By: Connor Glasset, Secondary Education Major, Champlain College
The International Noho Marae paper (course) is one of the most highly sought after classes in the AUT catalogue amongst international students. Over the course of the semester, this paper explores Maori culture and what it means to be Maori in today’s society. The paper is unique in that the majority of the learning about Maori culture is experiential. For one weekend, international students and Maori professors and volunteers come together to learn, hands-on, some aspects of Maori identity. AUT’s International Noho Marae paper along with the weekend experience is the only one of it’s kind in the entirety of New Zealand.
This semester marked the 30th International Noho Marae, and I was lucky enough to experience it. In total we were 74 students representing 14 different countries. In addition, there was the Maori staff and volunteers with their families, who served as our teachers for the weekend. Also, because this Noho, the 30th of its kind, was such a landmark for the university, alumni were invited to come home, back to Auckland, to assist with this special weekend.
The weekend began on Friday evening, with a traditional welcoming ceremony called a Powhiri. First, we waited outside the gates of the marae until we were summoned by a challenge made by one of the marae’s warriors. Having accepted the challenge we were allowed entrance to the marae. Next, we were slowly called into the whare, meeting house, by song. The elders, in this case Professor Jason King and Dean of Maori and Indigenous Development, Pare Keiha, welcomed everyone in attendance and asked us all to open our hearts and minds to the weekend’s happenings and teachings in order to enjoy and learn to the maximum extent. After we were invited to join in the weekend festivities, we moved to the wharekai, eating-house. The meal was a potluck, prepared by the international students, of the traditional or common dishes of each country. Ali Sousa and I made possibly the best spinach artichoke dip known to man; naturally, it was a crowd favorite. At dinner, we learned the first of many lessons: Don’t stop eating when you’re full, stop eating when you’re tired. Now that is a mantra I can get behind completely.
On Saturday, we reconvened at breakfast. Once again, making sure to pack on the carbs for a long day of experiential learning. Only after we all surpassed the point of over consumption, it was time for tititorea. Tititorea, or the stick game, is a two person game involving four wooden dowels, an extremely catchy Maori tune, heaps of hand-eye coordination and innumerable mulligans. At the start each partner has their own set of wooden dowels. Both partners tap the dowels on the ground twice and then together once before tossing them to their partner one at a time. For example, right hand to right hand exchange followed by a lefthand to left hand exchange. This exchange is where the hand-eye coordination came in as both partners needed to release their dowel at the same time and then catch their partner’s. Once we got that down, and believe me, we all had to work at it a while, we moved on to the chorus and accompanying motions.
For the chorus, one partner had to pass both of their sticks together while the other partner passed theirs apart, outside of the partner’s two. In essence one partner was passing theirs in the middle and the other, on the outside. I think it would be fair to say that we were only semi-successful and that came after a lot of mess-ups, laughter, and observing of others to steal their method.
Time for song. Singing and music in general is extremely important in the Maori culture. There is a song and/or dance for almost every occasion. In fact, almost nothing happens without the inclusion of a song or some type of music. Following the tititorea we learned two waiata, Maori songs, as a group. First we learned a love song called Pokarekare Ana. Pokarekare Ana was popular amongst New Zealand soldiers during the first World War. The song tells the tale of two lovers separated by the sea who miss each other dearly. The second so that we learned was a waiata specifically written for the International Noho weekend called Whanau for Life. This waiata celebrates all of the international students coming together, joining the marae and becoming one family, or whanau.
After lunch we were split up by gender. The tane, men, learned how to do the haka. The haka is commonly misinterpreted as a war dance. Really, the haka is a dance used to psych up Maori men and women because performing the haka requires you to use your inner mana, power. Like song, the haka is extremely important for the Maori and has many different variations so that it can be performed at many different occasions. We learned the Ka Mate Haka, which you may know from watching the All Blacks before one of their rugby matches. The lyrics to this haka tell a story of a man– fearing for his life –wondering if he’ll ever see the sun again. But the lyrics are only half of the haka, the motions are much more tricky. All of the intimidation and mana from the haka comes from the synchronized performance of all the members, which is much easier said than done. The haka takes a toll on the whole body. At the end of our three-hour long practice session all of the guys were hoarse and had bruised thighs.
The wahine, women, learned to perform the poi. Traditionally, the poi was a routine performed by men to improve their flexibility and strengthen their wrists and arms for battle. However, the poi has since been adapted by women to be a seductive dance meant to exhibit their femininity and grace. The ladies made their own poi using synthetic pillow stuffing and plastic to create the ball and yarn for the string attached to the ball. In the performance, the balls are swung gracefully and skillfully in rhythm to the beat of the accompanying song.
Dinner on Saturday night was a very special occasion. Before the dinner service there was a little aperitif, giving students a chance to mingle with our Maori teachers, one another, and the VIP guests from other New Zealand universities and around the world. Among the VIP guests were Champlain College Board of Trustees members, George C. Burrill and his wife Lola, Emily Morrow (2009-10) and her husband Paul; and Associate Provost and Senior International Officer, Jim Cross and his wife.
The formal dining event was our chance as students to show off everything that we had learned. To begin, we sang the two waiata that we had learned as a group. Then came the moment of truth as it was time for our poi and haka performances. The ladies went first and absolutely killed it. The crowd roared for an encore and the women obliged with a second performance even more on point than the first. Then it was time for us guys to do the haka. We shuffled into formation, and as the orders were shouted, the tongues began to stick out, nostrils flared, eyes bulged and animalistic grunts filled the air. Before I knew it, the haka was over. We must have done an alright job because the crowd cheered for and demanded an encore. This time, our teachers joined the ranks and our haka tore the place down.
Sunday was a sad day, the day we realized it was all over. Luckily, we still had the opportunity for one last, great, ‘feed’ as the Maori so aptly and lovingly referred to it. Hangi is the traditional preparation of food—meats and vegetables—cooked on hot rocks in a covered pit in the ground. This culinary technique gives the food a highly desirable smokey flavor.
To wrap up the weekend, we had a closing ceremony. The closing ceremony was filled with songs and reflections on the weekend activities. At the end of the ceremony the guys decided to once again perform the haka. For us, it was a symbolic thank you –a gift of sorts— for teaching us and allowing us to perform something so special to their culture.
International Noho Marae, in my opinion, is a course that every Champlain College student who studies in Auckland should take. For me, the weekend transcended a fundamental learning of a culture and instead became somewhat of a spiritual experience. No, I can never be Maori, but I have learned about their culture in a way that is impossible without immersion. For that, I am thankful and I believe it will always have a special place in my heart.
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