenous population, but unlike America and Australia, New Zealand has not mistreated their native population nearly as atrociously. Government schools teach Maori handicrafts and you hear Maori* language lessons on the radio.

Maybe some of that respect comes from the fact that humans didn't even reach New Zealand until sometimes around AD 1250, (only about 250 years before the first European colony was settled in North America) when 7 wakas (canoes) filled with Maori arrived on the shores of the North Island and then spread throughout the two islands to become the seven Maori tribes found in New Zealand today. European settlers didn't arrive until 1642 when the Dutch arrived (Zeeland is a province in the Netherlands) and the country didn't become colonized until 1788 when England sort of annexed it as part of New South Wales in Australia.

Don't misunderstand, European colonizers, as they were notorious to do, mistreated the Maori population as they forcibly took their land and greatly decreased their population...but it's almost like modern Kiwis have found a way to make amends with the population and blend native culture with western traditions. It's not perfect, but it is LIGHTYEARS ahead of any "progress" we've made in the States. It might help that there is essentially only one native culture in New Zealand as compared to the thousands of unique tribes and traditions we had in the United States.

ANYWAY (that was a long tangent)

Marisol and I stumbled upon a Maori cultural center when we were in Rotorua at the Te Puia geyser and Maori heritage center.

There were several geysers and natural mud pools and it was really cool to watch them bubble and spew.

The cultural center had a village set up (no one lived there) and they performed the traditional welcome ceremony and led the tourists into the meeting house to perform Maori songs and a haka. It was VERY pre-packaged and a little cheesy, but still really cool.

Part of the presentation included the poi, which originally was a rock covered in layers of leather and tied to a twine and used by the Maori women to mimi the movement of native birds and help to tell the stories in their songs. Now the poi is plastic, but it is still SO cool to watch!!

The next night we went back to Rotorua for a VERY touristy Maori dinner at the Tamaki Village. It's scripted and pre-packaged, but short of making friends with actual Maori people and horning in on one of their gatherings, this was the least invasive way to experience some Maori culture and benefit the local Maori population.

Cheesy as it may be, I really enjoyed Tamaki Village. We got bussed "back in time" to a replica pre-European Maori village and were welcomed by the tribe and given a tour of the village where we stopped at each hut and talked to the artisans or warriors that "lived" there and heard about different aspects of traditional Maori culture. Anyone that has traveled with me will attest that I ask a million and a half questions, and everyone at Tamaki Village was so kind to indulge me and not take offense at my ignorance or accidental insensitivity with my interrogation.

Of course, no Maori experience would be complete without a haka. What I didn't know before going to New Zealand is that there isn't just one haka. A "haka" is a war chant, meant to tell a story about a fierce warrior from that particular tribe as a way to get the blood pumping and intimidate the enemy. Anyone that has seen anything related to the All Blacks--New Zealand's national rugby team-- has seen the haka they perform before a game. The hakas we saw during our trip were different, but equally cool and goosebump-inducing to watch.

If New Zealand isn't already on your list of places to go in the world, put it on there now. You won't regret it.

Vicariously yours,

*Before coming Down Under, I though it was pronounced "MAY-oh-ree." Then the Australians told me it is pronounced "m-OW-ree." Kiwis say it more like "mAHree" with a rolled R. Y'all just read it inside your head however you like. 

No comments:

Post a Comment