“Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.” …Mark Twain
I don’t mean to get into a religious debate here, but I’m going to presume that somehow most everyone I know owes his or her existence to Noah and his wife. What I’ve seen the past few weeks, listening to the Polynesians, and today, meeting and listening to some native Maoris, I’m convinced their ancestors were on a different boat, or maybe, they weren’t even affected by the flood in this part of the world and never needed an ark at all. When I think about all the turmoil we have in our Western World, be it global warming, terrorism, birthers, tea-baggers, the height of buildings on the Beach, that woman from Alaska, the Hometown Democracy crowd with their carpetbagger attorneys, and FOX news, I have begun to think that these Pacific islanders have it right and we have it all wrong.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a 500 acre reserve where the Confederation of Maori Chiefs signed the first treaty with British Government. The treaty, signed in 1840, granted to the Maori the rights of British subjects in exchange for recognition of British sovereignty. It seems that there was some misinterpretation of just what some of the Maori thought they were signing, and those differences are still being worked out today, almost 170 years later.
The reserve is home to a most magnificent Whare Runanga (Maori meeting house) containing elaborately carved panels from all the Maori tribes in New Zealand. There is also an impressive Maori Waka (war canoe) that is 35 meters long and can hold 120 people. Each year it is launched on Waitangi Day (February 6th) for the annual treaty celebrations. It is a very peaceful and beautiful setting overlooking the vast bay with its many islands.
We had a bus tour of the neighboring towns with a Maori owned and operated company, Indigenous Tours. The terrain is very windey and hilly and we were able to get a good overview of the communities which are populated by almost 50% Maoris. A particularly interesting (and curious) sight was the public toilets in the town of Kawakawa. These were designed and created on commission by the Austrian architect and painter Hundertwasser. They are contained in a grass-roofed block with a strong use of colors and local motifs.
We also visited what is claimed to be the oldest stone building in N.Z. and some other historical landmarks. As we returned to the treaty grounds we were treated to a New Zealand picnic of superb fish and chips, on the grass. Then for the afternoon we underwent “training” for our trip in our on Waka (canoe). Our guide for the afternoon was man named “HONE”, pronounced < HOE’ - nay >. What a guy! Check out the pictures. We learned paddle movements, the accompanying chants, and the etiquette about what we were about to undertake. Then we tentatively struggled to get into the canoe, more training, and then we were off.
I felt like a Roman Galley Slave. Ho Ha Hey – Ho Ha Hey – Ho Ha Hey … Sheesh...gimme a break, will ya? HONE regaled us throughout with his perspective on the local culture, the history of the Maori people, the origins of the local geography both historical and mythological, and his respect for people and the environment and how he worked to preserve it. We anchored out by a reef in the bay and HONE dove into the water and began to harvest a bucket load of massive green lipped mussels. He opened a couple and offered a taste for anyone who wished…I eat sashimi, so I tried some. Tasty, FRESH, and kind of like a clam. After that he pulled up to a small island in the bay and cut some flax, showed us how to peel it and make hemp ropes.
All in all, a tiring experience but extremely educational. Our guides were delightful, soft-spoken, and proud of their heritage. They all had a delightful sense of humor. I really think these people have the right attitude about life…of course I can’t be sure, but I’ll bet they would never get into the kinds of entanglements that we seem to. A fond farewell to New Zealand and now we move back up north to get warm again; that’s where the equator is. - RBM