January 14 -- Maori Experience in Rotorua

written by bryan on January 20th, 2009 @ 01:03 AM

Bryan from Rotorua

We arrived in Rotorua mid-afternoon. With some time to kill, we walked around some of the gardens in front of the museum. They were fairly English: a wide selection of roses along with lawn bowling and petanque courts.

Behind the museum along the sulfur lake shore the plants were more authentic. I’m not sure if they were all native, but there was a plant with a strikingly purple berry.

Next door was the Polynesian spa, which claims to have been rated one of the top 10 spas in the world. The appearance from the outside was not striking, but I’m sure guests receive a better impression. Bethany did spend a good bit of time inside – they had a good selection of swimsuits.

Our main activity for the day was the Mitai Maori experience. It started raining heavily as we arrived. Luckily they had ponchos for everyone. Unluckily they didn’t count correctly – Bethany and I were left without one and were dressed for warm weather. We suffered stoically though, always happy to be too cold rather than too hot.

Before the experience started they showed us our food cooking in their hangi, or earth oven. I missed that, because I was still looking for a couple of ponchos!

The experience started with the arrival of the warriors in their waka, or war canoe. This is surprisingly impressive. As they exited their canoe Bethany got to admire the impressively tatooed buttocks of the chief. His skirt thing only covered the front of his body.

They then led us under a roof to watch the performances for the evening. It started with a peace ceremony with a symbolic chief selected from the guests. They then performed a traditional welcoming ritual dance and chant. This welcoming made us part of the tribe’s extended family.

After our welcoming, they performed several other song and dances. Traditionally an oral culture, these dances had three main purposes: to educate, to tell stories, and for exercise purposes. These dances were part of the martial arts of the Maori.

One of the stories they told went something like this: One day a chief got very angry at his wife and hit her. Unsurprisingly, his wife ran away from him. He went looking for her to plead with her to return. During his long journey, he travelled through the underworld. In the underworld he encountered a man/spirit who was impressively tattooed. The chief was so taken with the tattoos that he asked to be tattooed himself. The creature said that would be possible, but that he would have to take the four birds that were travelling along with the chief. These four birds were then tattooed onto the chief’s face: the bat on the forehead, the parrot on the nose, the Kiwis on his cheeks and the Owl on his chin.

This story tells the origin’s of the Maori facial tattoos or Moko. It’s also a none too subtle reminder that one should not beat one’s wife!

They showed off the traditional instruments of the Maori, such as the conch shell, a hollow log drum, percussive sticks and a flute. He then showed off a “gewta”, which got a laugh from the crowd when he pulled out a guitar. It was then explained that the guitar helped save much of the Maori traditions and culture, because one of the elders used a guitar to set much of it to music when the culture was in danger early in the 20th century.

After the show, we returned to the tent for our meal. This meal felt surprisingly like a country community supper, complete with an old guy singing along to old-time American songs prerecorded on a synthesizer.

The only traditional part of the meal was the sweet potato. The rest of it was meat and potatoes buffet-style like you’d expect at a country community supper.

After supper they took us on a small tour to show us some of the native fauna, along with glow worms, eel and trout.

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