As I pulled out of the closed campground, I noticed the Ranana Hall and Marae. I stopped to take a photo of the picturesque location, and three people walked out of the gate.
“Hi there,” the tall man with a ponytail said. “That’s a strange looking bike.”
Small talk ensued, and after my explaination of what brought me to the remote marae, the tall man said “Let me shake the hand of a crazy man!”
“Come and have breakfast with us. We’re just going for a walk, and you can join us if you like before breakfast,” he continued.
I gladly accepted, and we started walking. We were a group of four, with Moetatua, Michael, Christa, and I.
“I’m Rob,” I said.
“Ah yes, a suitable name for one of our treaty partners,” Moetatua said, slapping me on the back, laughing deeply.
This jovial comment took me by surprise for a moment, and well and truely thrust my mind into the reality of the struggles between The Crown and the Maori tribes of Aotearoa (New Zealand). As a white New Zealander living in the South Island, my experience is that we are blissfully ignorant of the cultural concerns that are daily realities of the Maori community in New Zealand.
I thoroughly enjoyed the 30 minute walk, discussing a variety of topics with Micheal and Moetatua (both Maori, both heavily involved in the education sector in New Zealand), and Christa (Swiss and Moetatui’s partner). I had often felt challenged overseas when I was asked what the official language was in New Zealand. “Well, English, and um…Maori,” I would reply.
“Can you speak some Maori?” I would be asked.
I was embarrassed that despite Maori being an official language – a language that is an integral part of the cultural heritage of New Zealand – I only knew how to count to ten and say hello.
I brought this up with the trio, and they sympathised with me. “So often an economic value is put on a language, and the importance of learning a certain language,” Moetatua said. “However, there is such a great economic value for Te Reo, apart from the obvious need to nurture the Maori cultural values and heritage in New Zealand,” he continued, citing tourism opportunites in Rotorua.
We returned from the walk, and I was formally greeted onto the Marae, in accordance with cultural tradition. Following introductions, we had breakfast. A buffet of delicious left-overs from dinner the night before, fresh scrambled eggs, porrige, and fresh fruit.
Was there any deep cultural or stereotypical significance in the fact that Christa (Swiss) ate only porrige and fresh fruit for breakfast, while everyone else (including me) seemed to gravitate to the left over pork fried rice, stewed chicken, eggs, and potatoes?
The group was at the marae for a weekend of workshops, learning about the Recource Management Act, and how that affects the local iwi (tribe/clan/people group) and their various claims in regards to the Treaty of Waitangi.
After breakfast was a ‘closing ceremony’. For the first time since my primary school years, I heard Maori spoken in public, as a functioning, live language. It made break into tears. How is it that this language is such a non-existant part of the daily lives of New Zealanders? I appreciated anew my Mum’s efforts to learn the language, attending night classes for many years.
The short visit to the marae was an extremely thought-provoking time for me. What a mine-field of misunderstanding, lack of desire to understand, and potential for so much more awareness there is in regards to Maori heirtage in New Zealand.
A huge thanks to the group I met today for their warm hospitality and thoughtful discussion. Not to mention the laughs and joy eminating from the marae, even in menial cleaning tasks at the end of a long weekend of learning!
“There’s a bed for you in Wanganui,” Michael said as we were leaving.
“Will you be there tonight?” I asked.
Later that day I had made it to Wanganui and was staying with Michael and his vibrant household in their home overlooking the Wanganui River.
Later that night, I met KJ, a relative of Michael, and we arranged for me to speak to students at Wanganui High School the following day. All very last minute, but I already had video and a slideshow sorted from a previous presentation, so I was keen!