Sunday, April 06, 2008

April 5, 2008 - Whangarei

What do you mean Sten and Danika are leaving?

On Saturday afternoon Whangarei Marine Promotions put on a farewell BBQ to thank all the yachties for choosing to spend cyclone season in Whangarei; and by "spend cyclone season in Whangarei" they meant "spend cyclone season spending our dollars, euros, pounds, etc. in Whangarei." The dignitaries were out in force. Even the deputy mayor was there. Before lunch we were welcomed with a traditional Maori haka, a posture dance designed to display a warrior's fitness, agility and fearsomeness. I can just imagine being one of Captain Cook's crew. How were they to know that it was a greeting, rather than a declaration of war? No pakeha before had seen the haka. Even watching it on a weekend afternoon in the gardens of a conference center, it was still somewhat intimidating.

After the haka, we all participated in the traditional Maori greeting of pressing our noses against the noses of each of the members of the welcoming committee, pausing and breathing in before moving on to the next person. The idea behind the hongi is that when locals share the breath of life with visitors to New Zealand, we each become one of the people of the land too. By "we" I mean everyone but Sten. He opted out of this particular cultural experience. I did the hongi, but I found myself to be really uncomfortable with sharing a stranger's personal space for that long.

Nobody presses nose like a Maori. The pakeha members of the local council gave a quick press of the nose, shake of the hand and moved on. The Maori dignitaries held your hand, looked you in the eye, drew you in, pressed their noses against yours, and inhaled. Slowly. Out of nervousness, I told the deputy mayor that I liked his cologne.

After lunch a local Maori choir came and gave a concert. Mixed in among the traditional tribal songs, modern Maori songs based on gospel melodies, and poi dances (in which balls strung together are swung rhythmically by the female members of the group as a display of their dexterity), the men performed a few more haka - a chest and thigh-slapping, tongue-jutting, eye-bulging chant.

No comments: