The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) opened in 1967 in Rotorua, New Zealand due to the impending threat of the loss of traditional Māori arts. In 1926 a Māori Arts and Crafts school had been established in Rotorua by Sir Apirana Ngata, and the new school continued the tradition in a location well-established for traditional Māori arts and crafts. The location of school at Whakarewarewa enabled easy access to the tourist market, which supports the various schools. Whakarewarewa (reduced version of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao, meaning “The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao”, often abbreviated to Whaka by locals) is a geothermal area within Rotorua city in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand. This was the site of the Māori fortress of Te Puia, first occupied around 1325, and known as an impenetrable stronghold never taken in battle. Māori have lived here ever since, taking full advantage of the geothermal activity in the valley for heating and cooking. Wahiao was a great ancestor to the people of this valley and the chief of Ngati Wahiao, a subtribe of Te Arawa.
Turapa (woven panels) are found in superior tribal meeting houses. They are placed between the carved poupou posts. The traditional turapa panel is a lattice-like frame madeup of vertical stakes of kakaho (toetoe stalks) and horizontal rods (kaho) that form the front of the panel. Plain and dyed leaves of the harakeke, pingao and kiekie were threaded between the rods and stakes to form patterns and designs. This poupou post and walls with bas reliefs simulating woven panels is an example of this tradition.
In Māori mythology, Arawa was one of the great ocean-going, voyaging canoes that was used in the migrations that settled Aotearoa (New Zealand). Wahiao was a great ancestor to the people of the Waimangu valley which means ‘black water’ in Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand. Wahiao was the chief of Ngati Wahiao, a subtribe of Te Arawa. The Te Arawa Waka was one of the eight original canoes that bought Maori from Hawaiiki to New Zealand. Some items of note that were brought to Aotearoa (New Zealand) on the Arawa, other than the precious kūmara saved by Whakaotirangi, was a tapu kōhatu (stone) left by Ngātoro-i-rangi on the island Te Poito o te Kupenga a Taramainuku just off the coast of Cape Colville. This stone held the “mauri” to protect the Te Arawa peoples and their descendants from evil times. The stone seen above at the entrance is probably not the original stone but serves as a reminder of that stone.
A pōwhiri (meeting visitors) normally takes place on a marae, or Māori meeting grounds. The marae sits at the heart of any Māori community (sort of like a park in the middle of the community). A pōwhiri usually begins outside the marae with a wero (challenge). A warrior from the tangata whenua (hosts) will challenge the manuhiri (guests), checking to see whether they are friend or foe. He may carry a taiaha (spear-like weapon), and will lay down a token – often a small branch – for the visitors to pick up to show they come in peace. An older woman from the host side will perform a karanga (call) to the manuhiri. This is the visitors’ signal to start moving on to the marae. A woman from among the visitors will respond with her own call. Visitors walk onto the marae as a group, slowly and silently with the women in front of the men.
The most important of the buildings within the marae is the wharenui or carved meeting house. A wharenui resembles the human body in structure, and usually represents a particular ancestor of the tribe. The tekoteko (carved figure) on the roof top in front of the house represents the head, and the maihi (front barge boards) are the arms held out in welcome to visitors. The amo are short boards at the front of the wharenui representing legs, while the tahuhu (ridge pole), a large beam running down the length of the roof, represents the spine. The heke (rafters), reaching from the tahuhu to the poupou (carved figures) around the walls, represent the ribs.
Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka). Haka are war dances with loud chanting, strong hand movements, foot stamping and thigh slapping. Performers may incorporate traditional weapons, such as taiaha (spear-like weapons) and patu (clubs) into their haka. The All Blacks rugby team famously performs their haka before every game, and it is likely you will see this very same haka if you attend a cultural performance. Before going into battle Wahiao and his warriors would perform a fierce haka (posture dance) more often than not scaring off his enemy before a blow was struck.
In older times, stick games trained young men in spear fighting, and traditional tītī tōrea were chanted. Tī Rakau involves rhythmically tapping and throwing sticks. If played as a game (rather than learning for a performance) the difficulty or speed should be increased as the music progresses. The aim is to keep going for as long as possible without dropping your sticks. A tītī tōrea is sung while playing tī rakau, the Maori stick game. I understand Girl Scouts learn this game and the songs.
Poi is a form of dance in which each performer skilfully twirls one or more poi (ball on a chord) in perfect unison with the others. Sudden direction changes are achieved by striking the ball on a hand or other part of the body, and the noise creates a percussive rhythm. Poi dancers are usually women and a skilled performance will strongly convey a sense of grace, beauty and charm.
Pūkana or facial expressions are an important facet of Māori performance. They help emphasize a point in a song or haka, and demonstrate the performer’s ferocity or passion. For women, pūkana involves opening the eyes wide and jutting out their tattood chin. For men, it means widening the eyes and stretching out their tongue or bearing their teeth. Though these expressions may be intimidating, they are not necessarily a sign of aggression, but may simply show strong and deep-felt emotions.
One of the last strongholds of Wahiao was Te Puia Pa (fortified village), located in the Waimangu geothermal valley. E kore e ngaro to purapura i ruia mai I Rangiatea (The seeds which were sown in Rangiatea will never be lost). It is believed that Maori and the Polynesian cultures, had their origins in Rangiatea, one of the Islands of Hawaiiki. This whakatauki (proverb) was carved onto a plaque at the front of the Te Puia wharenui (meeting house) Te Aronui-a-Rua following a hui-a-iwi (consultation between the Chiefs and Maori Leaders of our local tribes) at the time the wharenui was opened in 1981. These leaders gave their blessings to the Institute being responsible for the nurturing and growing of Maori art, craft and culture. This responsibility is represented figuratively by reference to “the seeds” which have been sown in Rangiatea and will never be lost. The fact that these seeds originated in Rangiatea is a direct reference to the origins of the Māori culture.
A meeting house was likely to have outside carvings and increasingly as European tools were used, intricate interior carving and woven panels depicting tribal history. Four Māori seats in the House of Representatives were established in 1867, initially for a period of five years. The first elections for Māori members (with universal suffrage for adult males) were held in 1868. Rotorua became a center of carving excellence under the encouragement of the Māori MPs in the Young Māori party. Intinerant specialist carvers travelled widely, employing their skills in many locations. Pātaka (storehouses) were used to keep preserved food – fish, birds, kao (a kūmara preparation) – or seed safe from kiore (Pacific rats) in winter. Pātaka were entered through a trapdoor in the floor; the small opening at the front was a window. This particular Pātaka was built in 1906.
We really enjoyed our visit to Te Puia, it was both educational and fun. The picture shown above shows the traditional Maori greeting in New Zealand, the hongi. It is done by pressing one’s nose and forehead (at the same time) to another person at an encounter. It is used at traditional meetings among Māori people and on major ceremonies and serves a similar purpose to a formal handshake in modern western culture, and indeed a hongi is often used in conjunction with one. In the hongi, the ha (or breath of life), is exchanged and intermingled. The breath of life can also be interpreted as the sharing of both party’s souls. When Māori greet one another by pressing noses, the tradition of sharing the breath of life is considered to have come directly from the gods. I must say that the grace and beauty of Māori custom and mythology is enchanting and left us, with only our brief encounter, wishing to learn more.
Tī Rakau: http://folksong.org.nz/epapa/