New Zealand is not only blessed with breath taking landscapes, the country’s rich history is deeply embedded in the lives of indigenous communities, who till date still practice traditional rituals passed on from generations. Shrouded with mystery and often times represented as ghastly warriors made famous by the Hakka, the Maori culture is one of honour, love and respect for Mother Nature. It’s no wonder New Zealand is ranked one of the best eco destinations as it is largely untouched and tourism operates within the boundaries of environmental respect.
I had a chance to spend a morning with a Maori family and was deeply touched by their hospitality and fierce love for their people and the country. Maurice Manawatu, is from the hapu and iwi tribe, a people group living and thriving in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Maurice together with little Miharo journeyed with me through Kaikoura showing me sights and telling me stories of bygone years – stories of civil wars, traditions of the Maori people, gods and warriors at sea, and stories entrenched in the deep island forest.Dating back 450 years, the Maori people had largely inhabited the South Island and it was not until then that they first made the move to the North Island. The great migration sparked tribal wars as people fought to claim land in the North Island.
I was ushered to a wide open plan overlooking the great sea and Maurice told me stories of how the warriors build trenches and fortresses to protect their people. Miharo chanted us in, a spiritual act to clear the pathway before we entered the sacred plain. We then introduced ourselves verbally as an acknowledgement to the spirits and nature that surrounded us. I was given a Maori name, Wha (pronounced as “fah”) which means four.
A huge part of the Maori culture involves establishing relationships. The warmth of the people is demonstrated in an act called the ‘hongi’. Liken to handshakes or kisses, the hongi is performed as an act of sharing life and a symbol of peace. Standing face-to-face, eyes closed, they touch nose-to-nose, forehead to forehead, the two embrace in a traditional greeting. Having perform the hongi, although initially a bit intimidating, I was deeply touched at how a simple act of peculiar embrace immediately established a connection and I understood how the hongi represents a symbol of peace and community.
We continued to explore Kaikoura where Maurice brought me to the Puhi Puhi Forest Reserve, a dense forest with a fairy-tale vibe. I was told to be careful of my steps and to avoid stepping on the roots of trees as a sign of respect to the guardians of the forest. Maurice pointed out the New Zealand flax plant that was traditionally harvested to make clothes, ropes and bags. Almost every plant in the forest had an intrinsic value, either used as medicine, deodorant, food or shelter. We stood beneath the towering 900 year old Rimu tree, its bark peeling away and sang Maori songs as praise to nature. The act was deeply spiritual and refreshing to the soul. Maurice explained that many of the stories and knowledge about his tribe would not have survived if his grandmother had not written them in manuscript. In those days, stories were passed down verbally and the written word was uncommon.
At the end of our journey, Maurice brought me back to his family home where we shared food and drink together and sang more songs in his cosy living room. I’m deeply touched and enchanted at the survival of the Maori culture. We, as a modern society have a lot to learn from these tribe of people. Their values I would gladly pass on to my children; to honour people and relationships, to care and respect the environment and to take pride of tradition and culture lest it ebbs away with modern day distractions.
Watch this heartwarming video of Maurice & his family singing.