Friday, April 8

The Maori people are the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand), they first arrived here in a number of epic waka hourua (voyaging canoes) over a significant period of time from their ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki (Cook Islands, Hawaii and Haiti). These journeys established Maori as daring and resourceful adventurers, and as one of the greatest navigating people of all time. They adapted very easily to the new environment and started to cultivate the land, manufacture textiles and build wooden houses. Maori were expert hunters and fishermen, fishing was vitally important for them. They wove fishing nets from flax and carved fishhooks from bone and stone. A Maori tradition that remains today is throw back the first fish caught, as a way of thanking Tangaroa, god of the sea, for this generosity. Maori hunted native birds, including moa, the world’s largest bird, with a range of ingenious traps and snares. Maori ate native vegetables and also introduced vegetables from Polynesia, including the kumara (sweet potato). Vegetables were planted and harvested with a variety of tools including diggers, spades, and clubs. Weaved flax basket and bags were used to carry food, which was often stored in a pataka — a storehouse raised on stilts. Maori have proved to be excellent warriors. Only men fought, and one of the most highly prized weapons was the spear-like taiaha. This weapon, often beautifully carved, is still used in Maori ceremonies today, and its use has become a highly sophisticated art form. Another fearsome weapon was the mere (club), beautifully carved, with some made out of pounamu (greenstone or jade). A warrior with a full moko (tattoo) on his face, brandishing a taiaha or mere, makes a fearsome sight. New Zealand has been inhabited by Maori since approximately 1300 AD. Dutch navigator Abel Tasman was the first European to discover New Zealand during his voyage of 1642–43, although he never set foot on the land. Tasman’s first contact with Maori was at the top of the South Island in what is now called Golden Bay. Two waka (canoes) full of Maori men sighted Tasman’s boat. Tasman sent out his men in a small boat, but various misunderstandings saw it rammed by one of the waka. In the resulting skirmish, four of Tasman’s men were killed. Captain James Cook was sent to search for the great southern continent thought to exist in the southern seas by the king of England and he arrived in New Zealand in1769 and claimed it for Great Britain. Cook successfully circumnavigated and mapped the country. His botanists and other experts on board his ship, the Endeavour, gained considerable information about the country’s flora and fauna, and the native Maori inhabitants. Cook led two more expeditions to New Zealand, before being killed on a Hawaiian beach in 1779. This is the reason why James Cook is said to have discovered New Zealand but it is not true, the real discoverers were Maori people. In spite of this it wasn't until the late 1700s that the first Europeans began to settle in New Zealand. In 1835 the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand was signed by 34 Maori chiefs. The Declaration asserted the independence of New Zealand, with all sovereign power and authority residing with the hereditary chiefs and tribes. A few years later on 6 February 1840, Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) between Maori and the Crown was signed. The Treaty guaranteed Maori full possession of their land in exchange for their recognition of British sovereignty. The Treaty of Waitangi is regarded as New Zealand's founding document and remains a core point of reference for Maori and the Government. Maori culture has many interesting aspects including art, legend, tattoo (moko), performances (notably kapa haka), customs, hospitality and community. Since the early 1980s Maori culture has undergone a renaissance. The regeneration of interest in Maori culture has extended to language, and Maori language programs (such as kohanga reo) are now flourishing. Today Maori people are actively involved with keeping their culture and language alive. Within any Maori community, the marae provides a focus for social, cultural and spiritual life. The term marae describes a communal 'plaza' area that includes a wharenui (meeting house) and wharekai (dining room). The marae is used for ceremonial purposes, it’s a place where the culture can be celebrated, where the Maori language can be spoken, where intertribal obligations can be met, where customs can be explored and debated, where family occasions such as birthdays can be held, and where important ceremonies, such as welcoming visitors or farewelling the dead can be performed. All formal Maori gatherings are accompanied by oratory in Maori; action songs; formal receptions of visitors, accompanied by the hongi, or pressing together of noses on greetings. Hongi is a traditional Maori welcome, which literally means “to share breath”. It is believed that when the two noses meet, people exchange their breath and the visitor becomes one of the local people (tangata whenua), ready to share in all responsibilities and duties. It seems to me a beautiful and tender greeting. I'd feel very at home and most importantly.... Welcome if I were greeted with this warm Maori traditional greeting.

