Day 2 – Marae Piritahi

The view from Janine’s house

Day two was filled with culture. Janine, a Maori, is cooking for us and we discovered she us a fashion designer. Back in the 1980’s she went to fashion design school but realized she would never get to design unless she started her own business. So she did. The Onera Art Gallery just opened a new show which she curated and a few of her things are in it as well as are Maikara’s kete baskets so we walked into town, visited the gallery and then Janine’s house and studio. The house sleeps 12 and she hosts visitors (usually young people) from all over the world. In the last five years she has hosted over 300 Argentinians. The view from her house is incredible.

talking to a friend back home to get the words for a song

This afternoon the youth who are leading one of our songs during protocols wanted to practice. We formed a large circle and some of the woman organized how we would dance. It was heartwarming to watch the youth work out how to signal the start of the drumming or when the dancers were to come out. Older youth offered tips like ‘raise your drum to signal the dancers ‘. They worked it out themselves.

Songs are owned and we can only use them if we have permission. We practiced another song which we were allowed to sing but couldn’t remember the words. This is not a problem for the youth. One brought up a video of a group singing it. One phoned a group counsellor back in Nanaimo to get the name of the song composer and another phoned her partner for the words. Someone else hooked up a Bluetooth speaker so we could listen to the recordings.

The entrance path

While we were practicing, next to the entrance path, five young people walked in. Janine came out from the kitchen to explain the Marae was not open and that you had to be invited in. This is not just a rule to be obeyed, there is a good reason. After, Jan, another Maori on the governing board, explained that this was important and done for their protection. That is why they have the protocol. It opens the spiritual door. Without that, it is spiritually dangerous for them to enter the grounds. This is similar to some First Nation big houses. I remember being in a big house during an event. There the floor is sacred–you cannot cross from one side to the other going through the floor, you have to go around. There was a song and people were welcome to go onto the floor to dance. I noticed a young pregnant woman dancing. At the end of the dance a man in the stands stood up and said ‘ We have work to do. There was a pregnant woman dancing.’ There was discussion and the man turned to the woman and explained ‘Don’t be upset. This is not about you. We have to protect your baby.’ It was decided that they would do the necessary work to protect the baby after the event was over.

Later, we noticed a chain across the entrance. Jan told us that recently tour buses were coming to look and they had to put up the chain. Coincidentally, that morning a friend sent me a NYTimes article A Tourist Family’s Bad Behavior Has New Zealand Rethinking Its Welcome Mat. It is an interesting read you can find it here.

Maikara explaining how to cut the flax they are standing in front of.

We spent more time with Maikara who showed us how to harvest New Zealand flax for weaving and for spinning into thread and yarn. Flax is to Maori as cedar is to West Coast First Nations.
The first step is to say a prayer of respect to the plant plant telling it what your intentions are , what you are going to use the plant for. This is the same as First Nations approach to cedar. To harvest you cut long and at an angle so rain goes outsidethe plant and the plant doesn’t rot.
This particular plant species is used for skirts as it produces a soft fibre.

Maikara has a chin tattoo known as a moko kauae. It is stunning. Here’s an article that explains it’s importance. click here

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