Monday, April 16, 2012


The Māori people are the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand) who first arrived in waka hourua (voyaging canoes) from their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki more than 1000 years ago. Today, Māori make up over 14 percent of the population. Their language and culture has a major impact on all facets of New Zealand life and that has been experiencing a renaissance since a civil rights struggle in the 1960s brought about an honest effort to reconcile the cultural divide and give the Māori full recognition.

School Posters in Maori
Resilience by Design, the 11th Australasian Permaculture Convergence, was hosted by Te Kura o Hirangi, a Māori school in Tūrangi, on the North Island. The Tūrangi-based kura kaupapa Māori now cultivate their own indoor and outdoor māra (gardens) with help from the permaculture community. The school teaches in the Māori language and publishes curricula in Māori for other schools in New Zealand and Australia.

Hirangi Marae traditional Wharenui
Our five-day hui (meeting) began with a formal Powhiri at the Hirangi Marae, the Māori lodge next to the school. The Powhiri is a request for permission by the manuhiri (guests, in this case some 500 permaculturists from all over the world), to the tangata whenua hosts, the kura kaupapa Māori elders, to enter their territory in peace. In a drizzling rain, the long line of guests entered the courtyard of the Marae from the Eastern gate, women and children sheltered behind the men. Once seated, the group was addressed by an elder of the Hirangi, who advanced a short distance into the open space from the Marae temple to deliver the wero (challenge). Behind him the line of senior tribal members, dressed in black, assembled to hear the request.
School Posters in Maori Language

Our spokesperson, an elderly member of the New Zealand Soil Association, advanced a few paces into the field and spoke in Māori. He explained permaculture, how it had benefited other places, and the benefits that it might bring to the kura kaupapa Māori. The Māori elder returned and spoke more, in Māori, challenging whether that was a good enough reason for the group to be allowed to remain.
Gardens at the Te Kura o Hirangi
The visitor spokesman brought forward some of the distinguished elders who had been invited there as presenters and introduced them. A younger Māori then stepped into the field and spoke very firmly about the sovereignty of the Māori and the inviolability of the Marae. When he retreated, a second spokesperson for the visitors, a Māori teacher from the school, his face covered in spiral tattoos, stepped forward into the field, and in the growing rain, walked around gesturing and insisting that the convergence was the best thing since sliced bread and these people would be silly to turn it away. 

Guest beds inside the Wharenui

When he went on a bit too long, some of the Māori women in the back of the permaculture group began singing a traditional Māori song to shut him up. After the song concluded, he resumed, and so, after a few minutes of letting him carry on, they drowned him out again with another song. This time he finished his speech by bringing forward the koha (gifts) that our group had prepared and laying them on a blanket at the center of the field. After he backed up off the field, the Māori elders motioned for two young men to advance to the blanket and retrieve the gifts, which they did, never turning their backs to the visitors.

Each of the elders examined the gifts in turn, and, approving, they gave a nod to their spokesperson, who then proceeded back into the field and gave the tribe’s permission for the guests to advance to the wharenui (meeting house). With the elders sent out first, the entire line of 500 participants then proceeded to the hongi — rubbing noses with the Māori elders. One by one we clasp hands and draw slowly closer to the other person, eye to eye, until closing one’s eyes before making contact and lingering just a moment to inhale. This was repeated some 10,000 times as the lines passed through each other.

Te Kura o Hirangi School

The Marae is bounded by the wharenui on one side, the maka (long canoe boathouse), the field of our initial powhiri, and a huge dining hall with kitchen and additional outdoor dining area. After sharing kai (food supplied by Awhi Farm, a permaculture squat nearby, and local merchants), convergence events — scores of workshops and plenaries — proceeded at the Te Kura o Hirangi school. Locally sourced coffee was roasted in Raetihi and wine provided from the vinyards at Omori. 

Gathering in the Pub at night for a bluegrass jam with Jo Pearsall on fiddle

At the end of the five days, the Hirangi kitchen crew came out to the dining area to accept the gratitude of the participants. Before leaving, they sang a song of who they were — this is my mountain, this is my river, this is our people, this is who we are, which was followed by a traditional Māori Haka from the men, young and old.

We didn’t fully appreciate the significance of this Haka, called Ka Mate, although we had seen it routinely performed by the All Blacks professional rugby team as they psyched themselves up for a match. The All Blacks got this particular Haka from the Turangi Māori because it tells an especially moving story of surmounting obstacles to prevail. 

Today we were taken up to Rotopounamu, a crater lake in a dormant volcano, with views off towards the volcano shown as Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings. It was near these high lakes that Te Rauparaha, his forces flanked in an 1820 battle, was routed and forced to flee for his life. Pursued by Ngati Maniapoto and Waikato enemies, he came upon a lakeside village and was hidden by an elderly woman in a food-storage pit. When his pursuers had passed, he emerged all hairy from the seed pods sticking to his sweat, and climbed back into the light to be met by his friends. This Ka Mate haka he later composed to express how he had felt at that moment.

Te Rauparaha’s haka begins with a chant:
Kikiki kakaka kauana!
Kei waniwania taku tara
Kei tarawahia, kei te rua i te kerokero!
He pounga rahui te uira ka rarapa;
Ketekete kau ana to peru kairiri
Mau au e koro e – Hi! Ha!
Ka wehi au ka matakana,
Ko wai te tangata kia rere ure?
Tirohanga ngā rua rerarera
Ngā rua kuri kakanui i raro! Aha ha!
Then follows the main body of the haka:
Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
Ā, upane! ka upane!
Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!
’Tis death! ‘tis death! (or: I may die) ’Tis life! ‘tis life! (or: I may live)
’Tis death! ‘tis death! ’Tis life! ‘tis life!
This is the hairy man
Who brought the sun and caused it to shine
A step upward, another step upward!
A step upward, another... the Sun shines!

This is reminiscent of the greeting we commonly heard at the start of each day, and when the elders leaned forward to touch our noses, and when we were appreciative of something, or parting. The expression “Ka ora!” — “Tis life” or “I may yet live!” is very close to “Kia ora”  — “Hello” in Aotearoan.

1 comment:

Ted Howard said...

Glad you could be here, to experience this event, and what the local Maori have to say! Good to spend some time with you M8!

Ted Howard
Nelson, NZ




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