You may or may not know that this is not my first time living in New Zealand. When I was 21 years old I came here all alone on a cross cultural internship and lived with a Maori family. I was a clueless young girl who came to live with a New Zealand family that sounded somewhat British to me on the one phone conversation I had before coming. I knew the father worked with the Maori people and that he wanted to help them and empower them. I didn’t, however, know that he was Maori. Auntie and Uncle (as that is what I had to call them) picked me up from the airport. I was so confused. I wondered if the person I spoke to on the phone sent these people to pick me up. We had fish and chips and I was still wondering who they were. I guess at some point during the two hour car ride to their house, it dawned on me or I figured out that this Maori fellow driving was who I talked to on the phone and who I would be living with.
It was seriously the hardest thing I have ever done. Living in another country all alone with a family that was not my own. I lived on a farm In. the. middle. of. NOWHERE! Seriously, if you don’t know where the middle of nowhere is, it is called, Ruatoria and it is 2 hours from the nearest grocery store and no one goes there because it is out of the way of anywhere you might be going. But over time, these people (who live in the middle of nowhere) became my whanau, my family. That same year, 2001, 3 of my “brothers” came to the states just days after I moved into my first apartment and I sprang it on my friend and roommate Misty, “Hey are you cool with 3 guys staying here for a few days?” And she was! They also crashed Brian’s pad for a few nights. In 2005, Brian and I came to NZ and he fell in love with the land and with the whanau as well. It seemed like a real life paradise to us and we wondered if those feelings would change if we were to come back now with kids. And so we came back in 2015 with 3 kids in tow and we still loved it! It was then that we started looking for opportunities to stay here for a longer period of time and here we are!
But life is different in the city of Wellington. It is a wonderful city, but my heart is still tied to my Maori whanau. I love that my kids have “cuzzies” here and that I am an aunty to many. I love their culture and their pride despite the hardships that come when Europeans put a flag in the ground and claim the land as theirs.
And so, we were so excited to take the kids to the Kapa haka national championship the other day. The Kapa haka is a traditional Maori dance that is maybe most known for their war dance. Their rugby team, the All Blacks, begin each game with the haka to intimidate the opponent. Different dances tell different stories, some joyous, sad and some of course, fierce. I am definitely not an expert on the subject, but it was one of the most memorable experiences I had my first time here. The high school was having their kapa haka competition and it was then that I had the traditional Maori meal, hangi, where meat and veggies are wrapped in leaves cooked in the ground for hours. The kids were so excited to watch the competition and I was so excited that they had a hangi and fry bread! Tatum and Clover go their face painted in the traditional way with a ta moko (chin tattoo). Clover was dancing around and even would imitate the men with her tongue out and slapping her legs.
I wasn’t sure if the festival was going to be cheesy or legit, but when my whanau kept messaging me about the performances that they had been watching on the telly all day, and telling me that they were stoked that I was giving my kiddos a taste of the Maori culture, I knew this was for real.