Wednesday 17 February 2016

New Zealand Adventures : 9. Waka Canoeing with the Ngapuhi Tribe, The Treaty of Waitangi and Help Xchangin' for Maori Family

Kia Ora!

Greetings from Waitangi 'The Birth of A Nation' which is New Zealand, the video will give you some clue, sorry for the abrupt cutting off...ran out of memory arggh!.

Yeah so more on that later....leaves it as a bit of a cliffhanger but first my experience going on a Waka Voyage with the local Ngapuhi Maori Tribe down the Waitangi River....

Waka Canoeing with the Ngapuhi

How often do you have the chance to paddle in a traditional Maori canoe lead around one of New Zealands most beautiful areas?

The ancient stories and histories from the great Maori ancestors who navigated across the turbulent oceans of the Pacific from Polynesia to 'The Land of the Long White Cloud' using only the stars and traditional navigation skills can only be imagined.

With a visit to the Bay of Islands during my travels of the great Aotearoa, a unique eco-interactive Maori Waka experience will transport you back in time to provide a rare and unique insight into the ancient customs, rituals and traditions of the place owned by the indigenous Ngapuhi people of the Bay of Islands.

Indigenous owned Taiamai Heritage Journeys provides the unique opportunity to join them on a Waka voyage down the Waitangi River, paddling together with the local Ngapuhi people onboard a 50ft Waka Taua (Maori War Canoe) sharing their traditional knowledge and storytelling skills which will provoke your inner curiosity and gain a deeper understanding of this deeply rich and legendary culture of New Zealand.

Upon arrival at the tidal estuaries of the Waitangi River, close to the historically important site of the 'Treaty of Waitangi' I was greeted by the local Ngapuhi guides who gave my group a warm welcome and hearty Maori Karakia prayer before kitting us up with life jackets and our very own paddle proceeding to put us through paddling drills, learning traditional Maori paddle commands and get to grips with synchronised paddle rhythms of the Waka......paddle and tap......paddle and tap.....heeeee......haaaa!

....then we were ready to climb aboard the Waka

As you paddle out chanting with the engaging Ngapuhi guides down the Waitangi River, you are transported back to days gone by in the footprints of the ancient ancestors who once paddled down the very same river as a valued mode of transportation, hearing stories and fascinating insights into the beliefs and rituals of the Maori people - including how the Maori encountered oncoming wakas, which involved a lot of shouting and pulling strange faces whilst sticking your tongue out!

Paddling further down stream of the Waitangi, arms getting achy! we then heard the bellowing call of the conch shell to the neighbouring Taiamai Maori Village and traditonal Marae where we steered to the bank to disembark from the waka and approach the entrance to the Marae in traditional Maori protocol.


As you cannot enter a Maori Marae (meeting house) without being formally invited, a male member of the crew is elected to act as chief to represent our visiting group and are confronted by the Ngapuhi Chief on the entrance of his Marae.  Dressed in traditional warrior flax and feathered attire, here proceeds a challenge dance from the chief with traditional displays of weaponry and calls, placing an axe in front of our chief for him to take - meaning he comes to make war.......but of course we're not, so the axe is left untouched and the chief accepts we come to his Marae with peaceful intentions.

Walking behind our chief (woman always walk behind the men) we enter the Marae and are formally welcomed by the harmonic singing and chants of the village woman to enter the traditional meeting house for an official welcome ceremony. 

The ceremony is extremely sacred to the Ngapuhi tribe where ideas and beliefs are shared and dialects exchanged - I came to learn of the profound spiritual connection that the Maori has to the entire environment around him and that the most sacred thing in Maori culture above anything else in their hierarchy is.....

Maori believe that women are the 'house of humanity' and the only thing that can carry on the blood line of the ancestors which they call the 'whakapapa' or genealogy, so are held with upmost respect in traditional times. In fact, Maori men usually say 'If something doesn't work, do it the way she told you to do it in the first place' ha!

The only thing that can take the 'tapu' sacredness away from something is a woman, even sitting in a sacred chair removes its 'tapu' if sat in by a woman, which can be the biggest insult of all to a Maori chief.....yikes! Thats why you will find women sitting behind Maori men and walking behind them, not in an act of superiority on the mens part, but because they are protecting and acting as guardians to the most sacred thing of all (smug smile from me).....just telling the truth....

Before we leave the Marae, we are bid farewell with the traditional greeting 'hongi' pressing noses and foreheads in unison with mutual respect from our roots and backgrounds.

Me with Chief Hone - they're very friendly!

The full face 'moko' tattooing is a language that tells a story of the individual Maori which is 'seen' by the Moko tattooist and not asked of by the Maori himself....interesting stuff....if it is done in a traditonal method, the technique is very painful, bone is used to chisel out the lines in the skin and filled with plant ink eeek!

