Maori Welcome blog 137

The campsite is just at the end of Omaio in a big grassy field adjacent to the beach. There are no toilets on the site they ask that campers use the public toilets just down the road in the village. In the morning we jump on the bike and whizz down as we are both crossing our legs, once that’s out of the way we notice that the Maori ladies are out the front of the Marae (meeting place) practising the Poi which is a sort of traditional synchronised dance.
We watch fascinated for a while and then notice that Seth and Janet are there too having come to look at the Marae. We watch together and chat for a while but then they say cheerio as they have to return their hired camper tomorrow so time is short.
About 5 mins after they have gone a Maori guy wanders over and introduces himself to us. He says I saw you guys in the paper and I have had a talk to our elder who says you are welcome to come in and look around. We jump at the chance as the Maori side of the NZ story is the missing piece in our understanding of this land. We are shown into the Marae which is a great honour and our host kindly spends some time explaining what is  happening around us. In the main hall the men are practising the Haka which is the traditional Maori war dance. Most westerners only exposure to this is watching the All Blacks Rugby squad putting the frighteners on the opposition but there is a lot more to it than that. The Haka has many different forms some actions represent common tasks like pulling canoes with ropes and fishing, some are more ceremonial and some are to scare the hell out of the enemy. This is interwoven with chanting and singing all of which add extra meaning to the actions. This whole tribe is practising for Te Mata Tini a national competition held this year in Gisborne at the end of February. This is like the world cup of Te Haka and is fiercly competitive. This group is called Te Whanau a Apanui (the tribe of Apanui) and they are among the front runners having finished in the top 5 several times before. Some of the things they are practicing are traditional and have been handed down for generations, some are only assigned to each group weeks before the competition and some are unique pieces created to tell a story or to welcome other tribes.Our host explains that one of the Stanza’s they are practicing is welcoming all the different tribes from around the country to Gisborne.
It fascinating to watch and we are made very welcome, a young lad comes up to me and tells me he has left something on the bike for us. Later on when I go back outside I find he has left us a copy of the Sunday New Zealand Herald which has picked up the story of us from the Gisborne edition and a present of a whole Crayfish. We are touched by their generousity of spirit and their kindness. They also treat us to lunch in the Marae, afterward we watch the ladies practise outside. They are practising sections of their routine with  the Poi (round soft balls on a length of rope) which they whirl in inticate patterns in perfect sychronisation with each other whilst dancing and singing. One of the girls lets us have a go and the results are predictably laughable, it’s really hard !  After that the ladies have a full run through which is really something to watch. While we are watching I get talking to some of the guys who are taking a break. We talk about all sorts of things and it’s interesting to hear their perspective and stories.
One interesting thing we get talking about is Cooks landing, their first landing was at Gisbourne but after that they landed not far from here. A party came ashore looking for fresh water and food, they left a couple of ships boys guarding the boat. While the officers and crew were away the lads were approached by a local Maori.
Maori’s at this time were a warrior race who had many intertribal battles so meeting a stranger could be a dangerous business. Because of this the Maori warrior probably approached in the tradional manner with much posturing and spear waving. Usually this ritual concludes with the visitor (in this case the Maori) laying down a leaf, if the other party picks it up and accepts it all is well. If they don’t all hell breaks loose, the Maori never got as far as profering the leaf as one of the lads took fright and boom shot him dead with his pistol. This wasn’t a good start, to try to make amends the officers took the chief some presents and all was well until one of the Maori’s fascination with an officers sword (something they would have never seen before) got the better of him. Next minute boom and another dead Maori, by this point the chief was not amused so he sent the rest of them packing with nothing giving the area its name Poverty Bay.
This is only one version of the story as there are others but it’s interesting none the less.
As the practise session and meeting winds up we say thank you for making us so welcome and wish them luck in the competition. Back at the campsite we clamber down to the beach and go for a walk bringing back some driftwood to sit and carve. When it gets to dinner time we get our big billy out and set the water to boil, about 8 minutes and it’s done and it’s time for our first taste of crayfish. It is quite a meaty texture and absloutely delicious the other bonus is there is a lot of flesh on it, I can understand now why it is regarded as such a delicacy and fetches NZ$ 70 a kilo. We spend the rest of the evening reading and blogging, a few people left the campsite this morning and it’s nice and peaceful we fall asleep to the sound of the sea.
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