A Little History and Culture..

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Centabay Lodge

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

I took a boat over to Russell (Kororareka) this morning with Dean. I hadn't realised how packed with history it was compared with other towns or even that it was once New Zealand's capital. Russell is quite similar in character to Paihia just over the water, and has a seaside village 'feel' to it. We visited the museum for a while and discovered a lot about the Maori and European settlement and the problems that came with it. Very interesting. We walked along both stretches of the Strand, a few of the back and side roads and a had general meander around the village. Russell has a lot of character and made an enjoyable few hours. To finish the visit I sampled the famous (allegedly) Seafood Chowder from Sally's restaurant - divine.

Tonight, we attended the 'Treaty of Waitangi Night Show' at the Waitangi grounds. It was thoroughly enjoyable and worth every penny (not that it was expensive). The show was put together to illustrate Maori history, the uniqueness of the land and the coming together of the two cultures, Maori and European.

On the bus journey to Waitangi the guide asked for three 'volunteers' to be 'Chiefs'. Well, I volunteered to be a 'Chief' (a little, or rather completely out of character I know) but mainly because the young girl who had booked our places for tonight's show had suggested that if we got an opportunity to be a chief for the evening, to take it. She said it would be well worth it - an experience never forgotten. So with that in mind, I put my hand up and got selected as a chief along with two other gents elsewhere on the bus.

With his 'three chiefs' sorted, the guide continued to explain the welcoming ceremony. Apparently, it was the Chiefs duty to lead the others to the carved Maori Meeting House where the Maori Warriors would be waiting. He explained how historically when visitors approached the shores, the Maoris had no idea of their intentions so would rapidly approach, spear in hand displaying a full on war-ritual demonstrating their strength, agility and warrior prowess in order to assess the potential threat of the new arrival. The warrior would then throw an object down to the ground between him and the visitor and then prepare for bloody battle.

He went on to explain that upon our arrival, it was up to us (as chiefs) to show our intentions as friendly and not hostile. To do this we would have to step forward, take the object from the ground and stand with it in the very spot it was placed. He stressed how important it was not to take a step backwards as this was a sign of weakness and even more importantly, not to break eye contact with the warrior as this would show complete disrespect for their culture, thus commencing the battle.

I walked at the front with the guide and the other two chiefs across the Treaty grounds. We turned the corner and there was the beautifully carved Maori Meeting House in the distance surrounded by warriors. One immediately screamed and came running over with his spear. I'd already started to regret putting my hand up and just stood there frozen solid. The guide turned to me and spoke gently into my ear, 'Right, as long as you do as I said on the bus you'll be fine. Remember, take the object, stand your ground and above all - don't break eye-contact'. The warrior came screaming over in my direction as if he was about to put an axe through me, flailing his spear around, striking out with it, jumping around and screaming at me ferociously. He backed off a little and then threw a large green leaf down on to the ground. He looked straight back up at me, screamed viciously one last time then just glared in to my eyes - right in. I was petrified, and stood there frozen until I heard a whisper to my right, 'Pick it up. Pick up the leaf!' It was the guide. I slowly moved a couple of steps forward to where the leaf was and honestly, if the warrior had moved or screamed at that point, I think I'd have just passed out. I picked up the leaf and just stood there. Perfectly still. In the last 30 seconds I'd become good at that. It felt like an eternity but we probably only stood for just under 10 seconds in complete silence maintaining eye contact before the warrior finally lifted his left leg, screamed again and struck his knee before skipping back to the house. It was quite an experience.

I let out a sigh of relief while the other two chiefs got the same treatment. We then walked over to the house, removed our shoes at the door before being welcomed in by the enchanting singing of the Maori women. The other two chiefs and I were seated at the front, followed by the rest of the party. In turn, the three of us were formally welcomed in to the house by getting up out of our seat, walking over to each of the Maori chiefs and sharing a hand shake, 'Kia-Ora' and a 'Hongi' (touch of noses).

The evening then continued with a very powerful visual performance telling of the history and culture of the Maoris with particular emphasis on the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

It was excellently presented and the performances were very powerful. The singing and the music was out of this world. It was very educational too and tied in perfectly with what we'd discovered earlier in historic Russell. I'd love to write more about this as it's fascinating but I just do not have the time. If you are interested though, click 'here' for a pretty good starting point.

The night ended superbly. After the performance and our enthusiastic applause, the guide spoke a few words giving his thanks and kindly invited us to go and meet the cast for ten minutes (photo's permitted). As it was very dark in there most of the shots taken haven't turned out very well, though I've managed to upload a few that were reasonable.

It's a shame we only really got to look inside the meeting house tonight so I've decided to return to the Treaty grounds in the daytime at some point soon - it really is a fascinating place..
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