Upon leaving the Marae, you board the waka again and the paddling voyage continues down river to the breath taking waterfall 'Haruru Falls' meaning 'big noise' where the Ngapuhi people believe the 'taniwha' (sea monster) lives deep in the lagoon below the falls.

And so, the waka journey comes to an end and you paddle together in the war canoe back up river to the source of Waitangi Bridge, back into modern day with everlasting memories of undoubtedly the best Maori cultural experience in the Northland!

He ha!

The Treaty of Waitangi


Now back to the video, I'm standing on a very significant historical site deeply attached to the birth of New Zealand in the territory of Waitangi as it was here that New Zealand's founding document 'The Treaty of Waitangi' (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) was signed on 6th February 1840 by Maori chiefs to forge the unique land of Aotearoa.

Its useful to take a Maori guide with you to walk you through the Treaty Grounds to coat the things you're seeing with historic information.

The 35 metre long war canoe here which lies on the Treaty Grounds is (deep breath) Ngatokimatawhaorua and is the worlds largest ceremonial war canoe named after the first canoe of Kupe who's fleet where believed to be the first Maori to have discovered Aotearoa whilst sailing from the original homeland of Hawaiki. 

The canoe needs a minimum of 76 paddlers to handle it safely on the water with a capacity of over a 100 paddlers.  and is was launched in 1940 and annually thereafter on the 6th February to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. 

The grooves on the side of the canoe were made on purpose to help the buoyancy of the waka in the ocean and making my visit to the Treaty Grounds perfect timing with 6th February, I was able to catch the Waka being adorned with traditional decoration. The rings of feathers represent the capture of negative energy passing across the oceans and runs down the sides of the hull through the ancestors and of the stern back into the sea, in essence protecting the paddlers on board whilst voyaging at sea. 

 The stump of the the gigantic Kauri Tree whose trunk was used to carve the waka - woah now thats a big tree!

The Flagstaff


Now this is the most important spot on the entire grounds, as this marks the site where on 6th February 1840 the 'Treaty of Waitangi' was signed by representatives of Queen Victoria and various Maori Chiefs of Northland to forge the relationship between New Zealand and the British Crown. The three official flags flying on the staff of course, the contemporary flag of New Zealand, The United Tribes Flag and the British Union Jack.   

 There you have it - right here!

Flag of the United Tribes, flown by Maori's of New Zealand and was in fact the first flag of the nation chosen by Maori leaders was first raised in 1830. The flag came about as at that time, New Zealand was not a British colony so trading ships that passed through Australia which were under British navigational laws required a flag to identify its construction, ownership and nationality or they were liable to be seized - so here's the flag that was decided by the Maoris of the North. The flag meant that the British recognised New Zealand as an independent nation and acknowledge the authority of the chiefs. 

The impressive carved meeting house Te Whare Runanga which faces the Treaty House on the grounds are thought to symbolise the partnership between Maori and the British Crown and opened on the 100th year anniversary of Waitangi Day in 1940

The Treaty House built in the 1830's and acted as the British Residency where representative James Busby conducted his business of the British government and where the Treaty of Waitangi itself was drawn up to be signed in 1840 on the lawn outside. 

Ta dah! A copy of the Maori version of the Treaty itself, the original is stored in ancient archives as its deteriorating ( I would think so since 1840!) so its cool to see a copy of of this with most of the signatures of close to 500 Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty. 

But what did it actually mean?..... well the Treaty established a British governor of New Zealand to recognise Maori ownership of their lands, forests and other properties and gave the Maori the rights of British subjects. In return, the Maori's ceded New Zealand to Queen Victoria giving her government the sole right to purchase land.

Because 80% of Maori people could read and speak Maori whilst 20% were illiterate when Europeans came to New Zealand, two versions of the Treaty were drawn up, one in Maori, the other in English and both versions differ which has caused difficulty in interpreting it and understanding of what exactly was agreed. 

So the English version that was signed states.... that the treaty gave the British sovereignty over New Zealand giving the Governor the right to govern the land.

The Maori Version however....understood that they were signing to give the British Crown a right of governance in return for protection without giving up their authority to manage their own affairs.

Maori society at the time would have been more inclined to agree to oral statements from the British than to written statements in the Treaty and the word 'governorship' which was not part of the Maori language, so controversy brewed of the principled of the Treaty being broken and labelled a fraud...but that's going way into political stuff... 

but still.....every 6th February, New Zealand celebrates the national holiday of Waitangi Day and it so happened I was to be around to see it...

Waitangi Day - 6th February 2016


Every year on Waitangi Day, 6th February, New Zealanders of all communities and backgrounds gather to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi - which also means voicing their political views and frustrations, so it was going to be a day not to be missed. The night before, I helped a Maori family prepare their sign to voice their view at the meeting which states a stand for the people of a certain ancestor against the TTPA signing.

