By Insider – Jock Phillips
The taiaha whistled a few centimetres before my nose. The warrior, with tattooed face and thighs, pranced menacingly before me, chanting all the time, before grimacing fiercely in my face. Three times it happened, my terror rising. Then eventually the third warrior laid a sprig of tarata on the ground before me. The take, the offering, had been laid down. I picked it up gingerly. The wero, or challenge, was over; and the karanga, the powerful calling of the women, could begin.
I was the rangatira of ‘Jock’s tribe’, the manuhiri or visitors who were being welcomed onto the marae at Haka, an interactive Māori arts and culture exposition in the Hamilton Gardens. It was probably because I was the tallest male around that I had been appointed rangatira, tasked with picking up the take and then leading ‘my people’ onto the marae. My tribe included a good mixture of World Cup visitors – people from Wales, South Africa, Japan, Argentina – but there were also quite a number of locals; and enough with some understanding of Māori tikanga that after I had responded to the pōwhiri with a short mihi, I was relieved to see half a dozen women stand and support me with a waiata. Mana had been upheld.
It was not the end of my personal exhibitionism however. Within 20 minutes I found myself hauled up on stage to be taught how to do a haka in front of the assembled company. It was actually the second time in 24 hours that I had been a haka pupil. The first occasion was at Te Papa where I had visited Ngāti Toa‘s exhibition on’ Ka mate’. There you are given a ticket for your ‘lesson’ and while you wait you can absorb an excellent display on the outside of the ‘theatre’. There are images and panels and short (1–2 minute) clips explaining the story of Te Rauparaha and the origins of the ‘Ka mate’ haka, and another series explaining how ‘Ka mate’ became part of New Zealand and All Black ritual. I knew about the origins of the haka when Te Rauparaha was being chased by Waikato (it is one of our Roadside Stories); but I did not realise that the first time it seems to have been used for wider purposes was for the welcome to the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in 1901. Having absorbed this, you then go inside the theatre and in a nifty interactive video where your image is shadowed against a warrior who actually knows the haka, you quickly learn the basic movements. You do a last try at the haka, and your peformance is broadcast on the outside of the theatre for all to see!
It is really impressive how Māori have responded to the World Cup by developing such interactive learning experiences. There was a time when displays of ‘Māori culture’ in New Zealand consisted simply of old objects – mere or clubs, carved boards from former meeting houses, flax skirts. The message was that Māori culture was historic, not living. But the display at Te Papa and even more Haka in the Hamilton Gardens give the message that Māori culture is flourishing today and that the best way to learn about it is to experience it ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ – face-to-face.
So at Haka in addition to the pōwhiri, which was followed by an energetic and enthusiastic display of kapa haka, you could do the following and I did most of them:
- Raranga workshop: be taught how to weave a small object such as a flax flower.
- Poi workshop: learn how to swing the poi.
- Taiaha: using long wooden spears with sponge rubber ends you could learn how to wield a spear or taiaha.
- Whakairo: you could watch and talk to men carving in wood.
- Tā moko: be tattooed using traditional Māori designs.
- Waka: after a 15 minute lesson in the correct chants and moves, you put on a life jacket and walked down to the ‘mighty’ (as it is always called) Waikato River, and then paddle a war canoe upstream for 45 minutes, and back down in about 10. This ‘awesome’ experience, as one ten year old described it to me, was so popular that I missed out.
- Taonga Pūoro: Two Waikato musicians demonstrated beautifully how to play their large range of traditional Māori musical instruments – putorino (flutes), small nose gourds, large gourds, kū or string instruments, and porotiti (spinning discs) which made the most intense vibrations. The music was haunting and their explanations of how the music had been their personal path to their ancestors was deeply moving.
- Haka: In addition to the learning on stage, there was an excellent display about haka. Given that ‘Ka mate’ was composed when Te Rauparaha was being chased by the Waikato people, and this was very much a Waikato–Tainui project it was not surprising that the exhibition emphasised that there were other haka besides ‘Ka mate’ and many different types of haka. One strong example portrayed was a haka that targeted child abuse.
- Hikoi: Haka offered trails through the Hamilton Gardens to look at Te Parapara, a traditional Māori garden with a pātaka (storehouse) and kūmara garden; or to explore rongoa – the traditional Māori medicines found in bush pants.
- Tainui discovery: Haka was very much a Tainui venture, organised by Craig Muntz and Lee-Ann Sperling of Aotearoa Experience. A number of the tents and chairs had been provided by Tainui. In return Craig and Lee-Ann had set up a retail outlet for selling of small carvings and art work by Tainui artists.
- Hāngī: Of course no Māori event would be complete without food. We visited the hāngī pits down by the river and then were fed the steamed meat and vegetables with their distinctive delicate smoky taste.