Kia Ora...and welcome to — the Polynesian Cultural Center's islands of Aotearoa, or the "Land of the Long White Cloud" as the New Zealand Maori call their homeland of the past 1,000 years. Aotearoa forms the southwestern apex of the Polynesian Triangle and is the only part of Polynesia to experience four seasons. Consequently, you'll notice the Maori — whose name means the "true people" — created significantly different housing and lifestyles than their Polynesian cousins in the tropical islands. Oh, and yes, the appropriate response to a Maori greeting, which means "good health," is also Kia Ora.
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New Zealand is located approximately 4,000 miles southwest of Hawai'i.
New Zealand consists of two main islands - North Island, with its capital at Wellington, and Auckland as major urban centers; and South Island, as well as several other smaller island groups, such as the Chathams and Kermadecs. The spectacular scenery of both major islands has recently been featured in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy The land mass totals approximately 270,000 sq. km. - about the size of Japan or the state of Colorado.\
Approximately 4 million people live in New Zealand,about 10-10%of whom are of Maori heritage - making them one of the largest groups of Polynesians today. Another 4% of the population has immigrated there from various other Pacific Islands, especially Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau Islands. Auckland is generally considered the largest Polynesian city in the world.
Dutch explorer Abel Tasman saw and sailed near New Zealand in 1642, but significant European contact probably started with Captain Cook's three voyages to the country from 1769-79. With the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand became a British colony in 1840.
Even though New Zealand became an independent member of the British Commonwealth almost a century ago, all government functions reflect the strong British influence, and many people say "Kiwis," as New Zealanders are nicknamed, speak with a British accent. They, of course, insist that it's a New Zealand accent.
English and Maori are the official languages. Maori is a major Polynesian language, and as such, is similar to Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, and other island languages, with which it shares many words that are identical or similar in sound and meanings. The Maori have made a conscientious effort over the past several decades to reinforce teaching their language to children - a preschool model of which has also been instituted in Hawai'i.
Over the centuries, Maori intertribal warfare became relatively common, so their pa or villages were traditionally fortified with wooden stake fences completely surrounding the perimeter for security. Many villages actually had three such fences arranged concentrically, with deep ditches dug in between them. Gateways into the pa in those times, unlike modern ones such as at the Polynesian Cultural Center, were usually narrow and short, allowing at most two people to squeeze through at one time.
The modern carved entrance gate at the Polynesian Cultural Center depicts a carved representation of Kupe, who Maori oral history credits as bestowing the name Aotearoa - the Land of the Long White Cloud — on what Europeans centuries later renamed New Zealand. The PCC gate shows Kupe capturing and destroying the pet octopus of Muturangi:
After Kupe placed his fish traps in the water, he found them empty. Consequently, he spied on them only to discover the octopus was stealing the fish and giving the contents to its master, so Kupe hunted down the octopus and killed it. It was during this pursuit that he discovered the beautiful land of Aotearoa.
Watchtowers or pharaoh were built at intervals to protect the village. They were manned 24-hours per day. A pa was usually situated on top of a hill so the extra height of a tower could allow a sentry to see for miles around the village on all sides.
If strangers were seen approaching, the man in the watch tower would blow a large wooden trumpet to warn the people in the village. Then a scout, sometimes two or three, would be sent to the gate to ascertain if the strangers came in peace or war.
To determine the intent, the scout would go through a wero or challenge. After grimacing fiercely and performing menacing postures, the scout would place a small ceremonial token such as a carved stick or leaves on the ground before the visitor. If the visitor accepted and held the token in his hand or aloft, it signified he came in peace. In such cases, the scout would signify the visitor could enter by slapping his thigh. Strict Maori protocol followed, consisting of speeches, singing, feasting and entertainment. If the token was refused, it meant a declaration of war.
Whare Runanga or meeting house, or house of learning
The whare runanga or Maori meeting houses is the focal point of all Maori cultural and tribal activities to this very day. It is the place where tribes and subtribes observe traditional customs, ceremonies and events. All Maori whare runanga are considered sacred, and as such, have names that are historically significant. People traditionally remove their shoes before entering.
For events that last longer than a day, tribe members and guests will stay overnight in the meeting house; but according to ancient traditions, food must be eaten in the whare kai (eating house): All modern whare runanga in New Zealand have a separate kitchen and dining facility.
When the decision was made to build the Polynesian Cultural Center in the early 1960s, Maori tribal elders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which established the Center in 1963, agreed to pattern the meeting house in Laie after its namesake in Nuhaka, New Zealand.
Master carvers, artisans and their apprentices fabricated all the significant elements in New Zealand, then shipped them to Hawai'i where the Polynesian Cultural Center's meeting house was constructed piece by piece. At the time, it was the only Maori meeting house to be built outside of New Zealand; and it is still the site where Maori at the Polynesian Cultural Center greet dignitaries and traveling parties from New Zealand.
