Some impressions on a trip to New Zealand.
Auckland and a right Maori Welcome.
Keith parked his 1981 Toyota with a sigh of relief, for we had circled the vast parking area for some twenty minutes before some kind person decided to pull out. Auckland is not an easy place to tour at the best of times, and the driving rain plus gale force wind didn't help either.
"I`m not getting out in this," muttered sister-in-law Ella. We peered through the fogged up windows towards the imposing pillars set at the entrance of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Under renovation, the whole area adjacent to the massive building had been cordoned off.
"This is the closest we can get, we`ll just have to make a dash for it!"
Dash we did, not realising how cold it was outside the car, and for the first time in many a year, my ears began to pinch at the lobes like a winters day in the U.K. as we ran.
"Brrr." I shook the rain off my hair and we all walked beneath the huge structure of the building. "I wonder what`s on?"
There in the foyer was an expanded plan of the exhibition Galleries. It was bigger than big.
"Lets go for broke and do the lot," Keith suggested. It was his third time round and there was still lots for him to see.
Although they don`t ask for an entrance fee, there is a suggested donation of
N.Z.$ 5 , which I thought was more than reasonable.
To me, museums are museums. A place for quiet learning perhaps. I was naturally anxious to get to know the origin of the Maori people and their culture, and although I remembered the Kon Tiki expedition back in the sixties, I felt there was a lot more that I could learn about the Polynesian invasion of the island.. Learn I did, for the ground floor of the museum had been devoted entirely to the Polynesians who strayed… stayed and settled on the mainland of Aotearoa. (Land of the Long White Cloud) .
Keith reminded us that there was to be a Maori Welcoming Committee coming up at three that afternoon, and we were required to assemble on the first floor. From here, we would be lead into the hallowed inner sanctuary of their `reception committee room'.
Keeping an eye on our watches we continued to explore the Galleries. Pacific Pathways, the name of one of the many exhibition pieces housed in the Worlds largest collection of Pacific artifacts. Masterpieces, in yet another GaLLERY was a veritable showcase of Pacific ethnic art. The largest piece on exhibition was a Waka, or sailing canoe from the Island of Tikopia, Solomon Islands. Magnificently carved and polished from a single tree trunk. Some tree!
Around a quarter to three, all four of us became aware of a strange sounding noise. Still on the ground floor, it echoed mournfully through the stone archways and pillars of the museum. "That`s the first call for the traditional welcoming committee of the Maori`s" whispered Keith. "They blow through the end of a Conch shell to get that peculiar sound effect, we`d best be on our way."
At this juncture, everyone wanted to `spend a penny'. "For Heavens sake don`t be late, they`ll crucify you if you are," shouted Keith.
I thought he was joking. After a couple of minutes we made our way up the wide sweeping staircase, and were confronted by a gathering of some three hundred people. Up ahead was a dreadful commotion, and for a moment I thought there was some kind of ethnic riot going on. Pushing my way to the front of the crowd I gawked at the scene, and found myself completely mistaken.
A colourfully dressed female Maori was literally screaming out instructions to our group in what I believe was pidgin English. Her voice was so loud that I swear you could have heard her half a mile away. Kia ora… Ladees and Gennnelmen…my name is Hinemoa…I am your guiding spirit for this afternoons presentation. Pleeese to be very quiet for the ceremony. Now we go to room thirteen A, where you will be seated and you see many strange and mystical things!"
I nudged Keith, "Oh goodie, we are going to see a magic show."
The Maori lady`s eyes almost popped out of their sockets as she turned towards me, "No Sir, this is not magical show, it`s a spiritual show of Maori culture and people."
Gulping down my embarrassment, I stood corrected.
At this juncture, a small Japanese child in front of us gave a howl of discontent, and this started up most of the other kids in the crowd.. The general disturbance was a bit un-nerving, and pretty soon there wasn`t a kid under twelve who had a dry eye..
"Oh Lord what have we let ourselves in for?" I sighed.
"Follow the Maori lady and you`ll find out."
Heading the crowd, I managed to take a good look at the young lady in her traditional costume. She must have been mighty chilly in that grass skirt! Further investigation showed the outfit had been fashioned from the natural fibre of the flax plant.
We filed into the hall and sat down opposite a small stage filled with some twenty or thirty male Maori warriors. They were dressed in their finest regalia, grass skirts and feathers mostly, and they carried short wooden spears that resembled butter pats. Like our tour guide Hinemoa, all the men appeared to have a set of white balls tucked into the top of their skirt. I got more and more curious as the time wore on.
Once we were settled, Hinemoa addressed the audience in her loud voice, plus cute intonation. "Kia ora Ladiees and Gennnelmen is an informal greeting in Maori, pleeese to say it for me…..Kia ora."
The word reminded me of a soft drink they sold in England during the late thirties.
"Kia ora," we all said in unison. It took a few minutes for us to get it right, then, when satisfied with our response, she introduced us to the rest of the team
Stocky and savage looking, these Maori men, some bearing some remarkable tattoos on their faces and bodies were enough to give a person nightmares. They stepped forward and gave us a welcome that quite frankly would have sent me scurrying for the door had I not known that they were all play acting.
Their song of welcome was punctuated by much stamping of feet, goggling of eyes and tongue wagging (these chaps must have the longest tongues in the world.) They sang to the accompaniment of a single guitar and a couple of traditional ox skin drums.
I didn't really take much notice of the words, a mixture of Maori and English, but I found myself completely fascinated by the muscle jerking antics and contortions of their eyes and face..
Hinemoa continued with a demonstration of the Maori people`s cultural activities. Stepping forward, she untucked those two white balls from her grass skirt.
"Theeese we called pau, everyone to say it pleeese, pau…pau…pau"
At last my prayers were answered. To the strumming of a guitar, Hinemoa skillfully whirled those white balls in wide circles about her head, and in opposite directions. I don`t know how she did it, but suddenly they would stop, seemingly in mid air, then gyrate in the opposite direction. The demonstration went on for some minutes. Soon my mounting curiosity regarding the male fraternity was to be appeased.
Yes, each of those hideous looking, painted Maori warriors skillfully produced a set pau balls, and with one in each hand, they set them in motion. This must have been Pau at its very best!
To the strains of a lilting melody, and with gyrating bodies, they began to sing a traditional love song. Those white balls whizzed and the grass skirts swayed to the magical rhythm of some long ago Polynesian fable.
I immediately relaxed.
The show continued with some ingenious demonstrations of other Maori games. The stick throwing episode was exceptional, and at some points in time, they seemed to hang suspended in mid air between the players. Colourful and really entertaining, I was beginning to enjoy the show.
Naturally, a typical Maori war dance, which included the `All Blacks Haka' had to be the real highlight of the show. A demonstration in Maori martial arts made it clear never to tangle with these gentle Polynesian peoples..
Hinimoa and the team bade us all a fond farewell. Skirts a`swaying, and pau balls flying, we stood and sang that Gracie Fields classic of so long ago, "Now is the hour."
No tears in my eyes, we were only on day two of our holiday. Outside the sun was shining again, and things were looking up!
We took quick look at the flower bedecked yet rather dismal war memorial, adjacent to the Museum remembering that it was Anzac Day on the morrow.
Driving home along the coast road in brilliant sunshine was pure Heaven. The sea sparkled and the hulls of a thousand yachts jostled a greeting as we passed.
No wonder they call Auckland `The City of Sails'. Exhilarated beyond belief we drove home for supper and a hot toddy..
Different, did I hear you say? You betcha!
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