Our Maori cultural exprience began with the election of a 'chief' (a Dutch fellow backpacker volunteered for the role) for our 'tribe' while we were on the bus to the Tamaki village. We waited nervously (having been told we would offend them if we laughed at what was about to happen) at the gates of the village. Our first sighting was a large Maori man standing about the gate. He was singing. Despite the words being in Maori this was clearly more of a warning then a welcoming song. One by one he was joined by other men clothed in reed skirts, furs and all bearing maori tattoos (some real, some not so real!) They all carried weapons and half danced, half faught a warning to us the 'new tribe'. It was genuinally scary! But the singing was amazing. After the men had quit jabbing sticks, rolling eyes and poking their tongues at us a women appeared to sing a greating a permission to entre. And wow, these people can really sing!
Then came the tribes chief (who i must add was rather pleasant on the eye!). He made a which set the tone for the rest of the evening. I had worried that this would be an unrealistic tourist attraction, but his offer that we should 'take as many pictures as we wanted for Facebook' showed that these are a people who want to share their culture and continue their ancestors traditions while living in the modern world.
After being admitted into the village our evening was broken into three parts. Time to explore the village (take part in activities and chat to Maori people), the concert and then the Hangi - the feast!
My first stop was at the village tattooist. There were a few other people stood round as he explained about Maori tattoos. How they are done with five differnet size needles and hammers, that it was veyr painful but that, on the bright side, dying that way was seen as very honourable! The other people moved on but i was enjoying the fire, he invited me to join him in his hut. We chatted for a while about Maori culture and how for his day job he is a tattoo artist and that is why he takes on this role in the re-inactment in the village. Next stop was some guys Maori who were explaining Maori was training, but concerned that i might be missing an oppertunity to see David doing something embrassesing I went in search of him....
....and found him standing in a line of sheepish looking tourists being taught the Haka. He was beaming and loved learning it, however I think he Haka skills may take some polising before they let hime become a tribe member!
We all huddled round the Hangi pit to watch the food, which had been cooked in the traditional way - in the ground - be unveiled. As large trays of potatoes along with rows of chickens were brought up from the earth I began to feel hungry. But it was not time for the feast yet. We had a Maori concert to enjoy first.
And enjoy it we certinly did. The sight of a line of Maori people in full ceremonial dress is something to behold, but when they start singing it takes you breat away. I was honestly close to tears (something only achieved by Billy Elliot's musical music normally!!) so great and intense was the beauty of it all! Along with the singing they displayed the use of some of their weapons and games. The concert concluded with a short DVD about Maori culture in today's New Zealand and their hopes for the futrure. It was fascinating. Everyone in the room was captivated. All to quickly the performance was over but with it came the promise of a feast!
Wow! It was a full roast dinner with many choices of meats, a fish option and mountains of vegebables all toppped off with lashing of gravy! I had everything and just as someone said they wished they had brough a lunch box i decided it was time to whip out the two i had sneaked in! The sausgae smuggler lives on!
We were just working our way through some Pavlova when the Maori man on the microphone announced that it was a very special day for one young lady. The rest of our large group was aware that Jenna (who had decided to spend her 22nd birthday with the Maori people!) was about to be presented with a cake (which her Mum had arranged). Watching the entire room sing happy birthday to her as she turned slightly beetroot (bless her) was a very special way to end the night. There was a particulary lovely moment just as we were leaving. A motherly Maori women who had obviously been in contact with Jenna's Mum came over to wish her a happy birthday. Jenna thanked her and made to shake her hand but the women declined and holding Jenna's arm they bumped noses twice. I have to say that Jenna was not the only one who walked back to the bus welling-up. What lovely people. What warmth.
At Tamaki they do not pretent that they would be doing this whether a bus load of tourists turned up or not, instead they present themselves as real modern people who want to show you their hertiage and then return to the city too. It was all put together with just the right amount of sympathy and respect for Maori culture while being cheeky and playfull and believeable.
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