Thursday, March 5, 2009
They came from Hawaiki (present day Hawaii) and other East Polynesian islands. In their Wakas (canoes or larger sailing vessels) they traveled over thousands of miles on the South Pacific Ocean. Many did not survive the trip; those who did made their new home on the islands they named Aotearoa. Today it is better know as New Zealand.
Maori is the collective name used for all the peoples native to Aotearoa prior to the arrival of the British. But like many indigenous people, they are made up of a multitude of tribes, each with their own dialect and customs. Today, the Maori are integrated into New Zealand's western culture. Other than skin that is slightly darker and hair that is slightly wavier, there's a good chance that you wouldn't recognize a person with Maori heritage on the street. In addition, with hundreds of years of western/Maori marriages, there are few true blooded Maoris left today.
In Rotorua, an area heavily settled by the Maori, there are numerous opportunities to partake in a Maori cultural experience. Ours was at Mitai, a village that has been set up on Maori land to recreate a piece of their past. Our first event was to witness the cooking of our dinner – a traditional Hangi. This is where your food has been cooked in a huge hole in the ground by heated rocks over a three hour period – no opportunity for rare meat here!
After a view of the feast to come, we proceeded down to the sacred Fairy Springs where the men rowed upstream in a Waka in traditional dress with the face tattoos that the Maori are known for. Their rowing to ritualized chanting was very eerie, impressive and fearsome. They were a very war like culture and it is evident in their Waka Ceremony.
After the warriors arrived, we traveled to the auditorium for the cultural performance. For about an hour, we watched Maori Warriors and Maori women in traditional dress perform their songs, dances and greetings. We were introduced to their array of weapons and their uses and shown their pre-battle preparations We learned about their facial tattoos, why they were done and what they mean. Much of what the Maori did was for the purpose of putting fear into their enemy and toward winning their battles.
After our Hangi dinner, we went on a bush walk through the Maori land. Our guide pointed out various plants and trees and what medicinal use they served for the Maori. Down by Fairy Spring we saw the Maori's sacred water source bubble up from the earth and for a special treat, we got to see New Zealand's very own glow worms. The banks of the spring glowed with little blue lights as the hungry glow worms gave us a light show.
The night after our Maori experience, we rented the movie Whale Rider which Marty and I had seen but the girls had never watched. If we had any doubt as to whether we learned anything the night before, it was quickly resolved in watching the movie. Everything in the movie was so much more meaningful when you know more about the Maori culture. Great movie if you've never seen it. Great evening at Mitai.