Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Zealand - Maori "hangi"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On the one night we were in Rotorua, we went to a Maori hangi.  A hangi is the Maori word for feast.  We were picked up at the hotel and bussed to a nearby village that they had set up to recreate a traditional Maori village.  It was about 20 minutes or so from our hotel but the time flew by because the bus driver who picked us up was the funniest guy I've ever seen.  He taught us the Maori greeting "Kia Ora" (pronounced kee-ora) and then proceeded to give us equivalent of the same greeting and what it meant in 61 languages.  At least he said it was 61 - he went through enough different ones to convince me.  Not only that but his accent in every single language was nearly perfect.  His Australian of "G'day" and his Tagalog of "Mabuhay" were spot on as well as his renditions in Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Russian, French, British (complete with Brit accent), from all of the Nordic countries, India, and many, many more were impressive and hilarious.

On the bus ride, we had to pick a "chief" to represent us.  Amongst the Maori, back in the day, when a tribe approached another tribe, the receiving tribe had to determine if they came in peace or war.  The receiving tribe would send a band of warriors to "greet" them although the greeting was more like a ferocious war dance meant to intimidate any strange tribe thinking to come in anything other than peace.  The chief can only be a man (sorry, ladies) and it was up to him to face the Maori warriors and either accept the peace offering or not.

When we arrived at the village along with 3 other busloads of tourists and a chief from each bus, after the war dance, one of the four anointed chiefs chose the peace pipe (or whatever it was, I didn't get a close look at it) and we were allowed into the Maori village.  Inside the village, they had huts set up and did talks and demonstrations about various aspects of the Maori culture, from cooking to what their tattoos symbolized to the physical tests their warriors had to undergo to prove their fitness and worthiness.

Once those demos were over, we were invited into a building with a stage where the Maori performed various songs, including a love song our tour guide, Erica, had taught us a few days ago.  Their voices were very pure and sweet and I enjoyed the performances even though I couldn't understand the words.  They also did their cultural dances so we could get an idea of what they're like.  It reminded me of Polynesian and Hawaiian dancing and singing.

The dinner that night was made in the traditional Maori way.  I can't remember what they called it but, somewhat similar to a Hawaiian luau, they filled a deep hole in the earth with hot stones, placed layers of food inside it with the food that takes the longest to cook on the bottom and the vegetables in a wire basket on top.

Dinner was a buffet and, like the one at Walter Peak, we were told table by table when we could go up.  The food was plentiful and pretty tasty.  Besides the chickens pictured above, there was also lamb which some people thought was duck but the Maori server explained they don't eat duck and that it was definitely lamb.  There was also a lot of steamed vegetables, namely carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.  Dessert was a large fruit bowl of mixed fruit, pavlova and some kind of steamed bread that someone said was a date bread but I tried a piece and didn't find any dates in it so either they pureed it in or it was something else.

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening.  One thing that struck me as I left was the stark contrast between the aborigines of Australia and the Maori of New Zealand.  The latter was very proud of their heritage and wore it on the outside of their skin (literally).  The whole evening was a very well done production for the tourists to explain and honor their culture and their culture is a very big, integrated part of New Zealand in general.  Unfortunately I didn't get the same impression in Australia of their indigenous people.  Sadly, their experience is more like those of the American Indians who were mistreated and confined to reservations.  The aborigines we saw in Alice Springs seemed volatile and unhappy and lived mostly in the Outback rather than the more climate-friendly cities like Melbourne and Sydney.  We were told by some of the locals that those aborigines we saw in Alice Springs were likely outcasts from their tribe as they didn't do anything but "laze around and drink".  I can only hope that's a gross stereotype and it's truly unfortunate that those are the only aborigines I saw.  In Alice Springs, I witnessed 2 separate occasions of aborigines screaming at each other in public with very high emotional outbursts.  A stark contrast from the smiling Maoris who generously shared their culture with tourists night after night.

At the end of the evening, the Maori men performed the haka which is the Maori war dance that they do at the beginning of every rugby game.  The other big takeaway from my New Zealand sojourn is it would be an understatement to say this country takes its rugby seriously.  Their team is the All Blacks (which has no racial connotation whatsoever).  Kiwis are justifiably proud of the All Blacks who hold some kind of impressive record for number of wins (sorry, sports fans, I don't watch rugby and couldn't tell you) and to have any association with them and their name is an honor.  I know nothing about rugby but in the brief time I was in Kiwi-land, I can tell you Dan Carter is on his way to being the winning-est goalie ever.  Or something like that.  (I can feel rugby fans as well as Erica cringing at my ignorance.)

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