Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chief Chad

While we were in New Zealand, we wanted to be sure to see some vestige of Maori civilization.  Certainly there are a lot of things that carry into the modern day, with something like a quarter of the population speaking Maori, and many of the place names being based on that language. Funny names like Whakapapa, Mangawhai or Otorohanga, which probably are easier to remember and make sense of if you know the root words they come from.  We don't, leading to navigational comments like "Turn left at Whaka-whosi-what's-it," and "If this is Ngongo-whatever, slow down and look for Route 5 at the next roundabout."

At any rate, I wanted to see some Maori carving and give Nim a chance to learn some history that she might not otherwise, so we went looking for a Maori cultural site and ended up at the Waitangi Treaty  Grounds.

This is the location where an agreement between the British crown and the native tribes was negotiated and signed in 1840.  The British saw this as an expansion of their empire; the Maori saw it as a way to assert their land rights in the face of incoming colonists and a way to allow the British to enforce laws and control various foreign ne'er-do-wells. Despite some misunderstandings and resultant war skirmishes in the early days, the treaty of Waitangi is seen as the founding document of modern New Zealand.

We took a guided tour, which was a good choice, as our Maori guide was irreverent, full of information, and liked to tell a good yarn.  After a compressed version of 19th century New Zealand history in the museum, we headed out to the waka house.

Waka = ceremonial war canoe.  Most excellent.  In this case, it was Ngātokimatawhaorua (all the canoes are named), a 35-meter behemoth that weighs 12 tons and requires 76 paddlers.  The largest ceremonial war canoe EVER.  It was donated by the Maori for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty.  They do actually take it out on the water once a year on the anniversary in February, which has got to be quite a sight.

Our tour guide seemed to revel in the canoe's name, rattling it off at high speed and with great easy as he told his stories.  Ngātokimatawhaorua.  Ngātokimatawhaorua. Over and over and over again.  It probably would be fun to say, if I actually could.

The canoe was full of fun carvings.

It was made of wood from three massive kauri trees; you can see the joints.

If you know not the kauri, they rival any of the big trees we're familiar with in California.  This is the stump of one of the three used for Ngātokimatawhaorua.

There were also several other waka at the site.  Most photogenic.

Having seen art/weapons/boats from both, I'm not sure who would come out ahead in a hypothetical Maori vs. Viking head-to-head.  The boat making and navigational skills certainly appear to be evenly matched, as might ferocity.

Our tour included a "cultural experience", which looked to be a music/dance/war skills performance in the carved meeting house.  What we didn't know was that there was some audience participation.  When we got to the meeting house, our group was asked to choose a chief.  No one else stepped up, so Chad, being a good sport, became our chief, and after a small amount of instruction, set forth to see if our "tribe" was welcome to visit.

First, don't flinch when this fellow comes out bellowing and wielding his spear.

Second, accept the token of peace and slowly lead the tribe forward as the scary dude backs up.

Third, sit in the seat of honor up front, listen to the very loud welcome (trying not to flinch at brandishing of blunt weapons), respond to welcome speech, and press noses in greeting with the resident chief.

Chief Chad performed his duties admirably.

Then relax and enjoy the music and the rest of the cultural skills demonstration.  As wife of chief, I also got to sit up front and try not to flinch at spears being brandished in my face.

Afterwards, we took a few pictures showing Maori faces of aggression.  Apparently men stick their tongues out (you see this in a lot of the carvings) and women just bug their eyes out.  We did ok, I think...

Then more exploration of the site.  Nimue enjoyed running around the flagpole set at the site of the treaty signing.  Note that there are three different flags -- the 1834 flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the 1840 Union Jack, and the New Zealand flag instituted in 1902.

Touristy?  A little bit.  But most enjoyable and interesting, and we picked up a bit more history than we might have otherwise.  And I just like carved boats.

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