Mixing with Maoris in Rotorua

Long before Europeans decided to settle in New Zealand, the Polynesian people called Maoris had arrived and established a lifestyle that was strongly based religious beliefs, community spirit and which possessed a set of principles which were strictly adhered to.

Visitors to Rotorua can enjoy the Maori experience by visiting the Tamaki Maori Village, which is located about 15 kilometres from the city centre on the road to Taupo.

You can’t just wander in to Tamaki Maori Village as it is not a museum, but part of a real community. Visitors participate in an evening show which introduces guests to the Maori way of life through ceremonies, a learning centre, cultural show and traditional hangi meal.

The entertainment begins as soon as you board the bus which picks you up to take you to the village. The driver has a well-rehearsed patter that is both humorous and entertaining. However, there are parts of the ceremonial part of the experience which the Maoris take very seriously, and that includes the welcome to their village. One male passenger on the coach is elected chief, and it is he who will represent the other passengers, who become his tribe, for the evening.

As Maoris were warriors who frequently fought battles with other tribes, there is a welcome ceremony during which the chief and his warriors establish the true intentions of their visitors before allowing them entry to the village.

This is a very powerful and moving ceremony involving threats, weapons and the Maori war challenge that is the haka. Once peaceful intentions are established, the chiefs and their tribes are welcomed into the village.

After entering the village through an elaborate gateway, visitors are led to a series of small buildings that has been constructed within a forest. The chief explained to me that these buildings are not dwellings but part of a learning centre where children were taught the skills needed to participate in community life. The visitors too have the opportunity to practice, some of these skills, and to gain an appreciation for the vagaries of Maori life.

Next there is a demonstration of the traditional Maori way of cooking, which is to cook food underground on heated volcanic rocks in a method known as a hangi. The food is cooked for several hours in large earth-covered pits which produces succulent meats and delicious vegetables.

Guests are then entertained by a vibrant cultural show during which Maori songs and dances are performed. Although the language may not be fully understood by visitors, the melodies and voices are very evocative.

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