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The Great Adventure

A Maori Thanksgiving

NEW ZEALAND | Thursday, 27 November 2008 | Views [701]

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The last Thursday of November found us in Maketu, a small town on the coast in the Bay of Plenty.  We ended up out here for our Maori cultural evening; a rather costly affair which we feared would turn out to be just another overpriced commercialized tourist performance.  Skeptical and budget-conscious though we were, we signed up for it and hoped for the best.

We arrived in Maketu and were greeted on the bus by Uncle Boy.  Right away I could tell that this wasn’t going to be at all the experience I was expecting, as Uncle Boy was friendly, funny and genuine.  He named a chief off our bus and welcomed us to his extended family, which felt very appropriate given the holiday we were missing.  He showed us inside, offering us a clothesline for our wet caving clothes and a cold fridge for our food and drinks.  He led us into the dining area, where waiting for us was a buffet of surprisingly Thanksgiving-esque food (namely potatoes, pumpkin and stuffing).   It felt quite a lot like normal Thanksgiving, in that I ate a lot of potatoes and not much else.  

After dinner we took off our shoes and went into the marae, which was a lifelong dream of Uncle Boy’s and was only completed a year ago.  The building was simple and modern and decorated with photos, Maori art, and other cultural artifacts.   We watched as our chosen chief (our bus’s clear senior) was challenged by the warrior, who grunted and advanced on us brandishing a large wooden spear.  Uncle Boy had warned us that this was the only part of the evening that is taken extremely seriously, and that if our chief made the wrong move here we would be asked to leave.  Luckily, he did the right thing, and one by one we went down the line and greeted the whole ‘tribe’ with the traditional handshake and nose touch.  We watched a performance of traditional song and dance, and then were asked to participate in an action song.  Last to be performed was the haka, and then we ladies learnt a poi dance while the men learned the haka.  We had lots of fun learning (and messing up) the moves of a very simple dance involving short poi (basically a soft ball on the end of a thick string).  The women who taught us were wonderfully kind and had a great sense of humor, so they were able to tease us about our performance without hurting our feelings. 

After we reconvened and performed for each other, to everyone’s great amusement, we started to wrap up the festivities and say goodnight to our hosts.  We slept in the marae that night, so we all pulled mattresses to the floor and set up our beds, which felt a lot like summer camp.  The night was nothing at all like I was expecting, but was so genuine and warm-spirited and wonderful that I couldn’t stop smiling the whole night, and well into the next morning.  I think it might have been the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. 

Tags: cultural, group, holiday, maketu, maori, north island, performance, thanksgiving

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