The Maori people
The Maori are aboriginal people who arrived on New Zealand from various Polynesian Islands about 900 years ago. One theory about the reason for their migration was that many Pacific islands were small with limited means to produce food. Pacific islanders sailed between islands to trade and shared stories about navigation, canoe building, and other islands. One tale they shared was about a large. mountainous island in the south.
It’s not certain when and the future Maori people settled on New Zealand which they called Aotearoa which translated into ‘the land of the long white cloud.’ Archeologists believe they came from eastern Polynesia islands of Samoa, Tonga and Easter. Maori legend says their ancestors sailed from the Hawaiki (not Hawaii) islands on ocean-going canoes called waka. When they arrived, they found that Aotearoa offered almost unlimited land to grow crops and expand their population. More islanders arrived in waves from Polynesian and lived in isolation on New Zealand for centuries.
Maori mark their bodies with decorative tattoos that were noted by Captain Cook in his log.
The most common markings are on the face, arms, and shoulders, often matching.
Our introduction to the Maori was attending a ceremony of singing, dancing, and story telling at Te Puia. After buying a ticket, we were directed to stand outside a fence enclosing the grounds of a Maori temple.
Our guide explained that we would enter the temple after going through a welcoming ceremony with one of our group being greeted by a Maori ‘warrior.’ While we waited, a group of Maori , barefoot and wearing in traditional clothing, emerged from the temple and greeted us with a traditional welcoming song. One of the Maori men came down the steps and made strides to us, making loud grunting noises, and thrusting a spear towards us.
It’s part of the ritual to frighten a foe, but also to greet a friend. In response, one of our group had been instructed to lay down a wreath of leaves, an expression of friendship.
After a welcoming greeting between the ‘warrior’ and one of our group, the ‘warrior’ turned around and strutted back to the temple. We followed, removed our shoes, and entered the temple. The large central room was bare with wooden floors and chairs decorated with Maori designs. The roof was made of thatched covering and carvings decorated the walls.
When all the Maori were on the small stage, a woman greeted us and introduced us to the ceremonies, a series of skits of dancing singing, and telling stories. One skits involved Maori seated in a circle and tossing ceremonial sticks to each other while chanting a Maori song Another featured women swinging fluffy balls tethered to cable ropes. Each skit was performed with the singing in Maori language and men playing guitars and beating drums.
The most dramatic event was the men doing the haka, an ancient ritual performed by Maori warriors. Haka gestures include loud grunting, chanting, stamping feet, and slapping fists on thighs, chest, and biceps. During the skit, they’d open their eyes wide, stuck out their tongues and flutter it in a threatening fashion.
After the ceremony, we were invited on stage to talk to the performers and take pictures. Who could resist? Although some looked quite terrifying, they were friendly and eager to share their culture.
We attended another Maori ceremony at the Museum of Auckland after we returned. But it was not as robust and exciting as what we saw in Rotorua. We learned more about Maori history and culture as we traveled and will share more in future postings.
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Next: Rotorua Museum
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