Our neighbors at Ecoquest are ordinary people who have lived here for a thousand years. At least, that’s how they put it.
As part of our introductory coursework here, we’re learning the language, culture and traditions of the Maori people, the native New Zealanders descended from the Polynesians who landed here somewhere between 800 and 1200 years ago (making NZ the last significant landmass to become populated). And it just so happens that there is a Marae down the street, a five minute walk or so. The Marae is something akin to a Native American reservation, I suppose, but envision something smaller and not located on the lousiest land around.
Yesterday, we visited the Marae, continuing a partnership between that community and the Ecoquest one. It was an interesting affair that started with a great deal of formality (women line up and enter before the men, but when it comes to sit down the men sit in the front; each side takes a turn speaking, and the nonspeaking members of the community show their support of the speaker through the singing of a song, etc) and ended with a flair of the casual as the Maori people explained a bit about the ritual we’d just been through and about their beliefs in general. Our director here told us beforehand that the Maori operated on their own time; in affirmation of his words, he budgeted for about a 45 minute visit and we were there for close to three hours.
There were several members of the community in attendance (though many were missing as they prepare to row the traditional Waka into Auckland as part of the opening ceremonies for the Rugby World Cup), but it was one particular gentlemen, Shane, clad in a suit, with feathers tied up in his long hair, that perhaps stole the show with his stories at the end of our time there.
Principal among them was his tale of how the Maori came to be given that name. Traditionally, the word means “ordinary person,” someone with a head, two hands and two feet. It means human. An ordinary person. When the English arrived (Shane had a particularly amusing English imitation that actually relayed more on mannerism than accent), they heard the word “Maori” and applied it to the entire race of native New Zealanders. In its literal definition, of course, everyone, including the Englishmen, are Maori, but the name has stuck.
Another interesting part of our three hours at the Marea was engaging in the traditional greeting, known as the Hongi, in which individuals clasp hands and touch their foreheads and the tips of their noses simultaneously in one slow but smooth gesture, eyes downcast as they do so. “Tena Koe,” each say, repeating the more formal Maori greeting. We sat outside a building akin to a Great Hall for our formal greetings, then moved inside a modern kitchen area for late morning tea.
As with most native peoples, the Maori are a bit more in sync with the natural world than the rest of the world, and we’ll be collaborating with them a bit on projects in the next couple months, I believe.
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