Monday, August 10, 2009

New Zealand: Final Post!

The people we met in New Zealand were nice and helpful, almost to a man. There were even a couple of Maori youths who offered to share a spliff out of the blue outside the public toilet next to the tourist center at Matamata--now, that's friendly! Of course, I didn't partake.

The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, who arrived here in longboats beginning sometime around a thousand years ago. They are ethnically and linguistically a Polynesian group. Today, they are the largest minority on the islands, their population having been overtaken by "Europeans" after the discovery of NZ by Abel Tasman.

The Maori consider themselves warriors, and the stick dances in the video above are actually wrist exercises. In fact, no Europeans visited NZ for some time after Tasman's visit, because the natives killed several members of the crew. According to the young lady who narrated our "cultural performance" at Whakarewarewa, Maori would prefer not to fight, so the warriors have developed a series of threatening behaviors, like loud yells, bulging eyes and extended tongues, in order to scare away potential attackers, called the haka. Here is some classic footage of my fellow travellers being rehearsed in the Maori haka:

Scary, huh?

It took over 100 years after Tasman's visit in 1642 for James Cook, the discoverer of Hawaii, to visit and circumnavigate the landmass during his first voyage. Once the graces of the land were known, the rise of Europeans and decline of indigenous peoples was pretty well foreordained. In 1840, the Waitangi Treaty between the tribal chiefs of the north and the British Crown began the process of marginalizing the Maori.

We were within a few miles of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds near Paihia, but it was pouring rain, most of the site was outdoors, and it cost NZ$20. We passed. Still, I had been through an exhibit earlier which pointed out some of the problems with the treaty: the English and Maori-language versions were sometimes wildly different; the document contains mutually exclusive or contradictory clauses; and half or more of the tribal chiefs never even saw it. The modern government seems to be operating in good faith to clear up the difficulties and make things right; one Kiwi I talked to said the treatment of natives in NZ lagged behind what white Australia has done for the Aborigines--namely, apologize.

On the other hand, I spoke to a young man who tried to compare the situation to the US dealing with African-Americans: the need to assimilate, fit in, speak English. I was, to say the least, stunned. Let's see: black Americans were ripped from their homeland against their will, forced to labor in a foreign land, often on threat of death; Maoris were the established inhabitants of their land, tricked into second class status, decimated by imported diseases. I can think of an American population that sounds like, but it isn't African-American.

And it is indeed the "American Indian" with whom the Maori seem to have more in common. Looking at some of the dwellings and tiku here, I note similarities to tribes of the Pacific Northwest:

Now, this is a tiku of Chris Rock, noted African-American comedian, so I'm not sure what that does to my theory:

Finally, a few interesting facts:
  • they call 'high school' over here 'college'
  • 'ah-chi bah-chi' means 'a bit of trouble'
  • Kiwis love rugby union more than perhaps all else
  • the Maori word for New Zealand is Aotearoa, probably meaning 'land of the long, white cloud'
  • they don't have dollar bills, using one dollar and two dollar coins, instead; furthermore, they round change and have done away with the penny
  • gas is exactly the same price everywhere you go
  • Takapuna Beach is a popular spot for Koreans in NZ

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