I first heard of Maori culture in a brochure I picked up almost 2 years ago during my trip through Australia. It was a brochure for a place called Te Puia, and I’ve wanted to go ever since. So during our stop in Rotorua, I booked us a guided tour through the cultural and, obviously, volcanically active area.
We saw the Pohutu Geyser erupt and beautiful landscapes.
But the best part was the cultural aspect.
The area itself is actually called Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawāhiao in Maori, which translates to “the war dance of the war parties of Waikite”, relating to when the area was first named by the Maori people. We learned of the ancestry of the Maori people from different Polynesian islands and how they remember where they come from. How the struggles of the early settlers during New Zealand’s surprisingly cold winters led to adaptationsin their lifestyles, such as building walls on their structures and tattooing on their lower legs, arms and face instead of on the chest. The spirituality of the Maori people and Te Heketanga ā Rangi, their belief in heavenly origins with 12 celestial guardians welcoming you into the park. We saw young people learn traditional carving and weaving techniques, and learned how these arts are used together with songs and chants to tell the oral history of these people.
Best of all, was the cultural performance. My travel buddy volunteered to act as our group’s chief, to accept the offered leaf as a sign that he is friend not foe, to then allow us to be welcomed into their home.
Inside, songs and dances were performed, and after each was an explanation for what the song meant, the history behind the props used, and the meaning behind certain movements.
At the end, a haka was performed. This war cry would traditionally happen before going into battle to rally the troops. Today, it is performed more as a challenge before rugby matches. But even as a tourist, watching this performance, you couldn’t help but feel the intense emotion and power.
And, as a final comedy for us, they selected a handful of male “volunteers” from the audience to perform a simplified version of the haka. It was very amusing :)