A tekoteko carving or man-like figure is at the peak of each whare runanga. This gable figure represents the tribe's common ancestor whose mana or protective power is over the entire marae or courtyard. Of note, traditional Maori carvings do not represent human forms realistically: They believed they should not tamper with the same form possessed by the gods. Thus, human figures in their carvings are highly stylized art forms.
The architecture and design elements of a meeting house are filled with symbolism: The house itself represents the body of a man, his head directly underneath the tekoteko. The first rafter represents his extended arms with his fingers spread out at the ends. The rafters inside the building are his rib cage. Thus, the very common Maori custom of speaking to a building as a person and giving it a personal name makes sense.
All traditional Maori buildings were made from the natural materials of the land, including walls and roofs covered with bark and the split trunks of the punga fern — which may grow up to 30 feet high in New Zealand. Although the Polynesian Cultural Center's meeting house is large, still larger ones exist in New Zealand: Their size is usually determined by the population and prosperity of the village or tribe and the amount of carving and panels to display
The large red carved poupou panels on the walls represent the history of the tribe. Each figure symbolically depicts a specific ancestor and the carving would indicate information about him and his accomplishments. Because a person's status in the community was determined by his bloodline, it was important for the Maori to memorize and recite their genealogy; consequently, viewing carved figures as these would always be a dignified experience.
The eyes of poupou carvings are made of paua shells, which are similar to abalone shells. However, paua shells in New Zealand are a blue color, which gets deeper and darker the further south the shell is found. The characters in poupou panels often depict the ancestral figures with facial tattooing, rolling eyes and protruding tongues, and the legs are in a flexed dancing or fighting position — all still characteristics of modern Maori traditions and dances.
Tukutuku panels, which have been crafted by women, are placed on the walls of the meeting house between the ancestral poupou panels. Each panel's design signifies a certain tribal historical event or legend. Thus, the tukutuku itself is a way of preserving tribal lore and helping transmit it to the next generation. The set of six panels at the end of the Polynesian Cultural Center's meeting house tells the story of the original Maori migration to New Zealand. These panels are woven from the dried leaves of the kiakia vine which is found abundantly in New Zealand.
Kowhaiwhai Rafter Panels
The kowhaiwhai or painted rafter panels are symbolic of nature. Some designs represent foods and plants such as the sweet potato, peas berries and the curling fern. Some are phallic symbols representing the male seed which allows one generation to become fathers of another generation. The union of male and female was considered sacred and beautiful in Maori tradition.
Whare Whakairo, the family dwelling
As with most Maori houses, this dwelling, too, has its own name and was used as a sleeping place for the chief and his family. The chief would sleep at the rear and mats were spread around the perimeter for the family. A large pit with stones was placed in the center of the whare and rocks would be heated during the day so when night fell, the room would be warm. The chief also used this whare to entertain and discuss official matters.
Whare Puni or Family Dwelling House
The whare puni or smaller family dwelling house has been modified at the Polynesian Cultural Center into a museum and demonstration area for weaving and panel making. In the Center's Maori museum you will find a detailed map of New Zealand and pictures of the magnificent scenery and people found there.The displays also feature Maori foods, garden tools, weapons, clothing and other cultural artifacts. Of special note is the display on Maori tattooing or moko which was extremely intricate and beautiful. The Maori used two types of tattoo: the chisel and needle methods. Tattooing was a sign of both rank and beauty, and traditionally was worn only by highly select individuals.
Pataka (food storage hut)
Maori used a small raised structure called a pataka to store dried and preserved food. The foods, sometimes salted, dried or smoked to preserve them, were usually placed in gourds. Chiefs also stored their heirlooms such as jade (pounamu) pendants, weapons, adzes for canoe building, etc., in a pataka.
The pataka at the Polynesian Cultural Center is heavily carved with the theme of "food in abundance." The carvings include the head and eye of a whale. The decorations on the carved figure are called tara-tara-akai. Tara-tara means "notches" and akai means "food," signifying the pataka is a place where food is kept.
Pataka were placed high on stilts to keep animals away from the vegetables, including sweet potato, taro, tapioca and the "Maori potato" known for its distinctive purple flesh. Maoris ate "bread" harvested from the core of the tree fern; and before the arrival of Europeans, they also ate a certain type of dog and the giant moa bird, which is now extinct. Other foods included fish, shellfish, chicken and birds.
Waka Taua (war canoe)
The waka taua at the Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the finest examples of Maori war canoes in the world. It was hand-carved to accommodate 40 paddlers and is named Te Ika Roa a Maui, or "Maui's Long Fish." The name recalls the legend of Polynesia's mythical demigod, Maui - who plays a significant role in the cosmology of most of Polynesia - who used a magical fishhook to fish up the islands of New Zealand in the long ago.
