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Published: January 21st 2016
We arrived at the village of Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawhia, "Whakarewarewa" for short, on a very wet day. This didn't diminish our enjoyment of the place though. We were met by our guide, whose name I didn't catch, who took us on a tour.
The entrance to the village was a white bridge. This had been built to replace the previous means of entrance which was to be carried on the backs of the men of the village. The bridge seemed more practical. The bridge was also a memorial to the village's fallen from World War 1 and there were quite a few names on the list. On the back or the arch was inscribed the Maori for "lest we forget". As we were crossing the bridge one of the locals honked their car's horn to encourage us to move. Yes, the Maori have embraced modern western culture.
Walking into the village, I was almost over-powered by the smell of sulphur, which our guide described as"perfume". The first thing I noticed was the amount of steam... It was everywhere. The back of the village couldn't be seen through it. This is a precious resource for these people.
Our first stop was
at the oldest cottage in the village, which had sadly been abandoned because one morning a steam vent opened up in the floor. We moved on from there to see the cooking area. Here was a village square surrounded by four communal Hangi ovens. These were now made from modern materials but still used the same principles, and steam, as traditional ovens. We then moved on to a large bubbling pool which the locals use for flash cooking vegetables. We would later taste some sweetcorn cooked in this way in just a few minutes and it was absolutely delicious.
Around the corner from here was the communal bathing area where all of the locals gather to wash. Apparently they all look up to ensure they avoid seeing each other. I'm not convinced by how well this would work! Here the boiling waters have been channeled and are cooled so that they are usable for a variety of purposes including medicinal applications. Apparently the water it good for healing many conditions.
Next we were taken to a viewing platform and a steaming mountain was pointed out. Here were three geysers which went off at different intervals. One, went off
out of the side of the mountain every few minutes whilst the other two were more infrequent. They didn't go off whilst we were there.
We then moved on to the largest building in the village - the Marae; a gathering place at the centre of Maori culture. This is the place people come for celebrations such as weddings, and also for solemn occasions. The building, which took ten years to ornately carve was made of wood. Here we learnt how the Maori have adapted their art following the influence of Christian missionaries who found some of it unacceptable. The Maori seem to have deeply embraced Christianity and it shapes and influences many areas of their lives. The village had both Catholic and Anglican churches which is amazing as only 21 families live there!
Beyond the Marae, we were taken to a small performance area for the real highlight of the tour. Here we were treated to a show of singing and dancing by three women and three men. The show included a love song, a stick dance, which is used for training with traditional weapons and best of all an extremely impressive Haka which was used to
prepare for battle. All of the songs included sticking out of tongues and large eyes - key features of both Maori art and dance and often used in blessing. There was also the "wirri", or shaking, which went with every movement. The singing was excellent and we were sad when it was over.
We departed in the still pouring rain. I was left with a sense of the deep hospitality of the Maori. It seems to me they are a truly welcoming people who treat all they encounter with dignity and civility. Their ways of greeting and the blessings they give all demonstrate this. I was also impressed with their adaptability - how they used and treasured the resources they had but also how they changed with the times and were able to keep the best of their culture whilst also taking what they perceived to be the best of others.
Whakarewarewa was a truly eye-opening experience for me and one that I greatly appreciated for its brief insight into a completely different people.
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