The day starts at 5am with the traditional Dawn Service up at the Treaty Grounds, so of course I wasn't going to miss out on that! So up early at 4am, borrowing a bicycle, I cycled the 1km along Paihia Beach to reach the Treaty Grounds with the arriving crowds in the darkness...and managed to walk right up to the Meeting House and sit down with all the media crew, following behind the speakers and political representatives - of course I have no idea who they are!

The service on the big screen outside, an interesting mix of Maori and English so I could understand the proceedings - pretty cool hey!

Dawn raising of the flag on Waitangi Day

 Maori's lining Waitangi Bridge and outside the Marae along the Beach front of Tiri Tiri, flying signs and flags.


 A Maori gentleman blowing a Israeli Ram's Horn

I wasn't so successful, but its the taking part that counts right?

And then on the horizon of the Bay of Islands...we all saw something spectacular...


The biggest war canoe in the world Ngatokimatawhaorua paddled by a 100 men was making its annual appearance on the waters of the Bay - so cool!

The waka with its paddlers in traditional dress after doing a few circuits of the Bay, eventually came to shore and moored on the beach...

 and the warriors disembark on the beach as more wakas start to come in

Then, once all the wakas had come in and with everyone on the beach, a massive performance of the war dance Haka right before our very eyes!

After meeting and greeting on the beach, the warriors and paddlers bid farewell and head back into the what a thing to see!

Back at the Treaty Grounds, a protest against the TPPA movement and the New Zealand government at the Te Whare Runanga was underway at the very place where I sat 6 hours earlier as a place of peace at dawn. I sat on it anyway as passionate Maori folk from all over Aotearoa got up and voiced their views towards the New Zealand government......was quite an experience really.


 Help Xchanging for a Maori Family


So, whilst being up at Waitangi for the celebrations and tribulations that comes with the place that is 'the birth of the nation' I was pretty immersed in everything Maori so what better than to grab the opportunity to work as a Help Xchange volunteer for a Maori family for a week during by time up in the Northland.

I felt this would be a good opportunity to learn even more about the history and lifestyle of the Maori so I headed out to their home as a willing volunteer.

See the grass all mowed?? yeah I did that :)

Hone and Judy Mihaka from the Ngapuhi Tribe lived just out from the Bay of Islands on tribal land at Waimate North near their local Marae and I went to live at their home to help them out and experience the adventures that go with Maori living. Getting a formal Maori welcome on arrival, throughout the week I was delegated house chores and the responsibility of feeding and cleaning the many animal characters they had as part of their out chicken poo, feeding the goat and pig, collecting eggs, mowing the lawn......I was a busy girl.

 The grumpy pig Bonus and his nanny goat companion Sophie...

 The family dogs, Simba and the very lovable Fox Terrier twins


 Picking and stripping lots of corn!

Boat maintenance on an old waka

In return for my work, Hone would take me and other Help Xchange volunteers to the local hot healing mineral pools 'water of the gods' in the middle of the night (no one was there and its gorgeous) the Ngapuhi Maori Festival in Kaikohe and to visit the local Marae to his tribe.


Hone was more than happy to take us around his families Marae....


Showing the similarities between him and his ancestor at the head of the door. Another interesting thing about the carvings of a Marae, is the carving at the top of the door frame is always of a women with her legs open, symbolic that you are entering the peaceful aura of a women's womb - interesting hey? The bad energy one is feeling before entering a Marae you must bite a wooden frame to leave it behind before entering or even there is no frame to bite; individuals would have to go and bite the toilet seat and leave bad energy in the bathroom - really! its protocol.

We however didn't have to do that....but here's the centre piece of the women bearing all here! fascinating! In fact, in Maori legend, the demi god Maui was crushed between a sacred lady's legs when the night owls began to wake her from her sleep which killed him and never achieved immortality. Maori's believe that when these bird and night owls begin to talk in the night, they are pre warning of a death.....spooky....

 Across from the Marae is a Maori cemetery, and you notice all the tombstones are facing in same direction of East....this is because this is the direction of the rising sun so Maori's believe that the rising sun is symbolic of their spirit being reborn again and lives on in the great circle of life...

I was actually able to attend a small 'tangi' (funeral) at this same cemetery in the week with the family which was one of the most authentic Maori experiences you could attend, seeing the protocol and customs associated with how Maori's deal with death and the after life - was very enlightening to see that.

So after a week attending a funeral, Maori kai gathering, thermal pools, a local Marae and going on a search for missing socks (long story..) my time was up in the Northland and I bid farewell to go explore the rest of the North Island as the summer clock is ticking.
Kia Ora and Farewell to Hone and Judy at Waitangi

So, as you can see I've been extremely busy over the past 6 weeks or so, but life goes on and I'm eager to hit the road again and now head South to see what the rest of the North Island has on offer...

Signing off and thanks for sticking with the adventures this far, hope you enjoyed reading this special Maori edition of my travel blog of New Zealand

Waitangi, Northland
New Zealand 

With Lonely Planet Travel Guide New Zealand

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