The Center's war canoe is 60 feet long and weighs 2.5 tons. Carved from a single native kauri tree in the Northland of North Island, it was originally intended as a gift for King George Vl of England. However, when the king died before the canoe was finished, work ceased and it was abandoned in a field until 1962, at which time tribal elders agreed it should be completed and sent to Laie, Hawai'i, in time for the Polynesian Cultural Center's opening in 1963.
A war canoe of this type was traditionally used as a coastal raiding vessel. Fully manned, it could reach a speed of up to 15 miles per hour for short distances. When on a raid, lengths of black hawk feathers were hung on the stern to give the canoe a more fearsome appearance. The rowing warriors sat on short platforms while the head warrior stood in the stern beating and chanting out the timing.
As with many Maori objects, the canoe is intricately carved: The head on the prow looks forward, while three heads look back, watching for evil spirits in the wake of the canoe. The long line of figures carved down the sides represent a human chain of people holding hands. At the stern, the main figure represents the god of the sea while the lesser figures represent various demigods. The stern post is covered with many figures separated into the upper heavenly gods and the lower land gods. The spiral designed on the stern represent a man and woman interlocked in marriage, representing the continuation of life.
Maori poi balls
Maori poi balls are both percussion and dance instruments. It is said Maori women use the poi to imitate the sounds, actions and rhythms of nature in their dances and songs and to enhance storytelling. Poi dances utilize either single or double short poi balls with cords about 8-10 inches long, or single or double long poi with cords about 25-35 inches long.
Originally, poi balls were made of dried moss wrapped with raupo (flax) which produced deep and distinctive tones as they hit the person's wrists or arms. Today, poi balls are made with tissue paper wrapped in plastic, while the cords are braided from yard, and they are used primarily for dancing. A sample of old-fashioned poi balls are displayed in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Whare Runanga.
Tititorea - the stick game
Tititorea requires an even number of players who simultaneously toss specially carved sticks back and forth to each other in various patterns and in rhythm to music. The object of the game is not to drop any of the sticks. The stick game is used to develop quickness of the eye and hand. Anciently, tititorea was a competitive physical activity partially used to train warriors for battle. Today it is a fun and precise recreational activity. More skilled players form groups of four and have evolved complex patterns of play.
Uses of the Flax Plant
Maori made many uses of raupo or the flax plant. After harvesting the abundant plant, women would scrape the leaves with a sharp stone or shell to expose the inner fibers. These fibers would then be cleaned, prepared and woven, dyed and braided into many items such as mats, baskets, rope, fishing nets and piupiu skirts for dancing.
Maori Finger Weaving
Maori, who did not use looms to weave, could still finger-weave cloth very similar to linen, which could then be used for wrap-around skirts, cloaks of feathers and dog skins, piupiu skirts, and chest bands and head bands for men. The threads are dyed and woven into cloth of different patterns using the traditional colors of red, white, yellow and black with each pattern corresponding to a different family.
Maori also made feather cloaks or korowhai from native bird feathers. These were beautifully patterned in purple, green, blue, white, black and brown. Today, kiwi feather cloaks are especially prized together because of their rarity.
The taiaha or fighting lance, similar to a Chinese bo stick, is probably the most beautiful and effective weapon of wood used in close combat ever invented by a warrior race. The taiaha features a long, tapering flattened shaft or blade broadening towards the opposite end with a tongue-shaped spearhead. Its combined uses include that of a broad sword, quarterstaff, club and spear.
Many of these ancient weapons are exhibited in museums throughout the world. Maori chiefs highly favored taiaha at ceremonial gatherings because they could be wielded for effect, grace and dignity. Maori orators also employed the taiaha to add emphasis their words with movements called taki as well as facial and body gestures.
The mere or short club is another effective Maori weapon that was usually tucked into the waistband of the warrior's skirt and hidden from sight with a cloak. Mere could be made of wood, stone, bone and jade.
Interesting Facts: The Maori people, the Polynesian natives of New Zealand, are known as great navigators. Kupe, one of the first to discover New Zealand, named it Aotearoa, or "land of the long white cloud." The Maoris were not only fierce warriors (using pukana, or the protruding tongue, as a form of intimidation and a distraction to their enemies), but they are also skilled craftsmen, creating beautiful carvings and painted wooden rafters in their buildings to tell stories and record their genealogies.
Location: Approximately 1,000 miles southeast of Australia.
Area: Slightly smaller than the state of Colorado, roughly 1,000 miles long and 280 miles wide. Composed of two main Islands and several off-shore islands.
Population: About 4,000,000. Approximately 10-10%is of Maori heritage. Discovered in 925 A.D. by Polynesian navigator, Kupe. Later discovered in 1642 by Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman. First visited by Captain James Cook in 1769.
Government: Ruled by Britain from 1840 to the 1920s. Since 1947, it has been an independent, self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth.
Languages: English (official) and Maori