I was able to go to Te Matatini this past weekend in Wellington. It is a national competition of kapa haka that happens every two years. The location moves around, and it had not been in Wellington for some time. It was a big deal.
This is a competition of a Maori performance art. It involves iwi (tribes) putting on an originally choreographed and composed group dance/theatrical/chorus/storytelling pieces. As I understand it, based on conversations with other spectators, the piece is meant to represent something of importance to that iwi now, although it can pull from history. Traditional motifs and elements are strong, but it is not a rendition of a traditional piece. Each piece was about 20-30 minutes.
It was held in a large sports stadium with a temporary marae built in the center. A marae can be the center of an iwi. It is where oral tradition is alive, food is shared, ancestors are honored, and connections are made. They play a large role in the efforts to strengthen marae cultural and reestablish the language.
This is not from the national competition, but a nice example with high
school students. Student groups and regional competitions are popular.
I know it is long, but worth seeing the whole thing.
The competition was over four days, with three days of rounds and a finals day. Nine teams made it to the finals, which is what I watched. It felt a bit like when AFN is in town. The doors opened at 7am, and I had to walk across town to get to the stadium about 8am. As I walked teams and their families were gathering outside hotels, excited about the day. Groups were walking in town, at what would otherwise be a quiet business district on an early Sunday morning. In the stadium people were greeting family and friends they had not seen - probably since the last gathering two years ago.
And then it rained and rained and rained. I got a seat just at the rain line under the stadium seating. The hard core spectators were huddled on the stadium floor under spread out blue tarps. One tent was even set up.
Overall it was powerful. The themes of the performances included memorials, an iwi struggle with cancer, colonization, decolonization, and the tribunal claims process. A single piece went back and forth between aggressive replay of battles with the British (red coat costumes and fake heads included), to hoka challenges, to sad harmonies of loss, to athletic feats, to joyful smiles and upbeat harmonies.
The idea that Maori were using a traditional means to heal, communicate, and express themselves in today’s times was pretty cool. And many people in town were into it, Maori or not.
The All Blacks at the start of a rugby match.
It also gave me a new perspective on the haka in general. It is traditionally a gesture of challenge - to a battle or more recently to a sport match in the All Blacks rugby. It seemed to me overly aggressive and in a way scary. The tongue out and the whites of the eyes glaring. After seeing the kapa haka with the storytelling aspect it seems different. It is more a statement of strength. It seemed that the whole festival was a statement of here we are, this is what we are experiencing, we are sharing our story, and we are strong. The bigger question then becomes about the receiver, me. Why does one group feel threatened when another group shows a sign of strength? Isn’t it possible for more than one group to be strong simultaneously? Why do we tend to judge one group’s strength on the basis of another group’s weakness?
Just for fun - Bohemian Rhapsody.
I went to the Wellington Botanic Garden today for an afternoon stroll. The plaque in the Tree House Information Center stated, "Everything depends on something else." I just pondered this as I enjoyed the garden. It is a nicely done free resource for the community with wonderful children's spaces for hands on exploration and play.
Hosting, tradition, and ritual are all things that have never meant a lot to me as they seem to all come with a lot of social interaction that I have perceived as somewhat hollow. They are motions to go through just because it is prescribed and they are done automatically. I am enjoying the chance to expand this perception while in New Zealand.
A powhiri is a formal Maori welcoming ceremony that general takes place at a marae, which is a traditional Maori meeting place. In past it was an outdoor space, but in modern times it includes a building built with this purpose, generally for a specific iwi, or tribe. It seems that many modern marae were built starting in the 80's when the Maori culture had a renaissance in New Zealand, alongside the development of the Waitangi Treaty Tribunal. The two that I have been to are very intentionally designed and contain work from master carvers.
Each iwi has somewhat unique protocol, but great similarities. The visitors approach slowly and are assessed by the iwi members as to friend or foe. In older times there were weapons and postureing involved here, before it was determined that these visitors are safe to enter. The two groups hongi, just like a hand shaking line. Each gender has specific roles and both hosts and visitors introduce themselves through the intense oration of one representative member in Te Reo Maori (Maori language). A gift is offered, and we all have tea, which always includes yummy snacks. Oh, and there is singing. The offering of a song as a gift.
