Thanks to being so delayed at the caves, we don’t make it to Mourea until about 5:30 at night. This is a bit problematic because of where we’re staying – a Maori ‘Marae,’ a meeting house. It’s considered something of a privilege to get to stay on one, as most New Zealanders haven’t done it. This night is considered non-optional for Stray, and costs $80 all inclusive. However, setting foot on a Marae after dark isn’t something that you’re supposed to do, so getting their late was a bit of an issue – thankfully there were no problems.
When we got there, we were greeted by Piwiki Taranui Kingi (or Piwi for ease) who explained what would be happening tonight. First we’d go into the Wharenui (big house) where we’d be staying the night to be formally invited into the family, and then have dinner. Afterwards Piwi and his family would perform the cultural show, and we’d finish the night with dessert and a question and answer session before bed.
This Marae only started allowing non-tribe-members onto the grounds around the 70’s. The tribe’s leader at the time had realised a lot of the Maori children were forgetting their culture due to Western influence and actions, and changed several of the rules to allow more members to speak in the building. This act eventually led to the cultural show, which allows the Maori to show their traditional skills and better educate non-Maori on their history.
You have to take your shoes off before entering the Wharenui, as outside is where battles traditionally took place and your shoes could bring in the spirits to a place which is supposed to be peaceful. Inside hosts dozens of red carvings, each one depicting their own story, with the far wall hosting 2 world war memorials, and a collection of photographs of departed Maori ancestors. These photos are considered as important as the deceased themselves, and as such no food is allowed in the building either, as it’s disrespectful to eat if your elders cannot.
Once the bags are inside, we head over to the building on the right, which hosts the kitchen and bathrooms. It’s buffet style food tonight, with Piwi bringing out a huge tray of chicken, traditional veg and gravy. The chicken is beautiful, while the veg vary (I find kumara to be a really dry veg normally and it’s hard to swallow in large chunks), and I eat way too much. Thankfully I’m not the only one regretting thirds by the time the show starts up.
The show is performed by Piwi and his family, with his brother Tetai performing along with three women, Czenamin, Malay and Pohuturangi (and yes I did have to ask how to spell these names). It starts with traditional songs from their tribe, before moving on to performing with the Poi. These are small balls attached to rope, that were originally designed to be a training tool for the Maori warrior’s wrists. When the Westerners arrived in New Zealand, they eventually adapted it to be used for entertainment, both by created sounds when it hit the arms, and by lengthening the rope to create patterns imitating the flight of birds.
They then perform a Haka, and separate the group for audience participation. The girls are taught a very basic poi dance (although we really struggled to get it down!) and the boys go out to learn a Haka. Afterwards they bring us all together to show off each performance. Think the boys definitely won, if just because the one leading the charge was an eight-year-old boy who was utterly adorable.
As a finale, they sing a song about two lovers who belonged to different tribes – who ended up marrying and who many of this tribe are descended from, before taking a bow. It was a really great way to see different parts of the Maori culture – I knew about poi and Haka, but had no idea the poi hadn’t always been just something for entertainment. The songs are also fantastic to hear – much like Australia, the Maori didn’t have a written language, but when the Westerners came, they started to write down genealogy and stories as they realised how easily they could get lost with the new forces coming in. A lot of Maori history has only survived because the tribal leaders took this precaution.
Once the show was over, mattresses were pulled out of one corner of the room along with sheets and sleeping bags, and we put together a makeshift sleepover room. Piwi stuck around to answer any questions about the show or Maori culture in general, and we probably kept him around a lot longer than planned, usually flitting from one subject to the next. The highlight was probably explaining the most interesting carving, situated next to the door, which depicts the creation story for the Maori.
There were two lovers, Ranginui the Sky Father and Papatuanuku the Earth Mother. They held each other in a tight embrace, and had 167 children who lived in the darkness between them. However, several of the children wanted to live in the light, and after several attempts to prise them apart, ended up chopping off their father’s arms. The blood is why we sometimes have ‘red sky at night,’ and rain is the tears of Ranginui crying for his lost love.
After this, one of these children, Tane got lonely, and as all of his siblings were men, was taught how to create a woman from the clay of his mother, and created Hine-ahuone. Eventually, they had a child, Hine-ata-uira, who he also chose to marry. Hine-ata-uira agreed as at the time, she was unaware that Tane was her father. When she eventually found out, she was so ashamed that she went to the underworld and became its god, changing her name to Hine-nui-te-po.
While here, Maui, a god who was looking for a way to ensure immortality for himself, decided he would do this by taking the essence of life from the first natural born woman. He snuck into the underworld and came across Hine-nui-te-po sleeping. Rather than wait for her to wake up, he turned himself into a lizard, and tried to enter her womb. Unbeknownst to him though, a small fantail bird had followed him, and when he saw what the god was doing, he started to laugh. This woke up Hine, who then crushed the gods head as he was entering, becoming the first man to die, and the reason men are mortal.
It’s is why woman bleed every month, why fantails are considered bad luck by the Maori (one entering your house is considered an omen of death), why one should never try to avoid death, and my favourite – why you should never enter a woman without consent. This carving can be found in every Meeting House for the Maori people – the others might vary depending on the tribe and their stories, but this one is always at the front, at least for this tribe.
We also learned that this tribe was one of the few that never signed the Waitangi treaty, and as such still have much of their original structure and are not beholden to the Queen. There’s also the story of how, when white people were trying to get land from them, they wanted to cut it in half. The Maori refused, and when asked to explain why, they took the man’s bowler hat and asked if they could cut it in half. The man refused, saying that ‘half a hat was useless’ – and the Maori agreed. Instead, they took the hat, and drew a circle over the land – leaving the Maori with the land inside the hat and the white people the land around it.
Around 11pm we finally let Piwi go, and tried to get some sleep. Struggled a bit thanks to the light from the war memorial (which we learned in the morning could have been turned off if we’d found the switch), but considering the previous activity, were tired enough that it didn’t really matter.