27 October 2017

The Tamaki Maori Village Cultural Experience, Rotorua

On day 18 of our backpacking adventure, we left Waitomo with the Kiwi Experience Bus, and made our way towards Rotorua, home to the Tamaki Maori Village cultural experience. At 185$, this was one of the priciest activities we have paid for during this trip, but it is one absolutely worth the money. 

I was pretty nervous coming into this: we had chosen the overnight stay option, which gave us more time with our hosts, and allowed us to learn much more about the Maori culture, something I knew nothing about beforehand. The 'goal' of the experience is to show people how these meetings between different Chiefs or tribes would have occurred in the past, albeit without the bloodshed. It is also an opportunity to see other aspects of their culture: formal greetings, traditions, ceremonial rituals, popular games, the significance of Maori tattoos, the meaning behind the wood carvings of buildings, their stories passed down from generation to generation, the language, the food (the 'hangi'), and more.  

Of course we could only skim the surface, and we didn't have the time to go into detail about all of these elements, but the experience did teach us alot, and I for one came away with an entirely new point of view.

The reason I was nervous was because although this is a paid experience, the formal greeting between Chiefs is very much real, and very serious. You cannot laugh, smile, mock, or imitate the Chiefs in any way as they do the formal traditional greeting. (We were told that an Australian tourist once openly mocked a Chief during the greeting (the war dance), who then proceeded to whack him over the head and send him to hospital. When the police were called, they simply said to the tourist that he was in the wrong, and he should not have disrespected him. Which I completely agree with! But it definitely proves the seriousness of the situation!).

To elaborate: our Kiwi Experience bus was our tribe, and we had to nominate our Chief. He had to be male, as per the Maori culture - and the male would then act as Chief, and follow the same traditions as any other Tribe or visitor would when meeting this Maori Tribe. I won't go too much into details as I explain this, as the experience as a whole is quite difficult to put into words (I do apologise if I have got any of the terms wrong). Just as the Maori culture, you have to be there, listen, and observe.  

I was concerned this experience was going to be 'commercial' - how do you introduce people to your culture in such an environment? As the day continued on and we spent more time with our hosts Leader and Jaymus (I hope I spelt these names correctly), that worry soon disappeared. These people are normal people, they aren't actors who put on a performance - they are Maori people with full time jobs who come here every night to educate people on their culture. You can really sense the passion behind what they do - their willingness to share their cultural traditions and inform others of the stories behind them. 

As I've grown up I've realised the importance of learning about the indigenous tribes and the stories behind their culture, their History, the reality of their lives in today's society, the effect the settlers had when they arrived but also the discrimination they still face on a daily basis. I think as a white person I have a responsibility to learn about these cultures and fight for their rights, to be an ally - our ancestors are responsible for the issues they have and continue to face, the least I can do is use my voice to share their culture or support them. 
I hope this post will do that in a way - if I can inform you guys even just a little bit about what I learnt, I think that is a good thing. 

Again I need to press the fact that I find this experience difficult to put into words. It was so informative and very rewarding, but I really believe that you need to experience it yourself. Just reading about it won't cut it, you need to take part and interact. 

Each part of the experience was interesting in a different way. After the peace offering ritual, we entered the little village which consisted of several wooden huts, which is what a Maori village would have looked like in times of old. At each hut we listened to Chiefs and the Maori women, who would tell us about a specific part of their Culture. Whether it's the Haka, a traditional game, a dance, a symbolic object and more. 

This part of the experience also allowed visitors to directly ask questions - unfortunately I couldn't think of any on the spot, but later on in the evening, after a dip in the hot tub with the fellow Kiwi Experience travellers, I sat by the big bonfire with our host and asked him a few questions. 
One thing I was curious about was how old Maori people are when they first get their tattoos. Tattoos have alot of significance and meaning in the Maori culture: each tattoo is unique, as they depict the story of the life of the one who wears it. To copy someone else's tattoo is to take away it's significance, and it is disrespectful. I also asked about getting the younger generation involved in the Culture in today's society of mass media and technology, which was interesting. We also discussed the effects the loss of life during WWI and II had on the Maori people, and of course the ongoing issue of the government claiming the Maori people's lands. 

That in itself was something I had never experienced before. As we sat around listening to him speak, I couldn't help but notice how different his culture was to ours, in the best way. How they value the Land, the importance of it, of family and their ancestors. It put alot of things into perspective. 

If you are visiting New Zealand, I very much recommend you take part in this cultural experience. I learnt so much about the History of the Maori people, the indigenous people of New Zealand. If you've come all this way, why wouldn't you want to know about their culture? 

You can choose between the evening or the overnight experience. Both include the formal greetings & introductions, a dance performance by the Maori and an incredible dinner cooked in their traditional technique. The overnight experience includes sleeping in a giant dorm, a chance to relax in hot tubs and a bonfire, with breakfast the following morning - including a more personal introduction with the hosts, and you even get to learn and perform their alphabet song. 

This night remains one of the best night's I have had here in New Zealand so far. It was both entertaining and educational without feeling 'touristy'. 

I'd like to finish this post off by thanking the Tamaki Maori Village hosts, it was  truly a night to remember.

Holly x

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