18.01.2014 - 18.01.2014
Mourea would be our cultural stop on our journey through New Zealand. Home to the Ngati Pikiao people we would be staying with the local Maori community. Upon arriving in Mourea we were greeted by one of the family members called Ruth. She gave us a quick run-through of what would be happening that evening. As she asked the group whether they knew what a 'Hongi' was, I opened my mouth and said "a dance?" but I spoke to soon and she asked me to come up to the front, oh bugger! It wasn't bad though because she just used me to demonstrate the welcoming tradition of the Maori called Hongi which involves the touching of the nose twice after saying the greeting Kia Ora.
After the introduction we were led towards the Marae.
The 'Marae' is the Māori's community facilities that usually consist of a carved meeting house, a dining hall and cooking area and the marae ātea (sacred space in front of the meeting house). This area was sacred as their ancestors had lived and fought on the grounds so it had a huge significance to their culture and their past. For this reason we had perform a ritual on first entering the grounds, the women walked first in front of the men in silence towards to Marae where we all paid our respects with a minute silence before being led into the carved meeting house for the official welcome into the Maori family. Before entering we all had to take off our shoes to not bring any of the bad spirits into the house. It is tradition for the men to sit in front of the women in these occasions, not because of superiority but because the women are seen as more important and therefore the men would be in front to protect them. This tradition had come from the days when meetings were held between rival tribes and the men would not want the women to be in danger.
One of the sons of the chief performed the ceremony which we weren't allowed to take photos of and after that we were officially part of the family, meaning that we can come back to this place anytime we need to. He told us more about the significance of the Marae and that they contain are symbols of tribal identity with each carving representing an ancestor. Even the structure itself represents the community with the central pole representing the heart, the centre of the roof the backbone with the timbers supporting the roof the ribs.
They are meeting places where people can discuss and debate issues together. They will also hold occasions like Weddings and funerals, and during the funeral which can last 3 days all members of the tribe come to the visit the deceased body and pay their respects.
This would also be the room we would all be sleeping in and after the welcome ceremony it was transformed into a giant sleepover with mattresses and sleeping bags for everyone. We gathered by the water as our host told us stories of how his people used the lake to fish for trout. It was a very sort after area and so other tribes did come to try to claim it and bloody battles were fought in the water.
Before dinner we would be treated to a cultural performance, where they made an impressive entrance doing the haka. The haka was used as a war dance to intimidate their enemy. One of the men stamped so hard his foot went through the floorboards!
One of the weapons we were shown was called a Patu, held on the hand it would be used to hit the enemy, combining this with a fatal twist it could be used to split open their skull! We were told the story of one of their ancestors who in a battle got hit in the head with a puta but instead of succumbing he wrapped his head with vine to keep it together and kept on fighting! Hardcore!
We even did their version of the Hokey Kokey, which they used to teach us some Maori words! In addition to that all the guys learned the Haka, while the girls learned a dance using Poi.
This resulted in a small 'dance-off' to see which team was the best.
We were served a traditional Maori meal called a 'hangi', consisting of chicken, kumara (sweet potato), pumpkin, peas and garlic bread. Simple, but so tasty, definitely one of the best meals I've had so far in New Zealand! The secret was the way that it was cooked given it a smokey taste from the malouka bark that was used.
When this was over, and we had all done the cleaning up and the dishes (yes, being part of the family means you have to do the dishes as well). It was time to get ready for bed and story time! The Maori family told us some stories about their history, ancestors, culture and the Marae where we would be spending the night.
All in all it was a very interesting and entertaining evening. What makes this stop so special is that you are part of a modern day Maori family, who will show you how they lived in the past, but also how they live today.
Stay tuned for more tales