The art of moko or Maori tattooing was one of the few features of external Maori culture to persist from pre -European times well into the 20th century. Ta moko was brought by Maori from their eastern Polynesian homeland. The implements and methods used are similar to those found in other parts of Polynesia. Ta moko, often referred to as Maori tattoo, is the traditional permanent marking of the body and face by Maori. But ta moko is distinct from tattoo in that the skin is carved by uhi (chisels) instead of being punctured with needles. This leaves the skin with textured grooves, rather than the smooth surface of a normal tattoo. Ta moko is a core component of Maori culture and an outward expression of commitment and respect. It denotes rank, traces one’s whakapapa (genealogy) and iwi (tribal history). Each line, each spiral, each whorl represented an important aspect of the individual who bore the markings. It is believed to have begun as a need to look fierce by streaking one’s face with charcoal and red ochre which became an intricate art form of grace and beauty while also maintaining a sense of fierceness and pride. In pre-European Maori culture, many if not most high-ranking persons received moko. Those who went without moko were seen as persons of lower social status. A person, either man or woman, who bore no markings was considered to be plain looking and this was a status in itself usually reserved for slaves. Even children as young as 8-10 years old displayed body tattoos. No child bore the markings of Mataora (facial tattoo) as could be observed by the early settlers. The reasoning for this appears to be that a child’s face had yet to grow into maturity and this growth could alter the markings. Receiving moko constituted an important milestone between childhood and adulthood, and was accompanied by many rites and rituals. Apart from signalling status and rank, another reason for the practice was to make a person more attractive to the opposite sex. Ta Moko was like a history of a person's achievements and represented their status in their tribe. It also served as a reminder to people about their responsibility in life. It was a huge honour for people to have Ta Moko. Ta Moko was worn by both men and women. It was applied to the face and buttocks of men, and to the chin, lips and shoulders of women. Depending on their ranking, they may also have Ta Moko on their face. Occasionally women would put small markings over their faces or shoulders as a sign that someone close to them had died. There were no set patterns to the Ta Moko and the meaning of the Ta Moko was dependent on its placement on the face. The left side of the face related to the father's history and the right side to the mother's history. Designing the appropriate Ta Moko for each man was a long process that could take weeks or even months as there was much to take into consideration. No two were ever the same even though the meaning of each design was based on recognisable principles. After almost dying out in the twentieth century, Maori tattooing is now experiencing a powerful revival, with many young Maori wearing the moko as a spectacular gesture of racial pride and a sign of cultural identity. Ta moko is performed by a tohunga ta moko (tattoo expert) and the practice is considered a tapu (sacred) ritual. The design of each moko is unique to the wearer and conveys information about the wearer, such as their genealogy, tribal affiliations, status, and achievements. It is important to distinguish moko from kiri tuhi, tattoos that are not regarded as having the cultural significance attributed to moko. Ta moko was traditionally performed using chisels made from materials such as Albatross bone. An assortment of chisels was used, some with a straight edge, others with a serrated edge. The pigmentations used were Carui gum and dye from other vegetation that was rendered to a soot and then mixed with oil. Each tribal area used different pigments. Today most moko are performed using modern tattoo machines (and therefore leave the skin smooth), however in keeping with the traditional practice of ta moko, there has been a resurgent increase in the use of chisels. Ta Moko designs can now be seen on many people, both Maori and non-Maori. Given the significance of each stroke, the lack of research into the designs worn by some, including celebrities have angered some Maori. There is much meaning attached to each design that it is considered ignorant for a person, Maori or non-Maori, to use a design without understanding its relevance. Ta Moko is an art form of exquisite beauty showcased on skin. The traditions of a culture can be observed in its delicate patterns and designs. Another important Maori tradition is the haka, it generally accompanies each cultural performance today. The haka is a war dance. The words are chanted loudly (shouted) in a menacing way accompanied by arm actions and foot stamping. A haka was traditionally performed before charging into battle. The haka was danced without weapons, in contrast to the war dances (tutu ngaruhu or peruperu) which were danced with spears, clubs, or other weapons in hand. The haka, which expressed a variety of emotions such as joy, anger, and sorrow, called for exceptional rhythmical skill. Many were marked by a curious, rapid vibration of the hands; other motions included a stamping in unison, facial distortion (protruding tongue and eyeballs), rhythmical out-thrusts and movements of the arms, as well as a swaying of the body. Haka performed in a sitting position were as a rule of a milder character, with swaying motions from the arms and bodies. Every haka had its expert leader who gave time to the music and the motions of the dance. The haka may also be used to tell of great feats, or danced as a special welcome before a high-ranking guest. A haka can also express grievance, or, in earlier times, could be addressing a prayer to one of the ancient Maori Gods. Strictly speaking, the term haka refers generically to all Maori dance but has now come to mean the Maori dance repertoire where the men are in front and women lending vocal support at the back. The New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, promote one version of the haka which starts with the chant "Ka mate, ka mate (It is death, it is death"), it is this haka, called Te Rauparaha's haka (so named after its perceived traditional origins) that most people, particularly rugby union football fans, know as the haka. This version of the haka is both war chant and challenge and is customarily performed by the All Blacks before major games against non-New Zealand teams. It is characterised by loud chanting, much aggressive flailing of arms and stomping of feet, fierce looks and, in the end, an angry sticking out tongues. “Ka mate, ka mate” are the words of Te Rauparaha's haka (1810) used by the All Blacks: Ka mate, ka mate Ka ora, ka ora Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra Upane, upane Upane kaupane Whiti te ra. These words are translated as: It is death, it is death It is life, it is life This is the hairy man Who caused the sun to shine again for me Up the ladder, up the ladder Up to the top The sun shines.

Enjoy this video with the All Blacks performing the haka versus Tonga. (Stop the music first)