Kia ora, Blogites!
As you can probably tell from my masterful use of the Maori language, Steph and I decided it was about time that we embraced a true cultural experience. Conveniently enough the next stop on our Stray tour was Uncle Boy's place in Maketu - what a stroke of luck!
'Uncle Boy' doesn't sound like a traditional Maori name, but our driver assured us that this was as close to the real Maori experience as we are ever likely to get. So when we rocked up to Uncle's ranch-style house in our big orange bus we were a little surprised by the setting. There were three main buildings: a marae (meeting place), a double glazed patio fronted house, and a modern canteen/kitchen. I was expecting small timber huts and underground ovens, but I am by no means an expert in Maori traditions.
We parked up and Uncle Boy himself entered the bus to welcome us to his home. He was in the traditional attire of a polo-shirt, khaki shorts, baseball cap, digital watch and Crocs. Despite his strangely modern garments he was a very likeable, jolly, old man with an infectious laugh. He gave us a quick talk about what to expect throughout the evening and explained how and why certain disrespectful actions could lead to his 'warriors' (inverted commas will be explained later) ejecting us from the premises or even attacking us. It was a good way to ensure that everybody considered their behaviour around the marae, which is very important for community and tribes alike.
Next came what Stray described to us as a 'Hangi style' feast. Hangi is a process of cooking which involves digging a big hole, cramming it with potatoes, kumara (sweet potatoes) meat, fish or anything else you fancy, and smoking it for several hours until the meat falls off of the bone. Basically it involves a lot of effort and patience. Neither of which are required to shove the aforementioned food into a catering sized oven on gas mark 5. Unfortunately we were presented with the latter. There was nothing 'hangi' about it, but that didn't stop me enjoying the lamb with mint jelly and the raspberry pavlova.
After stuffing our hungry backpacker faces we were shuffled to the entrance of the marae to await the 'warriors' who were to either offer us a token gift of welcome, or declare war. Nothing in-between. We stood in the doorway as the fierce tribe of topless teenage boys displayed their spear skills and made guttural noises much like the sounds made during vomiting. Luckily we were not attacked, and they offered us their welcome. We proceeded to introduce one another using the Maori greeting of touching noses and foreheads, with maximum eye contact. It was all well and good until we met the Dutch guy with the sweaty face. That introduction lingered longer than most.
We were then formally welcomed with 'action songs' and dancing. It was all quite impressive but we were most looking forward to the audience participation section. The men were taken to the canteen to learn the haka (if you don't know what that is, firstly, shame on you! secondly, watch the All Blacks in the world cup this year) and the ladies were shown how to do the poi (it's like a Maori style cheerleading). The girls actually pulled it off quite well and sounded reasonably melodic. Us men, however, simply grunted and slapped our bare chests. It is impossible to describe the image of 20 white boys doing the haka out of sync and clueless to the words. For those of you who are interested, we do have photographic evidence but please remember that the camera adds 20 pounds. I don't know how many cameras were pointed at me.
After the evening's excitement we were all provided with the traditional accommodation of a foam mattress and a duvet on the floor.
Apart from the ranch setting, khaki shorts, polo shirt, digital watch, baseball cap, Crocs, catering ovens, modern canteen, pavlova, mattresses, and duvets it was a truly cultural experience. To be honest, these things appear to be trivial, however the night was sold to us in a particular way. If it was explained to us that it was a modern Maori experience rather than a traditional one, it would have been great. Unfortunately it wasn't. This was not the fault of Uncle Boy or the tribe - they were great - but 70 dollars is a lot of money to part with for the privilege of embarrassing yourself in front of fifty strangers (although I spend more than that going to a club and dancing like Carlton Banks).