So this morning I had the Great Sights bus tour that took in Te Puia, the Agrodome, and Rainbow Springs. Really from the sublime to the ridiculous. Te Puia we only had an hour at, but was quite fascinating, and I determined after only 15minutes there that I would be coming back to spend the afternoon there. Te Puia is kind of “the Maori Experience” – on the one hand slightly commercialising the culture, but on the other run by and for Maori, and really supporting the perpetuation and survival of the culture. As well as the interpretation areas, for tourists, (including a Meeting House, like the one at Waitangi, but somehow more for the tourists than for the people?) it is also a living museum, incorporating an active teaching carving workshop with many (male) students who learn the dances as well as the carving arts, and a weaving workshop where the (female) students learn the weaving arts with the twine derived from the native flax. The carving is much finer today than of old, with modern tools, but the designs are traditional. I noted with interest that I recognized the flax plant as one my parents had in their back garden, a great big thing it was, beside the tiny apple orchard at the top of the garden, with sharp blade-like leaves that shot out of the ground. Here it was, at Te Puia, being scraped down with an abalone shell, the fibres parted and woven into thread, from which all the clothes of the Maori were made.
Also here, of course, were the two geysers of Rotarua, Pohutu and the Prince of Wales’ Feathes geysers, which, perhaps in concert with the earthquake in the Philipines this morning, were both in an unusually active state, and treated us to a fine display the whole time we were there.
Then, all too soon, on to the Agrodome, where we were treated to an hour and half of sheep. I was bored to tears, and actually a little annoyed to be wasting time here when I could be back at Te Puia. The man on stage showing us a range of different breeds of sheep was a boorish, ugly, rather gross man who seemed to sum up for me all the worst aspects of the settler culture that arrived here 150 years ago, and in the space of a century cut down most of the trees, and almost decimated Maori culture. Fortunately for us all, the Maori have fought their way back from near extinction and are now a vibrant force in New Zealand politics. The sheer depth, power, and substance of their fierce warriors puts to shame the brash, shallow arrogance and aggressiveness of the ‘simple farming folk’ who know nothing but how to dominate and destroy. As this man sheered a sheep on stage for us, it was like watching the rape of Aoteoroa played out in allegory.
Next stop, none too soon, was Rainbow Springs – essentially a rainbow trout farm using natural springs, dressed up as a conservation site, with a shed housing a Kiwi bird and some display cases with a gecko or
Last stop, the SkyLine – a sort of ski-lift thing with gondolas instead of chairs that goes up to a restaurant. A nice buffet, overlooking Rotarua – with quite stunning views – and then back down. Impatient to return to Te Puia, I walked back into town, and enjoyed a stroll from Kaurui Park, with its mud pools and steaming vents. And so back to Te Puia, where I went straight to the great monument where the supreme beings are represented in a great circle, for all the world like a Maori Woodhenge.
And indeed there are twelve such beings, and yes they map onto a Maori zodiac, tracing out the heavens and the turning of agricultural cycle and the mysteries of the people as they mark the passing of the phases of the year. Here indeed, without question, is the Myth of the Eternal Return, as Mercia Eliade described it, in its south pacific form.
### sadly the tag-based slideshow I created in 2007 is no longer supported by Flickr ###
Please visit the Flickr album to see the Maori Woodhenge photos.
Fascinated by this circle, and snapping away, I didn’t notice one of the attendants come out of the ticket office, and was a bit startled when she stopped me and said I wasn’t allowed to take pictures – then she noticed the sticker on my jacket, still there since the morning, and realised that I was actually a paying customer, and was effuse in her apologies, gave me a hug, and a ticket for a performance that was to take place in about half an hour. Happy with this, I wandered around a little, taking in the recreated Maori village – a very communal way of life they led – and gathered with all the other tourists for the ‘cultural performance’ at the Meeting House. The hostess came out of the Meeting House at last and approached us all at the gate, in full costume, and explained what was about to happen. The performers were going to dance the formal welcome of one tribe to a visiting tribe, and therefore amongst the tourists one of us (a gentleman) had to be chief. Yes you guessed it, I volunteered (keenly) and was chosen immediately. So, at the front of the crowd at all times, with the hostess by my side (and slightly behind) I led the group from the gate slightly into the grounds between the gate and the Meeting House. A fierce young warrior, wiry and lean and dressed only in a short skirt, carrying a large spear, came out of the house and down the path towards me, performing the full dance of challenge, eyes wide and tongue extended in defiance, brandishing his spear in ritual poses as part of the dance. Then at my feet, he placed a fern leaf, and, as instructed, without taking my eyes off the warrior, whose eyes I had fixed with mine from the moment the dance began, and bent down, catching the leaf in my peripheral vision, and picked it up, carefully, to hold by my side for the rest of the performance. Then, the four other warriors and three other maidens joined in the song and dance outside the front of the Meeting House, completing the welcome, as the first warrior beckoned me forward and into the House with his spear and his dance.
So (with our hostess at my side prompting me all the time) I led the crowd up the steps, where we all took off our shoes and hats, and on into the Meeting House, where I was given the seat of honour, in the front row before the stage. They then all gathered on the stage, in their fine costumes, and performed a number of traditional dances. The brief highlight, before we could continue, was that of course I had to join them on the stage, briefly, to shake hands with each of the warriors, and touch noses twice, gently, with each, in the traditional greeting. It was really quite wonderful. I beamed with absolute pleasure throughout the entire experience, and only towards the end of it remembered to get my camera out and take any pictures. It was an absolutely wonderful pleasure to be so welcomed to New Zealand, properly, in the traditional Maori manner – an experience I shall truly never forget.
Now all I have to do is to work out how on earth I am going to get this leaf back to the UK! Australian biosecurity certainly won’t let me take it through.
This problem, however, was solved in an interesting way by the evening’s entertainment – the Tamaki Village concert and meal. This was not better, nor worse than I had experienced at Te Puia in the afternoon, just different, in some ways, and yet the same thing, in others. I felt perhaps, at times, that the edge of commercialisation of the culture was stronger in the evening than in the afternoon – there didn’t seem to be much about the Tamaki village that was putting something back into the culture, like the teaching institutes at Te Puia, it was a business, and it was proud of it. But at times the performance was somehow better, more authentic for being in the forest, albeit that the village seemed as fabricated and unlived in as the one at Te Puia. The food was so-so. I was again Chief – this time of the coach, and one of three, and it was another of the three of us who got to pick up the leaf offering. However, at the end of the evening, we were each presented with a little wood-carving round our necks, representing the Maori god of wisdom, and this, albeit not the leaf from Te Puia, will do well as a souvenir as my day as Chief Tourist, consuming Maori culture as it has been presented to me in exchange for my tourist dollars.