|Rotorua, on the North Island of New Zealand is
a great place to learn about ancient Maori culture. If you are short on time the best way
to get immersed for a few hours is to go to a "Cultural experience" night where
you learn about how things once were - and have some fun at the same time. What is nice is
that the cultural nights give you an idea of what it was really like rather than the
version of history that modern values dictates that modern people would like you to
believe. For example there is no hiding the fact that tribes regularly raided other
villages or that cannibalism was a common practice 500 years ago. Compare that to North
American natives where the mere suggestion of pre historic cannibalism would get you
called racist. You will be shown ancient Maori weapons and how they were designed to kill.
The meaning behind ancient tattoo's is also interesting as is the stories told by ancient
tribal dances. Each tribe has their own war dance or "Haka" (Like the All Blacks
perform before rugby matches) and the local tribe running the cultural night will perform
their own war dance.
A Cultural Experience night will probably start by you being picked up at
your hotel and brought to the site outside the city in a wilderness setting. There are 7
or 8 companies in Rotorua running "cultural experiences" and each tour is
slightly different so if anything in particular is important to you make sure that the
tour you go on will perform that event. For example, in some centers there are glow worms.
This is sort of cool but really just blue fluorescent dots and you will have a hard time
actually finding a real live worm. And in some centers you will be able to view the dirt
oven where the food that you will be eating at the Hangi Feast is being cooked, and
other companies have the food cooked off site preventing you from seeing it. If you want
to see the ovens ask before you buy your ticket. Here is what the ovens look like?
The food is cooked in the ground covered as above. Heat comes from
heated rocks buried with the food. After four hours the end result turns out delicious.
The general idea of a cultural experience goes roughly like below. First
all the tourists (maybe upwards of a hundred) get gathered together at the cultural
center (Basically this is a wilderness ethnic Maori restaurant but you get the idea) and
your guide will give a long speech, determine what country everybody is from and after a
half hour you will be part of the newest Maori tribe - albeit multi national and your
honorary Maori status only lasting for the night. A chief is picked out and he is chief of
the temporary new Maori tribe. Usually it takes a few minutes to coerce somebody into
being chief so if you want to be chief you should volunteer now (Or maybe getting your
friend to "volunteer you" might be more polite). Your chief will then lead the
tribe on a tour of the grounds including the oven shown above. The tour will go through
the site which might include a spring with trout and eels, glow works or a tour of
medicinal plants, among other things. Along the tour Maoris in ancient costumes (Which
basically means a heavily tattooed man wearing little more that their
tattoos) will be
performing rituals and war dances along the trail. There may also be women in tribal dress
(Wearing more clothes and fewer tattoos but always tattoos on their chin) doing dance or
maybe marriage ceremonies.
In addition (Assuming the place you go to has a river running through
it) you will get a canoe manned by a war party as shown here:
After the tour you get treated to an hour long concert that will tell stories of the
life of the ancient Maori. But first your tribe has to be accepted as friends by the local
tribe - least you end up in a war and become part of the Hangi. Since your
tribe is entering the host tribes territory your chief has to go on the "stage"
and present a silver fern leaf as a peace offering the the local tribe. Your chief
probably wont manage it but he is likely supposed to do his own peace dance. The host
tribes chief however does a wonderful dance as he is assessing the genuineness of your
tribes claim that you come in peace. After the formalities are over you get treated to a
concert that tells lots of ancient stories which will include the local tribes Haka.
The food is now ready and your chief will lead you back to the dining
hall where a feast is waiting for you to enjoy.
While in rotorua don't miss the HELL'S GATE thermal resort. This is also
run by a Maori Mitai Whanau (Family) and a tour will also show you some Maori cultural
items as well as a tour of the resort.
Here is a growing volcano in the process of slowly developing.
Sulfer makes the whole place stink
The water is hot. Dont fall in or you will quickly be ready to be served
up at the cultural restaurants next hangi..
Sometimes school groups go to Hell's Gate and have an Hangi. Food such
as the hind quarter of a cow are cooked whole in the springs. The water is often 88
degrees or more so its very important not to fall in - thereby taking part in the Hangi in
a totally unplanned and unwanted fashion.
Mud Baths, facials and hot springs provide pleasures for those those
craving relaxation. Like all thermal resorts it is supposed to have health benefits if you
soak in the water.