We were on our way to the Tamaki Maori Village, a genuine tourist attraction outside the city of Rotorua, and we were on our waka going to a hangi at the Tumunui with other manuhiri to greet the Tangata Whenua. Our korotiwaka had us perfect our kia ora pronunciation.
Translation: We were on our bus going to a feast at the village of Tumunui with other visitors to greet the tribe known as the people of the land. Our bus driver/guide had us perfect our Maori hello pronunciation—kia ora. A point of clarification here: a waka isn’t actually a bus; it’s a canoe. Our guide had us pretend that we were a tribe from the other side of a lake and that we were crossing in a canoe the lake to visit the Tangata Whenua tribe’s village.
A chief was chosen to represent our tribe’s waka. We were counseled on how to act as we approached and entered the village and were greeted by the Tangata Whenua tribe. The instructions included a request to not laugh even if part of the welcoming ceremony and ritual seemed humorous to us. We were also cautioned not to stick our tongues out when the warriors greeting us stuck out theirs. In short, we were to be respectful of the customs and culture of the Maori people.
About 200 people from around the world spent their Valentine’s Day evening first being challenged (Te Wero) then accepted and invited into the village (Marae). The Tangata Whenua tribe showed us how their warriors trained, their skill at poi (somewhat like a yo yo), their games, carving techniques, and more. It was a cool evening so we stepped up to the fires and heated stones and watched with enchantment through the tall trees as it got darker.
From the village we entered the Big House (Wharenui) and all the villagers danced for us and our chiefs pressed noses (hongi) in friendship. Emphasis was put on the ancestors, the mythical stories, and the proud past of these people. At times the evening had a Disneyesque feel to this reproduction of a Maori village from the time of first contact with Europeans. Highly organized, it was informative and entertaining if a bit redundant.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I was so hungry dog food would have tasted good. We arrived at office in Rotorua at 6:30, our bus had picked us up at 7, and it was now 9 pm.
Finally, we were invited into the Wharekai(food house) and after a Maori prayer we went, buffet style, to get a selection of fish, lamb, chicken, green lipped mussels, kumari (sweet potato), potatoes, stuffing, carrots, cranberry sauce, mint sauce, gravy, and bread and butter. They had shown us their traditional way of cooking in a pit but you can be sure none of this food came that way.There was just too much of it. It was all good, and I ate it all.
Then came dessert. It was Pavlova—a traditional New Zealand favorite made of meringue and fruit treat. I’d read in a guide book that you had to eat Pavlova in New Zealand, but this is the only time that we have come across it so far. There was also steamed pudding. Afterwards we finished up with a a celebration of a staff member’s birthday and more singing. Then it was back on our waka and home.
The Maori are blessed to have kept an interest in their land, history, language, dance, food, and games. These are proud, kind, and fun loving people. We were glad to spend an evening with them.