Monday, February 6, 2012


Hongis and hangis.

Whakatu Marae, Nelson

Waitangi Day is the day on which the people of New Zealand settle down to celebrate the treaty made in Waitangi, just outside the village of Paihia, between the British settlers and the Maori people, the indigenous folk of New Zealand, their homeland Aotearoa. The Maori people nowadays are a minority group in New Zealand but I think they are coping with being a minority a lot better than most minorities in other countries. There is a mutual respect between the two people on these two islands.

Our local hosts took us to a Maori marae today to celebrate the occasion. The marae is usually not open for visitors but as this was a special occasion, the whole town had been invited. I was one of the somewhat two hundred people who got to witness the hospitality of the Maori in a very respectable, traditional way.

We stood outside the gates of the fenced area for a while and listened to some instructions given by the Maori man who would guide us inside. I was silently thanking myself for not doing any of the commercial marae visits where they charge you millions for seeing the same thing acted - this was real, though. Our guide led us inside where a ceremony of speeches awaited. We were greeted in two languages, Maori and English, and in turn gave the inhabitants of the marae a gift in form a monetary offering and sang a song in Maori language.

The inhabitants granted us access and greeted us in a customary way, the hongi. This means exchanging the breath of life by pressing your noses and foreheads together while holding each other's shoulders. For a stern Finnish man this kind of closeness seemed relatively uncomfortable at first (seeing as how I was facing huge, middle-aged Maori men) but after honging my way through a dozen people, I felt like pressing my nose all over the place.

Seeing the intricate carvings, witnessing their joyful sing-alongs and not even getting a taste of hangi, Maori meal cooked underground, because there were more people apparently hungrier than me, was uplifting.

In a cultural union, instead of presenting your own nationality, you seem to forget it at some stage. You simply become one with the mass of people. I don't think a certain pop singer was too wrong to speak about 'a brotherhood of man'.

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