I finally caved in and decided to check out one of the Maori culture shows in town – Mitai Maori Village. I’d been fighting the idea of supporting the commercialization of a culture for monetary gain for a while. (If you’re wondering, I’m also against those beachside luaus put on at hotels in Hawaii as well.) But I suppose there’s really no way around this and it’s happening to native cultures all around the world.
On the one hand, to increase awareness and promote appreciation for native cultures, the culture must be presented to the widest audience. It must appeal to the broadest segment of society. The result of this watered-down version of culture is what we have here in Rotorua and Hawaii. People pay a lot of money for an entertaining show with a sprinkling of native culture and delicious food.
On the other hand, to keep native customs, each generation must retain the purity of its beliefs and rituals. You shouldn’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator when you’re practicing your beliefs. If people are truly interested in it, they’ll find ways to better understand it without you having to spoon-feed them.
But anyway, I’m getting off track now. Alex, one of our new housekeepers, wanted to go see a show so I decided to join her. The Mitai Maori Village shuttle bus picked us up and took us to the site. As we disembarked, they led us toward the underground oven where they cooked all our food. The hangi, as it’s called in Maori, didn’t look big enough to feed all of us. I suspect that there’s an industrial-sized kitchen nearby cooking the rest, but that’s just me.
Next we headed over to the small river that runs along the property. Maori warriors greeted us in chant as they paddled their waka (canoe) upstream. They had their faces painted and looked quite intimidating, until one of them lost his balance a bit and looked like he was going to fall in.
After the greeting, we entered a covered, outdoor theater where the Maori entertainers took the stage. They sang, danced and demonstrated the use of traditional weapons, games and poi balls. It seemed a bit scripted with a smattering of lame jokes here and there. Of course, they couldn’t leave without a stirring display of the haka, something that has become synonymous with New Zealand and their rugby team – the All Blacks. However, all in all, it was a good show.
Once the show ended, they herded us into the dining hall where we pounced on a buffet that consisted of different types of salad, garlic bread, dinner rolls, kumara (sweet potato), potatoes, stuffing and gravy, lamb, chicken and dessert. The lamb was really delicious and I went back for more stuffing and gravy as I normally do, even at home. I could survive on this alone.
To say that this was the best meal I’d had in months would be a tremendous understatement. I wish I could’ve eaten more, but as it was I was full to bursting. I even skipped lunch because I knew about the dinner buffet. To top everything off, I also had some chocolate log (tastes better than it sounds) and trifle for dessert. Yummy!
While I’m glad I went with Alex and had an enjoyable night, I’m still not sure where I stand on the issue of putting your culture on display for profit. It just doesn’t seem right to me, but I suppose people have to make a living and this is one way they can do it.