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Friday, 08 June 2007

On the Marae: A Maori Ritual of Encounter - Page 3

Written by Stephanie Henck
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In the beginning there was darkness, te po--the domain of the gods. Here, Rangi the Sky Father and Papa the Earth Mother were joined in an intimate embrace that left the world void of light. They begot many sons who dominated aspects of the natural world: they controlled animals, the forests, the weather, and the seas. The sons of earth and sky suffered from the eternal darkness of the tight hold between Heaven and Earth and resolved to separate their parents.

The tribe’s willingness to “share their breath” with us represented the removal of our tapu, which meant we could now roam the courtyard and buildings and engage with the locals with informality and comfort—albeit hesitation. Hospitality is a cornerstone of Maori culture and once the rituals of encounter are over, the tangata whenua, or people of the land, spoil their guests with food, lodging, and entertainment.

Some of the American boys took this informality to heart. They stripped to their boxers and splashed in the river with some of the younger boys. On the shore was one of the ancestral waka, or canoe, long and dilapidated on the sand. The bottom had fallen out and there were barely enough of the sides left to see the long, thin shape of the heavy wood.

Descendants of Rangi and Papa often journeyed from Hawaiki through the Polynesian waters in their waka, large enough to seat as many as 35 people. Sometimes entire tribes migrated by canoe. At one point, there were seven such waka traveling southwards, known as the Great Fleet. Every Maori in New Zealand can trace their lineage back to one of these seven waka. As they approached the unknown lands they saw what seemed to be a long, white cloud hovering over the southwestern coast of the island. What they really saw were the snow-capped mountains of the fiordlands and Southern Alps, yet they named their land of the long white cloud just that, Aotearoa.

feastWe shared a traditional feast, cooked in the ground and dug up with shovels. We dug chicken and lamb out of the soil, wrapped in dirty linens, the smell of meat and earth tingling our senses. The Maori and American students shared tables and benches as we all had a feast together. We were a diverse cafeteria of friends crowded into the eating-house, or whare nui.

(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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