Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Maoris of New Zealand


       Recently when reading the book Captain Cook by Alistair MacLean, I was taken back to memories of Carla's and my trip to New Zealand and our visit with the "fierce" people.

      What we experienced in 2004 continues to be an integral part of the country's tourist attractions, and I highly recommend you attend a Maori ceremony.

    In the 1770's when Captain James Cook was charting the Pacific Ocean and claiming land for the British, he ran into the fierce tribes in New Zealand now called the Maori.  They were very opposed to visitors to their territory and at one point his companion support ship lost 12 men who when landing for supplies were killed and eaten.

     On several occasions Cook had to order Maori killed who were attacking  his sailors.  The fact that  people already inhabited the land made no difference to the British who later returned to take over their new territory claimed by Cook.

     We started our tour of the Maoris in Rotorua where we visited the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. From there we were taken on a ritual experience and dinner with the local Maori.

    We elected a member of our touring group to be our "chief" to represent us in the Maori welcoming ceremony, or powhiri.   He stepped just inside the entrance of the Maori compound.  There was blowing of the war trumpet, and three almost naked Maoris with long clubs came out of the ancestral house making a series of challenges in a warlike reception. 

Maori warriors welcome us to a tribal ceremony and dinner


       They had tattooed faces and this along with their grimaces and stuck-out tongues, had the desired effect of impressing us with their fierceness.    The warrior who can stick his tongue out the furthest, bulge his eyes the biggest and make the most frightening face has special status with his group and is also considered the most desirable lover.

    Despite the menacing behavior our chief stood firm.  A warrior then stepped forward, laid down a leaf that was picked up by our chief.  This sent the message we had peaceful intentions.   

    Maori women then sang a welcoming song and allowed us to enter the community house. Each wall panel was intricately decorated with a family history.

    Their Chief then made a welcoming speech, and  our chief countered with one that indicated we only wanted to peacefully enjoy their company.  We skipped the ritual nose-rubbing because an infection was said to be making the rounds.

    They then put on a show of Maori lore that also demonstrated their musical instruments.  One of the dances was the pukana haka, a ferocious display where the dancers slap their thighs, stomp their feet, shout, grimace, bulge their eyes, stick out their tongues and beat their chests.

      All of this imitation  violence was a demonstration of their power as warriors.  This was pretty up close and personal, and I found my stomach roiling in fear despite my awareness they really weren't going to attack me.

    In the Tititorea,  dance batons were passed between performers, testing their agility and coordination.  The Poi dance featured balls suspended on the ends of rope, depicting the movement of birds in flight.

    After the demonstrations our group then moved to the dining hall, where we were treated to a Hangi, a dinner cooked in the Maori manner in pits of hot coals with the food wrapped in wet leaves.   The food was left in the ground for three to four hours and resulted in tender meat and vegetables with a smoky favor.

   The Maoris are an integral part of the New Zealand tourist industry.  For example, the Auckland Museum has the world's largest collection of Polynesian artifacts, including a 95-foot Maori war canoe carved 150 years ago from a single tree.

    There are more options for today's visitors to New Zealand to observe and interact with Maori culture like we did.  Besides Rotorua organized tours are available in Northland, Auckland, and Canterbury where you can take part in a traditional Maori welcome and have an experience very similar to ours.

A Maori warrior demonstrates to a visitor how to make a fierce face

A Maori woman demonstrates basket weaving

1 comment: