New Zealand’s subtle and rich Maori Culture

We value our connections to our mountains, our oceans, our lakes, and our rivers, and also where we grew up…Nanaia speaks with N. Lothungbeni Humtsoe

New Zealand’s Maori culture is diverse and complex, encompassing both traditional and contemporary arts. Throughout the country, traditional arts such as carving, weaving, kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory), and moko (tattoo) are practiced.

Have you ever witnessed or seen a patriotic dance routine performed by a group of individuals vigorously stomping their feet? It is known as Haka, a traditional Maori Culture dance performed when two tribes meet during a war or when a visitor is welcomed. However, the song is now performed even on pleasant occasions.

We recently spoke with Nanaia Mahuta, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, Local Government, and Maori Development, who was in India for four days to highlight New Zealand’s subtle and rich Maori Culture. Read Excerpts…

In your words, describe New Zealand’s Maori culture.

New Zealand is a pretty young country but the history of the Maori people in New Zealand extends back around about thousand odd years ago when our ancestors traveled from across the vast Pacific Ocean to Aotearoa New Zealand. So, we have got a navigation history and when we settled there, we brought with us our histories and our traditions and our connection to the broader pacific roots through songs, through Whakapapa (RH1), through talking about our ancestral connections, our mythology, how we brought about the way in which the creation extended and all of that was brought to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Nowadays, we have got a number of tribes that have settled throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. While we share common connections through Whakapapa (RH2) or our ancestry, there are also slight differences as well.

We value our connections to our mountains, our oceans, our lakes, and our rivers, and also where we grew up. We have lots of stories for example about being the first place to see the sun, and how Maori captured and steered the sun to slow it down so that we have got a long time to experience the fullness of our lives in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have also got stories about how we live by the lunar calendar. So that dictates when we fish, when we plant, when we harvest, and when we have downtime to rest, and also when we have high energy time to undertake a number of activities during the various seasons.

So that’s a little bit about who we are as Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand and how we celebrate culture in our lives.

What steps is the government taking to promote and protect New Zealand’s unique heritage?

For a long period of time, we celebrate what Maori culture means to who we are as a country. When I think about our National Day of Significance which is Waitangi Day which was recently celebrated, we recognised Waitangi which is in the far north as a special place and a place that celebrates how we came to be as a nation. Also, recently we have had a national holiday to celebrate Matariki, which is the lunar calendar, and the significance of it to New Zealand’s emerging identity connection to Maori culture.

How are New Zealand’s Maori businesses giving back to society?

When I think about the Maori business generally, I think about the way in which we organize ourselves around family, around hapu (RH3), around our connection to the land and how we produce food, whether it be lamb or forestry or horticulture for Kiwi fruit. You will see Maori very much involved in those businesses. In terms of the tourism experience, we tell a lot of stories in our culture. So, in the far north for example the Waipoua Forest experience talks about TaneMahuta the largest tree in the forest, in our ancestral connection to TaneMahuta but also, we have got real challenges in our ecosystem. So that particular tourism experience gives back to the search around the kauri dieback (RH4) and what we can learn from Maori knowledge about looking after the kauri and adopting modern practices to address that particular disease among the kauri trees.

When I think about tourism experiences through the South that ensures that when you go and visit, for example, Kaitiaki adventures in Rotorua, you also contribute to the way they look after the natural environment. There is a four-wheel drive experience that takes you to explore the land and the forest, and for every tourist that has that experience, they also give a little bit back to the environment. There are examples down south where you have a marine experience and I personally think about Kaikoura whale watch tours every tourist that has that experience also contributes to ensuring that they look after the ecosystem. So, these are ways that you can have a tourism experience but also look after the environment and natural biodiversity that we have in Aotearoa.

From the perspective of tourism, can Indians expect any cultural exchange programs?

We have had some exchanges. At the end of last year, we had TeWehi Haka (RH5) which teaches the Haka experience, our Maori cultural experience. They came to India and participated in the National tribal dance festival and shared some of our cultures through Haka, and Waiata songs, and through those types of interaction. That’s just one type of experience.

But also, there are more modern experiences as well. Our literary exchanges because we have a lot of writers who share a little bit about our culture and history as well.

Do you think can people from other cultures learn something different from your culture?

I think it’s not much about something different but what we share in common is people of cultures. We share a love for each other, we share a love for our connection to our special places, we share an understanding of how important it is to hold on to tell our stories and how we can make history and connection, linkages to places through songs, through dance, through an act, through storytelling and also through food. And those are the things that we share in common.

What we are different from is perhaps our place, how we connect to the pacific. And in our differences, we also share our commonalities. That’s the case for many cultures around the world.

What do you hope to gain from Inbound Indian tourists visiting New Zealand ?

I hope that people would see if they make the effort to travel all the way to New Zealand, which is a long way from India, that they spend time in our country and they travel around, they can have experiences that are very much targeted towards family experiences where it doesn’t so much matter what age you are, you can enjoy and experience a number of different experiences. Also, you get to get an insight into who we are as a people. Again, food is a great connector and music. So, sharing that experience for Maori is a really big task of conveying what we value as a people and what we are prepared to look after for the long term. So that our children and our grandchildren can continue to celebrate our culture and also look after the place that we love which is Aotearoa New Zealand.

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