The natives of NZ (Aotearoa) are the Maori people, a culturally fascinating group that has been integrated much better into society than the Aboriginals of Australia.  When I say integrated, I mean that they are not as diminished socially, not that they have been assimilated by the European settlers.  The main reason that they have done a lot better than indigenous groups in Australia, Canada and the US?  They fought back, which I actually think has to do with the fact they are a warrior group.  When they first came to NZ from Polynesia, there was another group that starts with M that I can’t remember that lived here but the Maori killed them all and took over the land.  It’s not to say that it’s a perfect system, they still have objections to Waitangi Day, a day celebrating the signing of the Waitangi treaty.  The original European settlers that signed it thought it meant they could ‘own’ the land while the Maori interpreted it as they could ‘rent’ the land.  However, there’s a huge difference that I’ve noticed between the Australian Aborigines and the NZ Maori (ok, the Pacific Islander- Samoans, Tongans and Fijians- too) are actually visible.  Like, they work in every kind of job and among the whites; you just don’t see that kind of thing in Melbourne or Sydney.  There’s also a requirement to have a Maori person on their ethics committees (see, qualitative research class wasn’t completely useless for me!).  I saw ‘Samson and Delilah’ right before I left so I may have been more conscious of it when travelling.

Anyways, Kia Ora (pronounced Ki-or-a) is a common greeting in NZ, which explains why a blond skateboard punk said it to me while crossing the street and I was like “say what?” (Not that I speak to teenagers; talking to undergrads is something I do only when necessary).  It literally means ‘good health/to your health’ but is also used as a term of agreement and has entered the NZ English lexicon.  Of course, that meant it appeared on highway road signs, so I thought it translated to welcome.

My last day on the Contiki was a bit of a Maori culture lesson.  I had seen some stuff at the museum but my enthusiasm had waned quite a bit after the giant squid so I couldn’t take any more in.  Around Rotorua, there were traditional buildings, like a marae (gathering house) that was more intricately carved than the one in the thermal village because of the European tools were more refined.  If you want a great Maori experience, I’d recommend the thermal village – Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao (yes, that’s spelt correctly).  It had been listed on my activities sheet as Whakarewarewa, then it turns out you can just call it Whaka (woka).  A few oddities about Maori language- there’s only 15 letters, each word ends in a vowel, and -wh sound like -f.  So before I learned I could just say Whaka- I kept calling it the Fukawhaka place.

Whaka is a Maori village that is unconventionally powered by geothermal activity.  They cook, bathe and base their activities around the geysers and mud pools.  The baths are communal and reinforce family bonds, as in the parents hand off the infants to the grandparents and they take them for the night.  The tour guide was great, he went through all the bits and pieces that make up life in the village.  The hot mud is used for treating arthritis about once every 3 months.  The poi are props used to enhance dances by the women but were traditionally used by men to strengthen their wrists for weapons.  He did oversell the sweetcorn; cooked in one of the watery pits as they normally reach 100C.

That night, dinner at the hotel was a hangi dinner.  Hangi refers to a cooking method of using the underground heat to cook the food but because it was in Rotorua, the food was cooked above ground using steam.  While a dash overcooked, there was a lot of variety in this West meets Maori fusion.  Then there was a show demonstrating Maori culture.  Until recently, Maori didn’t have a written language, it was all passed down in the oral tradition.  So they are very expressive through song and dance; history, love stories, poi dances and greetings were all covered, including the one I had been waiting for all throughout NZ; the haka.  The haka is a war postural dance done by the men to puff themselves up before battle.  It gets the blood flowing, adrenaline pumping and the body movements make them look bigger…and a bit crazy.  The guys in the room got pulled up onstage to participate in a haka, and the lead man told them if they got lost, to just make funny faces and scream.  The NZ rugby team, the All Blacks perform a haka before every test match.

Pictures- sorry, I can’t seem to get the direct link in here, WordPress likes to frustrate me with that.