A Rare Experience in Maori Culture
This past weekend we were able to attend what I believe can be called a once in a lifetime experience for our family here in New Zealand. A competition spanning 4 days called Te Matatini- National Kapa Haka Festival was held here in Hastings. The best way for me to describe this competition would be the Olympics of Maori dance and performance. This event happens every 2 years and is held at a different location each year and is not expected to be hosted again in Hastings for another 15 years or so! There were 47 different teams competing this year from throughout New Zealand with 9 teams moving on to the finals on a Sunday afternoon. Each team had 5 different dances/songs that they were judged on, an entrance song, an action song, haka, poi, and a closing song. One of the main reasons Joseph and I had in wanting to come to New Zealand was to have our children experience different cultures so when I heard about this event I was excited to take the family.
We made our way to the stadium on a beautiful Saturday morning, paid the entrance fee, then wound our way through the mass of people to where the stage was. Suddenly, we found that entrances to the sitting areas but they were closed and weren’t letting people in. After standing there for a few minutes wondering why we couldn’t go sit down in the back of the stadium where there were open seats, we were told that out of respect to the performers they close the gates to prevent people from coming and going and distracting the judges. Having been told that, it made perfect sense. We had to wait outside for their performance to end, though thankfully a giant screen had been set up so people could still watch from outside. As I stood there watching I was suddenly overcome with emotion. I loved the beauty of their dance, the sound of their voices harmonizing so beautifully, and seeing the passion and pride in each expression. To be able to feel what the dancers are portraying even without understanding the words is such an incredible experience. I loved how the true spirit of the Maori was portrayed in their dance. Since being here we have truly seen nothing but kindness, love and inclusion from each islander that we have met. We had another opportunity to benefit from their great generosity and kindness when we were finally able to go in. As we were searching for a spot to sit in the fully packed main seating area, we saw what appeared to be an open area on some wood chips. Joseph knelt down and asked the woman if she thought we could sit there when her husband looks over and says, “Hey just come sit on our blanket! The chips are too hard, share our space!” We joined him and his family and as we were watching the next set of performers he visited with us and talked to us about the performance, what was being said and explained how they were judged. It was amazing how we felt like we were just sitting with friends and enjoying this moment together.
After watching a few of the performances, the kids were beginning to get anxious so we thanked our new friends and excused ourselves to go see what else was going on. There were booths of food and crafts and activities everywhere! We ended up finding a fun kid zone where the kids could go on an educational scavenger hunt and get their faces painted. Dad jumped in on that action as well! It was such a wonderful experience I could have stayed there all day and into the next. I think it is safe to say that everyone really enjoyed it. Both girls said they would love to be able to dance with the poi. I came away feeling my soul lifted and a craving to fully dive into this culture and to learn the language and their history. Joseph felt a deep emotional connection with the performances as well as the inclusive island culture. Evan spent the next few days drawing pictures of the event and running around in just shorts and a big necklace so he could be like the Maori men. Its moments like this when I see the amazing impact and influence on my family that I am grateful that we can be on this adventure.