Rotorua - Day 2 (Tamaki Maori Village)

Trip Start Jul 06, 2012
Trip End Nov 14, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, July 8, 2012

Our adventure was not even close to being over after we went zorbing. After we came back, we all spent some time filling out paperwork and, most importantly, getting our document for our 18+ card authorized. (Because we are all internationals, the only form of ID that most places accept for buying alcohol or even entering a bar is our passports. This means that we have to bring our passports (which also contain our Student Visas) around with us whenever we plan on going out or even just grabbing a drink. Obviously it would be beyond unfortunate to have a passport stolen or lost, so a very popular option for most is to obtain an 18+ card so we can leave our passports safely at home.) They gave us some time to change our clothes and get as many warm layers as possible on because we were going to be spending a lot of time outside that evening. When it was time to go, we all boarded a big bus which we learned is called a waka in Maori - better translated into vessel, but refers to any moving vehicle really. We were heading to the Tamaki Maori Village. The entire bus ride was very entertaining as our bus driver, Sunny who was a big Maori man, told us lots of background information about the Maori culture and described the practices of the village and people. There were many different buses of people like ours coming from different places and each bus had to choose a "chief" for the evening. Colby, who is one of the guys in my program, was chosen as ours. Sunny had a ball with the fact that his name was Colby, and re-named him "The Big Cheese". Sunny taught Colby the proper Maori handshake which consists of shaking the right hand while placing the left hand on the other person's shoulder and pressing the nose against the other's simultaneously. The chiefs would be part of the beginning ceremony where we would be welcomed and accepted peacefully into the village.

When we arrived, we were told there would be a ceremony that we would watch but we were strictly warned not to move around or laugh/smile during it. The videos and pictures will help explain the ceremony better (sorry it's pretty dark). Basically we were brought to a wide, sandy opening at the gate of the village. As it began, the voice of a woman singing beautifully in Maori became audible from beyond the gates. Over the duration of the ceremony, singing was alternated between different men and women while men would run out through the gates with spears and perform different dance-like yet warrior-like movements. We saw a haka which is the traditional, ancestral war dance of the Maori people - it was so amazing, yet SO intimidating. There was also an offering of a giant leaf that was given to Colby as a welcome and understanding of peace. Once the ceremony was finished, the gates were opened and we were lead inside the village walls. Inside, various Maori men and women were stationed outside different huts and gave us demonstrations on things that they did in the village. For example, one woman taught us an old Maori game which consisted of people holding long walking sticks and then leaving their own in order to catch another one before it hit the ground. Another man told us about the way they would tattoo skin which was basically by stabbing the skin multiple times - it was definitely an incredibly painful process back then. The tattoos were all symbols of status, though, so the more a person had, the more respect they had from their tribe. Of course, none of the facial tattoos of the Maori people were real since it is 2012 and that would not be conventional anymore, but they had drawn on many of them to replicate those of their ancestors. It was so interesting to learn about the way their people lived and I loved how welcoming yet protective and strong their entire culture seemed. I had a great time chatting with some of them and getting to know more about Maori life. I overheard one of them singing to himself and made him teach me the words (this is my phonetic spelling so I could remember, I have no idea how these words are actually spelled) - hoo waka ti ti (x4), hoo waka highrai. The entire thing was then repeated however many times one wanted to. It was a lullaby apparently and basically a song for rain; asking for it to come and then to leave again. If you even just say the words out-loud, you can recognize the rhythmic pattern of the phrases. We wandered around to the different stations for about 30-40 minutes and then they brought us around to where the food had been prepared. Just as it had been prepared many years ago, the food was all cooked underground in a vault-like hole. It was incredible seeing them pull out the big crates of food - potatoes, bread, meat, etc.

Before our big dinner feast, they brought us to a little auditorium for some performances. Again, the videos and pictures will be way better descriptions of what we saw, but it was incredible. They danced for us, they sang for us, they let us look into their world for a little while and it was an amazing thing. Once the performances were over, they brought us to a huge banquet hall where we would enjoy their underground feast buffet-style. Everything was so delicious, though that may be hard to believe about food cooked in the earth. I tried everything on the buffet...surprise, surprise. But really, on my New Zealand Bucket List I said that I would try all the foods that were offered to it had to be done. I had my first New Zealand sweet potato called kumara (delicious!) , I had my first mussel (interesting...not bad, but not great), and I had my first piece of the famous, New Zealand pavlova dessert (so good). After we ate, they gave us a quick history of the Tamaki Maori Village: The Tamaki Maori Village experience was started by two Maori brothers who had a dream to keep the Maori culture alive and educate others. Initially, no banks would give them the loan for this business as they believed it was "sure to fail". So, one of them sold his most prized possession - his Harley Davidson - to get the money to start the business. They built the imitation village 15 minutes south of Rotorua and after many years, they became the most award-winning tourism business of New Zealand.

The night ended with our bus ride back to the hotel and Sunny again on the loudspeaker. This time, it was all about us. He had us all share our culture from our respective countries (there were others on the bus besides my Arcadia group) by singing songs of our own choosing. Luckily, Jane and Kate had prepared us for this and we had already chosen 2 songs earlier that day on the way to zorbing. So, living up to our obnoxious American names, we belted the theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Build Me Up, Buttercup. Full of food, full of laughs, and full of memories...great ending to the great day. It really was such a wonderful experience, and I am so thankful to have been able to take part in it!
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