For our full powhiri though the Fulbright we went to the Wawhetu Marae just outside of Wellington central district. This particular marae hosts a lot of governments and foreign dignitaries, so it is accustomed to interacting with many diverse people. This one we stayed the night “marae style” with mats on the floor in the central room (see pictures above). The second one is on the grounds of the University and not associated with a particular iwi - but built to welcome and meet the needs of all Maori at the University. This one also includes carvings with more modern historical references along with ancestral references.
Personal space is interesting. In general I think of Americans as needing a lot. When we (group of about twenty American Fulbrighters) were told we would stay in one big room and sleep on mats, have limited shower access, that we would hongi with a line of strangers, and we would sing a song of our choosing as a thank you gesture in English as well as a introductory song in Te Reo - I do believe the anxiety level of the room went up.
A few notes that I found interesting - (not fact checked, just comments I heard from the perspective of the individual presenting about his/her own culture).
After the conference in Napier I had about a week before official Fulbright activities were to get underway. I started with stories about the hut system in New Zealand from previous travelers and information on the Great Walks (multi-day treks connected by a hut system). I looked for what I could do between Napier and Wellington. My map had a large section titled the Te Urewera National Park. Seemed like a good place to start.
Turns out my map was outdated. The Te Urewera National Park no longer exists. In its place is simply Te Urewera - a piece of land that has been designated its own legal entity - in a sense personhood. No one owns this land: it owns itself.
A little background as to how this came about - the Treaty of Waitangi (the brief version). The treaty was in 1840 between the British Crown and Maori. The problems were:
In 1975 the treaty was brought into law through an act of parliament and a tribunal was established, and expanded in 1985. Through this tribunal it has been gradually established that the “principals of the treaty” include things such as partnership in good faith, Maori autonomy, reciprocity, and Maori consent for land transactions. The law allows for claims of redress to be brought forward by Maori iwi (tribes) if they feel the Crown did not honor the treaty. The process of settling these claims is ongoing. www.waitangitribunal.govt.nz/
With Te Urewera, the Tuhoe iwi brought a claim to the tribunal and the outcome in 2014 was redesignation of this part of their homeland, a structure for the Tuhoe to act as guardians of Te Urewera, and a monetary settlement. For the Tuhoe people, this has created an opportunity to reestablish their cultural identity, decolonize, and heal.
As for me, I started the four day trek thinking about the fit of my backpack, how my legs were going to do, the heavy elevation gain of the first day, if I brought the right gear, how cold it was going to be in the night, and more; it was all about me. I approached doing the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk as a task to be completed, checked of as an accomplishment.
During the walk others, with varying approaches, went along too. Most of the others were local New Zealanders, and a strong percentage were Maori.
Over the four days there was a lot of downtime in the sun, hanging out in the huts, and just talking. I learned a lot. One Maori women who had been a teacher working to improve the success of Maori students in the school system talked about how the biggest factor in Maori student success was relationships. When the teachers took the time to know the students and the students trusted the teachers greater gains were made. Another Maori women talked and laughed, but mostly laughed.
Two of the huts were hosted by Tuhoe iwi members as part of land guardianship. They inherited the great walk and management of the huts as part of the settlement. One was an incredibly friendly and helpful young man who answered questions and did trail work. The other was an older “Auntie” who was willing to share her and the Tuhoe story if she felt that the listener was open.
I have been intrigued by the challenge of how to create fairness and equity in a post-colonial world through land claims, social programs, education,etc. But, mostly from a somewhat academic, complex problem solving kind of way. It was different to listen to her stories and feel the passion and commitment behind them. She told of how the British massacred her people at the site of the trail head, burned their crops in an attempt to starve them, and systematically killed their leaders. “We were the last iwi to be colonized. By the time they got to us they new how to do it.” She continued with her own experience of segregated schooling, how her people have scattered across New Zealand, and how the Pakeha have used the land for recreation (much disbelief that catching and wounding a trout and then returning it to the lake could be called sport).
