Maori culture: While visiting Rotorua (both as part of shooting the tv show – as well as subsequent visits when staying with friends), I had the opportunity to visit two Maori villages and cultural shows. One was Tamaki Maori Village, and the other was Mitai Maori Village. Both were very educational, and the experiences complimented each other nicely.
This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Rotorua is the hub of Maori culture in New Zealand, and just walking down the street you see evidence of this in a large contingent of Maori locals. And their identity remains strong; even chatting with my heli-sledging river guide Geni, she identified her tribe’s history and customs in the context of our conversation. It was at these cultural presentations though, that I gained a sense of the history and traditions of the Maori people.
Having been descended from the Polynesian islands, I see many similarities between the Maori and the Hawaiians. Where I sense the Maori are unique is in their continuous upholding of language, song, and dance even today. It is not entirely uncommon to see a Maori (male or female) with traditional facial tattoos, and many customary dances and rituals are still taught and practiced in daily life. There are even public schools that teach solely in the Maori language.
Please check out this short video to gain a sense of the Maori culture, song, dance, art, and food.
Here are a few of the Maori cultural terms traditions that you see in the video:
Waka: This is a hand-carved war canoe. It is quite impressive to see, especially when paddled in the traditional manner with chants and all.
Pohiri: This is a traditional welcome ceremony for visitors. Initially it seems far from welcoming, as a representative from the tribe makes a fearsome show of presenting a peace token to the visiting tribe’s chief. (In our case, a member of the group was nominated to be our chief). Once the token is accepted in a very specific manner, peace between the tribes is established. Today the ceremony is always done with peaceful intentions, but the fearsome display is meant to intimidate the visiting tribe just in case the purpose of their visit isn’t peaceful.
Haka: The Haka is a very powerful dance and chant of strength. Literally translated, Haka means “breath on fire” or “words of fire”. The Haka is different for every tribe, and learned and practiced in Maori culture today. Traditionally it is meant to welcome visitors, but also to (again) demonstrate their power and readiness to fight should the visitors decide to attack. One of the typical moves in a Haka is for the males to stick their tongue out and bulge their eyes. It is both funny and scary to see, and the traditional meaning of the move is to say to the enemy “my mouth waters and I lick my lips for soon I will taste your flesh”. Like the Pohiri, it is done with peaceful intentions today, but also demonstrates the warrior mentality that has allowed the Maori people to remain “unconquered” for thousands of years. The hair stood up on the back of my neck at one particular Haka, which was excellently performed.
Poi: I wrote about my foray into fire spinning and poi, which actually originated in New Zealand. Poi aren’t traditionally set on fire though; originally they were balls filled with stones and designed as practice tools to strengthen warriors’ wrists for holding and using battle clubs. Since then, Maori women have lightened the weight and adopted it as a beautiful art form and dance. I look forward to acquiring a set of traditional Maori poi myself as my New Zealand souvenir.
Hangi: A Hangi is a traditional Maori way of cooking. A pit is dug into the ground into which a layer of coals is placed, then the food (a selection of meat and vegetables), and another layer of coals. It is all covered with burlap or leaves and baked for many hours. It’s delicious!
Please click here to see the Maori Culture video if you can’t view it on this page.