17 February 2010

i heart culture.

Yes, I do.
So as you may know, the indigenous people of New Zealand are the Maori. Technically speaking, they are the indigenous Polynesian people. It is based on what you consider yourself--you don't have to prove your lineage to call yourself Maori. (That actually changed in 1974.) While there is a more stereotypical picture of a Maori person (dark skin and hair), there are also fair, blonde Maori as well. I don't know about redheads...
Anyway, the Maori are very connected with the land and their tribe and family. There are the families (whanau), subtribes (hapu) and the iwi (tribe). The mountain here, called Taranaki, is very holy to them. I was talking to one of the Maori trustees of the clinic (she's this awesome 70sih- years young lady!!), and she was telling me about the old stories (mythology, folklore, whatever you want to call it), like how Taranaki used to be by the other mountains of the central north island, Tongarir, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe. Taranaki fell in love with a pretty hill called Pihanga, who was married to Tongariro. After a battle with Tongariro (which Taranaki lost), he headed west to the coast. The story goes that as he gorged a path west (which became the Wanganui river bed), his falling tears at being banished created the Wanganui River. And all the streams coming from the top of the mountain are his tears, as he still cries for his long lost love.
The whole point of that story was actually to tell you all that Maori consider the mountain holy, almost like an alter, and they don't go to the top of the mountain, unless you're part of the chief-dom, anyway. Which is pretty cool, as everyone else wants to 'conquer' the mountain by climbing it.
So we've been able to experience some of this cool culture because the clinic is Maori run, and is for Maori clients as well as for low socioeconomic status people. When we first got to the clinic, they planned a traditional welcome, or pōwhiri. There's a whole tradition and system of the pōwhiri, from how you walk in to how you greet people (traditionally, it's hongi, when you press foreheads and noses together. The ha, or breath of life, is exchanged and intermingled), to how the speeches and responses go. It's also all in Maori. :)
We've also been able to visit the marae, which is a sacred place used for lots of different things--celebrations, funerals, conferences, all sorts of different things. It's usually quite important to show good hospitality--ie, tea and food and fun things like that--to show your respect.
The photo below is of one of the local maraes (I don't know how to make that plural). There is very cool carving, lots of photos of current members and ancestors.

Another view of the marae.

We got to see a great performance by a local group--they go one to competitions and things. The girls are holding poi, which are light balls on strings that are used for the songs and dances.

I couldn't upload the boys doing the haka, but Josh put it on his facebook page. Haka is actually any kind of dance form--it's not just a war dance! Look up the All Blacks--they do a haka at the beginning of their rugby games.
We've also been going to whaiata (singing) lessons at the local school. The kids like to look at Josh, I'm not sure why. But I think it's cause he gets into the singing, and the motions that go with them...


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