Maori Culture

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End May 10, 2005

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Friday, April 15, 2005

Kia Ora! It was the Maori greeting that welcomed us to Rotorua, a cultural hubbub of the Maori in New Zealand. Here the tourist is able to visit replicas of traditional villages and catch a glimpse of their culture.

Kris picked us up at the plane at the Rotorua airport; the next 36 hours was spent touring around Rotorua, visiting the geothermal hotsprings that regularly dot the landscape and take in Maori dancing and singing at a marae (tribal home).

Rotorua (population 76,000), nicknamed "Sulphur City", is located on Lake Rotorua just south of the Bay of Plenty on the north island of New Zealand. What attracts tourists, of course, is the thermal activities (geysers and mud pools) as well as traditional Maori hungis or feasts (food, consisting of pork, potatoes and kumara - or sweet potato, is cooked in a pit in the ground) and Maori concerts. Of course, to go along with the hot springs and mud pits, is the overwhelming odour of hydrogen sulphide (though I don't think it smelled nearly as unpleasant as Siem Reap, Cambodia!).

Beneath the ground in the thermal areas is a system of streams heated by magma. The water is so hot (temperatures of up to 300C have been recorded) that it absorbs minerals out of the rocks through which it passes and conveys them to the surface as steam. There are a wide range of minerals, producing different colours: yellow, white, red, orange, green, brown, purple and black. The amazing array of colours were difficult to capture with a camera.

Fifteen percent of the population of New Zealand is Maori, though most Maori are of mixed blood. Preferring the warmer climate, most live on the north half of the north island. Unlike the Indians in North America, Maoris do not live on reserve land, but rather amongst other New Zealanders. The Maori originated from seven different tribes which came from various countries in Polynesia including Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa. Much of the Maori traditions were passed on through songs and stories; there was no written language until the 1830s. Like Hawaiian, every letter is pronounced in Maori, including the vowels.

The Maori concerts are jovial and the singing deep and lyrical. Traditional dances include the poi dance where the women twirl balls of woven flax on the end of ropes, the stick dance where they pass sticks to the other dancers and the haka, or war dance, during which the men pound their thighs and chests, bulge out their eyes and stick out their tongues. Their appearance was meant to scare the enemy. (Note: The Haka is always performed by the All-Blacks - New Zealand's union rugby team - before every match.) The traditional greeting is the touching of noses. At one time, the Maoris were cannibals.

The traditional arts and crafts of the Maori are highly visible throughout New Zealand and include flax weaving and wood/jade carving.

We stayed the night with Grant's brother, Bruce, and his wife, Irene. Irene and Kris are fiends from their agriculture exchange days when they both came over from Canada as trainees. Irene has now been here over 20 years and speaks a kind of Canadian-New Zealanderish, but mostly she still sounds Canadian. She and Bruce share-milked on a dairy farm for years, but have since sold the farm and made a tidy profit. Bruce and Irene have three children: Becky (16), Jeffrey (14) and Peter (11).
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