Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Maori Had A Little Lamb

The Maori travelled to New Zealand from Polynesia, crossing the Pacific Ocean in their Wakas, long canoe things a bit like they use in the Boat Race (but the Maori guys had better tattoos). They were the original settlers here, arriving in 1250 (ish). It wasn't until 1642 that Europeans appeared on the scene. If you're Dutch, you'll like the fact that Abel Tasman stumbled across these islands and named them New Sealand. If you're British (and like the idea that we discovered or invented everything) then it's Captain Cook's journey in the Endeavour that put New Zealand on the map.

After a few initial skirmishes the treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between Britain and the local Maori leaders. We've learned during our travels that there were issues with the treaty that are still being rectified to this day but it is clear that Maori culture is significantly more integrated here than we saw with the Aborigines in Australia.  Loads of places have Maori names, you hear non-Maoris using Maori words all the time, Kia Ora being used everywhere, it just feels more harmonious. Perhaps it's because both the Maori and European settlers migrated here - there is no indigenous population.

As our thirst for knowledge knows no bounds, we went to a Maori cultural evening, hosted on a piece of their ancestral land. Initially, this had the feel of a large wedding in a big marquee with lots of tables and many tourists. Our host for the evening was John, one of the heads of a large Maori iwi (tribe), and he walked out to the front with the confidence of a standup comedian, and a very good one at that. John explained to us the traditions of the Maori, from face tattoos to the haka and everything in between, whilst cracking jokes and working his audience. We all then left the marquee to see some Maori paddle their wakas along the stream, atmospherically lit with burning torches.

As night fell, we saw glow worms in the forest, before watching 30 minutes of song and dance from the tribe. This culminated in a haka which was powerful, impressive, slightly scary and well worth experiencing. I've only ever seen this on telly before the rugby and to be honest I've always thought it was a bit silly. But I now understand what a big part of their culture this is. There isn't just one haka and it's not just a war dance intended to intimidate rugby teams, it's also used at weddings and other celebratory events. Not sure I'd like to see it performed at a christening though - a bit much.

This was all well and good, but by now we were hungry. So it was a relief to be taken to see "The Hangi"

They've cooked our food in an underground pit using hot stones just as  those first Polynesian settlers would have done. They would have cooked fish, chicken, moa (a large flightless bird, a bit like the ostrich, which the Maori hunted to extinction) and vegetables like the kumara (a very red sweet potato). Now, instead of the extinct moa bird, they'll throw in some things the original Maori wouldn't have had, such as New Zealand lamb, a bit of garlic bread and some coleslaw to create a buffet that keeps the tourists happy.

Our advice if you ever come over here - Eat, drink and be Maori.

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