Of all the Pacifica Islanders of Polynesian descent, the Maori have been most successful in maintaining their pre European cultural traditions. Within New Zealand, particularly in the North Island and areas like Rotorua Their clan structures remain strong, each with their Marae (communal or sacred place that serves religious and social purposes) and often including a Wharenui (Big House, Meeting House, Carved House) where we were greeted.
Our bus driver/entertainer Cairo (not sure of the spelling but that was his pronunciation) appointed Ian as our Chief for the evening to represent us at the welcoming instructed him on the correct response to a peaceful welcome and then taught us all how to respond to our hosts with an enthusiastic Haere mai !
Anyone who has watched a NZ sporting team have seen the Haka performed. It is a traditional war cry/challenge very useful for preparing a team for competition, but is also commonly used for welcoming distinguished guests or for ceremonial occasions. A very significant Haka was performed in 2012 by the 2nd and 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment performing a haka for fallen comrades who were recently killed in action in Afghanistan.
When visitors arrive at a Marae they are met by armed warriors who, with fierce facial expressions and grimaces, poking out of the tongue, eye bulging, grunts and cries, and the waving of weapons, impress on the visitors the strength of the clan.
They then make a peace offering of a leafy branch. If the branch is picked up, the Clan Chieftain then greets the visiting Chiefs.
There were three busloads in our visiting party so He had three Chiefs to greet. Ian is very tall so was instructed to squat a little so he and the Chief met nose to nose. After the greetings we followed our Chiefs through elaborately carved gate into a thickly forested area, with traditional huts to see displays of female and male crafts like:
Poi, a performing art involving swinging weights in rhythmical, geometric patterns, with and accompaniment of singing and dancing.
Weaving with flax produced garments like cloaks and kilts, shelter and useful things like mats. The woven patterns were used to pass on culture and stories.
These young men explained the significance of carving and tattooing in their culture.
The clan Chief invited us to a concert featuring both traditional and contemporary songs and dance.
The tattoo “Family Comes First” seems incongruous on this amazingly ferocious expression!
Our Chiefs did their best against some pretty fierce competition. The fact that all three Chiefs came from the Northern Hemisphere (two from England and one from the USA) probably put us at a disadvantage. Our Maori brethren were pretty good at putting down any Aussies present, by the way!
Cairo, our Bus driver was an amazing, passionate singer and gave us the ride of our life on the way home. We were encouraged to sing all the way and on the final round about did six circuits before he delivered us to our hotel. He explained it was a shift change time for the local police but it is my belief they are all his cousins.