Please take a moment to click FOLLOW at the right hand side of this blog to help me win!
If everyone following just got one more person to join in the fun and follow these adventures, we can come home strong in the final stretch and make this dream come true!!
Fifteen minutes drive from city center of Rotorua, Tamaki Village was started in 1989 by Mike and Doug Tamaki, who sold his Harley Davidson to fund the dream that everyone said was a bad idea. Twenty years later and the Rotorua experience now hosts 100,000 people a year, and is a powerful encounter with Maori culture in a natural forest setting. A pre-European village has been re-created, where proud, passionate, and very talented performers share the story of their people, history, and spirit.
See if you can get on the bus that Mark is driving, he is, as he proudly pronounces: “Maori with Irish blood in his heritage”, and is flat-out one of the funniest guys I have met in a long time. His explanation of the Maori greeting, “Kia Ora” took us to 52 countries, languages, and accents in 15 minutes that had the whole bus cracking up in stitches! Very simply put, Kia Ora is similar to Aloha - i means 'hello',' goodbye',' I love you', 'it's all good brotha' ...KIA ORA!
Somehow during the comedy act I managed to get nominated as the ‘Chief’ of our bus group, and as we step off the buses we gather at the threshold of the village entrance, while our very solemn guide, Darren, explains to the ‘Chiefs’ what the protocol is. We are going to be challenged by the villages warriors, who will decide if we are friend or foe. If we are friends, one of us will be asked to accept a branch as a sign that we come in peace. If we are foes, well then …may the best man win. *Gulp.*
Chanting starts as a fierce warrior emerges, whirling his spear, and showing off his weaponry skills as he walks right up in our faces, eyes wide open and tongue flashing to tell us "You would taste good...in my belly..." Darren had made it a point to tell us not to smile or laugh during the greeting, and with the hardened wooden speartip whipping inches from my face, smiling or laughing is the last thing I was thinking of right then. I felt so much respect for this kindred spirit, summoning his mana from his ancestors and looking me right in the eyes to feel my spirit. We connect unspoken, and he motions for me to pick up the branch as an offering of goodwill between our parties.
Then one of his sisters launches into a beautiful, harmonic welcome song in the Maori tongue, and chills run up my spine as I close my eyes and let it wash over me. The bond with Hawaii is obviously there, but also a deeper connection that seeps directly into the land around us - the trees, the cold ground, the moon peeking through the canopy. We enter the village and are invited to explore, where we wander amongst the huts and speak with beautiful Maori dressed in traditional garb, learning about Ta Moko - the technique and meanings of Maori tattoo, Maori Kai [food] and the Pataka [food storehouses], and Mahi Raronga - the art of weaving flax to create garments and shelter.
Our meal that night is prepared in an authentic Hangi, or underground oven. Similar to the Hawaiian Imu, a pit is dug in the ground and a fire built. When the wood has burnt down hot coals, rocks are placed amongst the coals and superheated, then the food - lamb, chicken, beef, fish, potatoes, and kumara [sweet potato] are all wrapped in leaves and buried to cook all day. The result is a smokey, tender and succulent taste that nourishes and strengthens us for our next battle - in my case, an impromptu Haka.
When the guys hear that a 'Brother from Hawaii' is in the audience, they invite me up to perform a Haka with them to honor two of the performers who will be leaving the village tonight... trouble is, I've never done the Haka in my life!! However, it would just be plain rude to decline, so despite my nerves I straighten up as best I can and walk to the front of the room where all eyes are watching us expectantly. Suffice to say, I did my best to keep up - eyes fierce, elbows and hands slapping, heels grinding and pounding...
Though my cheeks were burning with embarrassment at my lacklustre performance as I walked back to my seat, it was truly an honor to be accepted like a brother by these men. For a brief moment we were connected by a shared bond, beyond all the boundaries of society and distance. We came from the same place, connected by cultural protocol.
To the Western eye, Maori culture can seem so aggressive and war-like, but underneath that appearance lies a warm, generous and beautiful people.
The Maori families who have opened their hearts and homes [and offered to open their homes - thank you Darren!] to a stranger like me on this trip have truly and deeply touched me, awakening a yearning to connect with the rich, complex, yet beautifully simple island culture that I was raised in.
# # #