The Tuhoe have re-established their traditional, cultural values and then searched the globe for ideas on how to make these values sustainable today. The result is a forty year plan that includes honoring their ancestors in the land of Te Urewera, creating communal living villages, living off the investment of the claims settlement, not accepting government funds, creating a values based educational system,sharing the land with visitors, and being self-sustaining. The goal is to create a home place to call back all the Tuhoe that have scattered and decolonize. Currently only a small percentage have returned, but it is only three years in. She was clear that all are welcome back, but they gotta be willing to come in and sit, have a cuppa tea - not just come and go and think they are experts - in order to gain a place on the boards, and trusts, and committees.
From the outside, for me, it was an experience of living the values they professed. From the start it felt like entering Te Urewera was entering someone’s home, and I was being graciously hosted. A new visitor center was constructed at the entrance as a result of settlement as a symbolic gesture to the change as the old national park building was torn down. The new building is architecturally designed and follows all modern eco principals. https://architecturenow.co.nz/articles/te-wharehou-o-waikaremoana-tennent-brown-architects/ From talking on the phone about the walk, the time with each group to determine their intentions and plans, the personal shuttle to the trail head (no cost), the hosts checking in at the huts and making sure everyone made it, the water taxi across the small closed section of trail (no cost), the immaculately clean huts, and the shuttle at the trail end back to the visitor center (no cost) I felt taken care of. They were genuinely interested in the quality of my experience, not just making money off of me.
By the final day and hike out I looked at the forest around me differently. I walked more slowly, less focused on the action of the hike and the amazing biodiversity of the rain forest itself but more on the overall experience. The Tuhoe believe the trees have life force and their ancestors are a part of this land. Having a “cuppa tea” with a few locals changed my perspective. My challenge going forward - can I have the same listening openness, let go of the task orientation, when I am not in a hut, in the woods, with literally nothing else to do?
The Joy of Play Educator's Conference
Napier Conference Centre, 23 January 2019
My program officially begins on January 30th in Wellington, but in my preliminary looking about for professional development activities in New Zealand during my timeframe I came across this small, one day conference in Napier on play in education. It is not library, but spoke to my latent early childhood heart. I arranged my pre-program travel around attending this conference.
The setting set it off well with clear sunny skies on the beach in a cute historic town. See photo below of folks mulling about during a break. Amazing to me was that I did not mind being indoors because I had several full days of sun while outdoors prior. I hope my sun tolerance increases over time!
I know this is long, but hopefully the format will let you skim and dive into what you want.
A few tidpits/impressions I gathered from casual conversations while milling about (not to meet any fact checking muster.
Good teachers have “ . . . Teeth marks on their tongues.” They trust children and do not make it more complicated than it needs to be.
Next up in a few days -
I am headed to Te Urewera to hike for several days. It is an area with a unique history of colonization and land claims.
As promised I am starting this blog and after only minor procrastination. I have spent a few days in Wellington getting logistics set up, such as housing, banking, cell phone, and of course a Wellington City library card. After these days of super city dwelling I am headed up the east cost into a more comfortable rural setting on my way to a conference on play in education in Napier. I have added a map tab to help with orientation if you are interested.
On my way I get to explore a bit by driving some crazy, curvy, windy, roads through mountains and along the coast - all on the left side of the road. Staying on the left was not as hard as I imagined, but knowing where to look for oncoming traffic was trickier. My panic reflex is still working hard as it seems to appear that cars are repeatedly coming directly at me from the other lane.
I will also check out a few hike-in huts on the way. I came to understand from the friendly Department of Conservation staff at the visitor center in Wellington that the extensive hut system (approx 1,400 huts) used for recreation is a leftover from game management. The islands originally had only one mammal (bat). As outsiders came in they thought to help out the situation by adding in new mammals. The US gave New Zealand the white-tailed deer to add as a hunting sport. As it can go with well-intended but not thoroughly understood actions, they sometimes need to be undone. Most of the huts in this area were originally built to support culling the deer before they took over and destroyed the land. I hope to enjoy these artifacts of an earlier problem that have been repurposed quite a bit over the next five months.
I am new to blogging, so I hope that my skills will get more refined as I go - and my typing faster. I plan to next post about the play in education conference on January 24th (this note is really for me - a commitment in writing to get something done).