Māori are the tangata whenua (people of the land) of Aotearoa New Zealand. They have meeting places called marae. It consists of a field in front of a sacred building and another building next to it. The field is where visitors are greeted. The sacred house performs a similar functions as a big house or longhouse (albeit smaller)–a place for cultural/spiritual activities. The ancestors spirits are there. The other building is a hall with kitchen and is used to feed you and bring you back into the current reality after being in the spiritual house….at least all this is my limited naive understanding.
We arrived at Marae Piritahi at a prearranged time. We parked and waited in a shelter at the entrance to the grounds. One of our hosts Jan greeted us and went over the pōwhiri–a formal Māori welcome.
A few minutes later we were invited in by their traditional protocol. A man blew on a conch-type shell a few times, then a woman sang us in…da kona ta Tata da…I paraphrase but it had a very ratatat beat. At the same time one hand was held out vibrating. And we were waved forward.
This was considered a spiritual opening of a door allowing us in. We then were allowed into the building to sit while they sang a welcome song and a Maori speech from a male elder. Then it was our turn to have a male give a speech, we sing, then individually introduce ourselves and our ancestors. And then the hongi where we press our forheads and noses together and breath together. That confirms we are peaceful.
We place mattresses in the spiritual house. The north side has carvings representing navigators, the south chiefs and the west had the ancestors. I sleep under Kiwa a god that is associated with the Pacific Ocean. It is also the name of one of three original native explorers and settlers of Aotearoa.
Maikara, a cultural knowledge teacher spends the night with us. She has a moko kauae tattoo on her chin (here’s what it’s all about). She talks about the narrative, sacred Stones, and does us musical instruments. We have been up for more than 24hrs. We are so tired we can’t figure out how long so soon fall asleep under the protection of the ancestors and the gods.