October 3, 2012
Keeping Your Feet
Staying on the marae was intriguing because of the contrast it offered to North American natives: maraes dot the landscape in New Zealand and you don’t have to travel far to find one. The Maori have a community base that allows for an effect on national politics, and despite differences of opinion between one Maori to another, as in any community, there is, all the same, a nationwide understanding of being one people. It is good to see and hear of the rebuilding of the community through a grassroots movement of a people to rebuild the language base, re-adhere to the communal and traditional functions of ancestral things (whare nui on a marae), and utilize the ancient forms of respectful protocol in entering and leaving the marae. It shows an ability to regain traditional practice in the context of modern society and the relevance of doing so.
September 29, 2012
There’s No Knowing Where You Might be Swept Off to
It seems like forever ago that I stepped out of the airport into the 9 degree Celsius air of New Zealand’s last day of winter in shorts and flip flops. We are a third of the way through the semester, and so far I have jumped off of waterfalls and ash dunes, floated through a cave on a small inflatable by the light of glow worms hanging above me, struggled to make my way through the dense diverse Waipoua forest of Northland, and stood on top of countless tall, steep, rolling green hills that suddenly give way to cliffs that drop straight down into the beautiful blue of the Pacific.
I’ve been a botanist, identifying trees and plants under the guidance of nationally known conservationist Stephen King, and an enthusiastic birdwatcher on the island reserve of Tiritiri Matangi. I’ve picked up quite a few new colloquial words and phrases, especially from my wonderful host family in Auckland, and I’ve become a total Kiwi when it comes to Rugby, cheering my head off when the All Blacks beat archrival South Africa recently. I’ve also realized how true it is that the rest of the world knows more about American politics than many Americans do, let alone foreign policies. I’ll greatly miss pavlova; pig feet, not so much. As an [Environmental] Sustainability major, I was overly excited by the electricity saving on/off switches present on all of the outlets themselves here, the half flush option found on a number of toilets, and the prevalence of the use of clothes lines over that of dryers. The small town of Raglan was especially encouraging and inspirational, being able to boast that 75% of its waste is diverted from landfills, with a commitment to a sustainable lifestyle that can be seen and felt through larger projects as well as small details.
We are currently in the midst of a string of marae stays, where sleeping in one big room strengthens as well as tests the bond of our group, and where we experience firsthand understanding of Maori practices, which have kept alive their culture, whose beautiful language and associated images are an integral part of this country’s identity. After being welcomed onto the grounds through a series of speeches and songs in the native tongue, we step inside the whare. Removing our shoes to leave the discord of the world outside, we enter into the peace of the meeting house that represents the body of the tribe’s founding ancestor, covered by intricate carvings that all have a part in telling their story.