Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mom in Kiwiland: day 6 - Maori Culture Tour

Auckland has a strong service network to assist migrants in learning Kiwi culture and how to find jobs and such. Julie & I attended a job search seminar back in January and it was quite helpful in showing us how to "Kiwi-ize" our resumes plus providing some contacts to find jobs, even though we didn't give the job search much effort. Anyhow, part of the services is to show newcomers the Maori culture. A required seminar for most immigrants is a lesson on the Treaty of Waitangi - an important document signed between a few Maori chiefs and the British. Much can be said about this treaty and how it's been ignored/abused over the years, but I am not in a position to argue it as I don't know much about it.

Today's tour focused on a traditional Maori meeting place - a "marae". We went to the Orakei marae which is located near our place on Bastion Point. At the marae there is the meeting hall and the dining hall. In the meeting hall we were given a traditional welcome. You must remove your shoes before entering, then the men enter first and sit in the front row with women and children behind. Each man in the front row will have a role (quite similar to a modern board meeting) so we had a gent who volunteered to be our representative and presented a greeting on behalf of the tour group. It's all sorta neat, but other than our man's speech it was all in Maori so I'm not sure what was all said.
We were fortunate today to be given an impromptu cultural performance by a group of school children who are practicing for the upcoming Pasifika Festival.
After the show it was activity time: learning the haka and flaxgrass weaving. The haka is a war cry/dance. The version we learned today is one that one of the Maori tribes developed after their chief was pursued by another tribe. It's also the pre-game ritual of the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks. Mom & Julie got a kick out watching me learn it; I got a kick out watching the East Indian fellows trying to learn it.

Now we come to the best part of the day: lunch! A Maori "hangi" lunch is basically a roast dinner: there's beef, pork, chicken, stuffing, potatoes, kumara (a NZ sweet potato), pumpkin and bread. It's all cooked by fire-heated rocks in a hole in the ground. Super, super good. Oh, plus some fresh-cooked NZ green mussels. (One fellow diner commented that the Maori have good bone joints late into life due to the high amount of mussels in their diet.) And did I mention the steamed pudding with custard and ice cream for dessert? Sweet as, bro.

Mom was wise in opting for the haka before lunch, saving the low-impact flax grass weaving for after. Flax grass doesn't look like flax - it's actually a tall lily, but the Brits reckoned that it's fibrouJulie hard at its leaves reminded them of fibrous flax stems so that's what they called it. The Maori term is harakeke. Our crash course in weaving produced varied results in the class. Some people complained that they just could not understand the concept and gave up; others got it quickly and produced more tmom with our workhan one woven flower. Tooting my own horn here, I got the hang of it quite quickly and was commended on how tight and even my weave was. But once all of the flowers were complete, you couldn't tell the good from the bad - they all looked like twisted grass. And tradition stipulates that you gift your first one, so most people were jokingly glad to give away their first piece of messy weaving.

After a day of haka and flax weaving we were pretty tired. But that's not the end of our day! The Mission Bay Jazz & Blues Festival was cancelled yesterday due to the lowsy weather so it was postponed to tonight. (All we did yesterday was wander around town: rode the Link bus around central Auckland showing mom the sights.) Mission Bay is a nice part of town just a few kilometres from our place along the shore. The festival overtakes the beachside park and shuts down the main street. 19 stages are set up with the same band playing the same stage all night. To prevent too much distortion, the stages are numbered and alternate every half hour by even/odd numbers. They stretch the genre of jazz/blues, but there's a lot of good music and it's a pretty cool scene either way. This festival kicks the snot out of last weekend's Devonport Food & Wine Festival, but Julie points out that they're targeted at different folks.

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