Kia ora. In the Maori language of Te Reo, this means many things. Hello, welcome, how are you, I’m okay. If you didn’t know that, no worries. Before I visited New Zealand, I didn’t know that. In fact, I knew very little about the Maori people, which is why I spent an evening at a Maori village.
Who are the Maori?
Short answer, the Maori are native New Zealanders. Also known as the tangata whenua, the Maori came to New Zealand in Wakas (canoes) from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki anywhere between 900 and 1500AD. They make up 14% of the population and their language, values and norms have become central to New Zealand culture.
Maori are not to be confused with Kiwis who are New Zealanders descended from European colonists.
Why go to a village?
Reading blog articles like this or going to museums is great, but there is no substitute for going to a Marae (meeting ground) and witnessing Maori culture first-hand. There are many tribes who now offer authentic, immersive Maori village experiences for tourists. When I was in Rotorua, I spent the evening with the Tamaki tribe, and it was the best thing I did in New Zealand.
Firstly, everybody was sorted into four different tribes and we were driven to the Tamaki village. We were taught the traditional Maori welcome of touching noses, as well as a bunch of Maori words which unfortunately I have since forgotten. A member of our tribe was chosen to be the leader (thankfully, not me.) When we arrived, the tribal leaders met the Tamaki and completed the traditional Maori greeting. Afterwards, we were presented with a terrific opening ceremony.
And after that, we visited five different workshops. Firstly, we were shown a traditional ceremonial practice where the Maori women spun around a rock tied to a string and then three of us were picked to perform it. Traditionally ladies performed this, so I was safe.
In our second workshop, we were shown the traditional way of Maori weaving.
Thirdly, we were shown a fun Maori game. Four of us (thankfully not me) were chosen to stand in a circle, while holding a stick. Upon command, everybody had to run to grab hold of the next stick without letting one drop, until there was only one man left standing. This was very entertaining to watch, especially since I didn’t have to take part!
Unfortunately, I did have to take part in the Haka demonstration. We were shown how to do the dance, before all of us men had to perform the dance for the women in the crowd. Traditionally, the Haka is performed by men. Luckily, I was there by myself, so there remains no photographic footage of me embarrassing myself. I’m only kidding, the Haka was great fun.
The Haka is central to the Maori culture. It began as a war dance to intimidate enemy tribes, and it symbolises the pride, strength and unity of each different tribe. While it isn’t used on the battlefield anymore, it’s common to see it performed at birthday parties, weddings, celebrations and even the All-Blacks perform it at the beginning of their rugby games. Foot stamping, sticking out your tongue and body slapping accompany chanting to create a truly spectacular (and terrifying) sight to behold. Like Maori tattoos, there is not one single Haka dance. They vary from tribe to tribe.
The Ta Moko
In the final workshop, we learned more about Maori tattoos or Ta Moko. These are paramount to the Maori way of life. You will see them on every Maori person, and you will never see two identical tattoos. They are considered highly sacred and for some are a rite of passage.
What the tattoos represent depends on who you ask, but for many, they symbolise your tribal background, history and culture. To quote Maori academic Dr Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: “Ta moko today is much more than a fashion statement, a passing fad for Maori. It is about who we are and whom we come from. It is about where we are going, and how we choose to get there. And it is about for always, forever.”
The final performance
The evening concluded with another performance accompanied by dancing and chants. This was an absolutely pleasure to watch. I keep trying to think how best to describe it, but there aren’t suitable words. It was just outstanding. Absolutely astonishing. The staff were professional and were great performers. They all took pride in their Maori heritage which came across brilliantly. This was the highlight of the evening.
But it wasn’t over yet! Lastly, we received a traditional Hangi dinner – Hangi is the traditional Maori way of cooking where food is cooked underground on heated stones. We ate pork, chicken and kumara or sweet potato and the food was delicious. All the staff were fantastic and so hospitable. While we were waiting for the evening show to start up, there was a little girl who was running around the stage. And the staff just went with it! They were so good-natured. You could tell they were all enjoying themselves, which only made us enjoy ourselves more.
The Tamaki village is one of the top 10 worldwide Tourist experiences according to Trip Advisor and it is very simple to understand why.
If you’re in New Zealand, attending a Maori village like the Tamaki must be on your to-do list. I learned so much more than if I had just read a book or went to a museum. Thanks for reading! Kia ora.
Originally published by Hungry Little Travellers.