As we drove to Maketu, Chase told us the love story of Tutanekai and Hinemoa and sang Tutanekai’s love song called “Pokarekare Ana.” It was quite haunting and beautiful as we drove along in the darkness along the lake that separated the two lovers.
It was really sweet and got us in the mood for our Maori cultural experience at Uncle Boy’s family marae or sacred place. To enhance this, she even had the girls decorate our chins in traditional Maori designs.
When we arrived at the marae, Uncle Boy came aboard the bus and greeted us. He introduced himself and told us what we were going to do once we came inside. It was all pretty formal and we, the Ngati Stray, would be meeting another Maori tribe and had to conduct ourselves seriously as this was a serious matter.
But before that, and more importantly, we were to have a traditional Maori hangi. I was expecting something like a luau as traditionally the Maori also cooked their food in earthen ovens. However, what we received didn’t seem to authentic to me. We ate cole slaw, green salad, stuffing, roasted potatoes, pumpkin, chicken, mutton and steamed fish. It sounded pretty Westernized if you asked me, but I was starving and the food was good. The mutton, stuffing and gravy were especially delicious.
After dinner, we elected a chief of Ngati Stray, which turned out to be the oldest male on our bus. Then we stood on one side of the room like the visiting team as the home team came in and performed a welcome ceremony. They were fierce and animated, just like I imaged their ancestors were hundreds of years ago when they first met Westerners.
The group consisted of Uncle Boy’s family members ranging from ages 10 to 60+. I wasn’t sure if they were a performing group that had become a family or if the performers were really related to Uncle Boy. The tribe’s chief was a 10-year-old boy, and after he demonstrated the proper welcome and challenge, it was up to our chief to accept the peace-offering or walk away. Of course he accepted it, and we were formally welcomed into the marae. In greeting, the two groups formed a line (men first, then women) and said hello to each other by touching noses together and saying “kia ora.” Talk about close encounters with the natives!
At the conclusion of introductions, we watched several performances by the family, which included the haka and some traditional songs. Then, to our delight, we also learned and performed as well. The boys went into a separate room where they learned the words and motions to the fearsome haka. The girls were given traditional garb and a poi ball on a short string and learned the motions and words to one of the songs. I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t get to learn the haka too, but I suppose we’d then need to go bare-chested like the boys and that wasn’t going to happen.
After about 20 minutes of practicing, we sat down and waited for the boys to enter the room. They were really taking this seriously as their mood, posture and facial expressions were very ferocious. But, the words got them all tripped up so they ended up doing it twice. The second time was much better. Next, the girls were up and we did pretty well, if I do say so myself.
Afterward, we got ready for bed in the marae. We all got a mattress, pillow and some blankets and threw them on the ground. It was like a weird post-pubescent slumber party or something. In the morning, we awoke to the incomparable sounds of ABBA, who are apparently Uncle Boy’s favorite groups. How completely contrary to what you’d think an older Maori man would love. I guess that just goes to show you that you shouldn’t judge people from their appearances. Before we left the marae, we took a group photo with Uncle Boy. He said that now we were all part of his family and were welcome back any time.