“Everything We Need Is Free.” The Māori in New Zealand
I’ve always been fascinated by the Māori. They have cool tattoos and a great war dance and as indigenous people go, though their lives are harder, they have never been beaten by a European culture.
In Rotorua there are a variety of cultural shows and educational tours to learn about Māori life. Some are smaller and some have better food. They are touristy but you can still learn a lot. Te Po in Te Puia, Rotorua was one of the more touristy yet really enjoyable things I have ever done. We start in the gift shop (of course, I always start there anyway) where there is a nice choice of Māori everything.
Greenstone is the Nephrite jade found in New Zealand and prized by the Maoris. It is sold all over New Zealand. Māori tradition is never to keep the first piece of greenstone that you find and to give it to someone else. The objects made from pounami (greenstone) are passed down in Māori families not only linking them to their ancestors but to the maker and nature of the stone itself. In the Māori world, objects speak to their origins: whalebone to the whale, wood to the tree, pounamu to its source river and mountain.It is an acknowledgment of human impermanence, a truth expressed in a Māori proverb: People come and go, but the land endures.
We walk to the marae (meeting hall).
The Māori guide picks his new best friend John (an American from Texas) to lead the cultural interaction. (photo by Cordula Reins)
John would have the honor to greet the warriors coming out of the marae and ask for permission to enter by putting down a branch. He did a great job with his branch and we were promptly invited to proceed through the grounds and enter the marae. (photo by Cordula Reins)
Once seated, the cultural and musical entertainment program began. The Maori group performed some wonderful dances, rituals and songs. (photo by Cordula Reins)
The haka is a Maori war dance. It is fierce and involves much chanting, stamping of hands and feet and some pretty scary looking faces doing the pukana (that wild eye thing they do). (photo by Cordula Reins)
But while most people equate the haka with the start of a New Zealand rugby All Blacks match to try to scare the opposition, the haka is also done on occasions to honor great people. One of the most moving things you’ll see is a haka done at a wedding, funeral or when someone has achieved something great.
The only other place to see the haka (unless you know a Māori family) is at one of these shows. It is the only time to have a chance to learn it. I’m obsessed with the haka, so I thought it was great that so many men ran to do it. Seriously, how could you not? (photo by Cordula Reins)
At the beginning of the evening, everyone had walked over to just outside the dining hall to take a look as the evening’s meal was being lifted out of the earth oven where it was being cooked in the steam. After the show, we went to the dining tables and learned about our table mates from all over the world while eating kumara and rewana bread. We walked to the geysers in this geothermal wonderland as the sun was setting.
After a few minutes of drinking hot chocolate and taking photos in front of the bubbling pools and geysers, it was getting colder and we were happy to catch the little “train” back.
Māori call themselves tangata whenua, people of the land. Members of the various tribes distinguish themselves from other Māori by referring to the canoe that brought their ancestors to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and to special landmarks such as a river or a mountain. In other words, they tie their collective and individual identities to ancestors and places. When they are formally introduced, they often will give not only their name, but also the names of their mountain, river and ancestors. (Lake Tarawera)
Māori philosophy is that all creatures are kin. All beings have life force (mauri), and all are sacred (tapu). People, birds, fish, trees and weather are all interconnected.
There is power in continually acknowledging ancestors. There is no alternative – to make sure there is success in fishing, long journeys, or handling life’s challenges, you have to trust your ancestors, who include the entire natural world. Egotism is very difficult to keep up in an atmosphere of constant reminders of all who brought us here, those who make our lives possible today, and those who will follow after us. (photo by Cordula Reins)