07 November 2008

Ask Sarah v4.0

Question 5:
I would like to here about the contacts that Sarah has had with the native New Zealander’s. I have always been fascinated by their culture. Thank you!

Elaine Justice
Principal Queens Creek Elementary School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 5:
Hi Elaine, great to hear from you. When you say "native" New Zealanders, I assume you mean those of Maori heritage, correct? It's a really interesting situation here, as far as that particular demographic is concerned. Approximately eighteen percent of the population claim Maori lineage, however due to colonization and urbanization and a very flexible definition of what qualifies a person as Maori means that there are virtually no people left of "pure" Maori blood.

That being said, since the latter half of this century the New Zealand government has taken many, many steps to help keep the Maori culture alive. Maori is an official language of the country, they have their own political party w/ seats in parilment, most public signs and documentation are in English and Maori, the list goes on. The story between the Maori and the settlers is very long and very complicated; I'd suggest doing a quick google or wiki search as there's no way I could possible even brush the surface of it all in my little blog.

As far as my own personal experiences with the culture, besides the folks I've met through university and travel, I've had to opportunity to visit a Maori marae, which is essentially like a community center or meeting house, only with a sacred, religious bent. From my understanding, all sorts of activities--from cultural presentations and performances, communal meals, important meetings, community events, traditional ceremonies, etc.--all happen there. There are a number of rules and traditions that have to be followed within the property, such as removing your shoes upon entering; food can only be consumed in certain areas; and visitors must be formally invited and greeted in a tradition fashion, usually involving a greeting speech in Maori and a song "exchange" between the visitors and the hosts.

An interesting Maori practice that has made it's mark throughout the rest of the world is the Maori haka, thanks to NZ's champion rugby team, the All Blacks. The haka is a traditional chant/dance that was performed by Maori warriors prior to battle, as a means of intimidating the enemy (this is not the exclusive use though; there are many other types of haka, including welcoming, entertainment, and so on.) The rubgy team performs this dance before pretty much every game, which I got to see first hand when I saw them play in Dunedin. It's really pretty intimidating to watch, particularly when it's gigantically beefy rugby players performing it; here's a YouTube link if you want to check it out for yourself:


I could go on with facts and factoids about NZ's Maori, but this posting is already getting a bit lengthy, and I'm sure an encyclopedia or other sort of book can give you much better description of the culture's history and nuances. Another suggestion is to look for the movie "Once Were Warriors." It's a NZ-made film about contemporary Maori; interesting perspective on the Maori's current social status and a great example of Kiwi culture. If you get the chance add it to your Netflix list (boy do I miss Netflix. No equivalent here yet).

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