Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping up with the Maori

The Maori culture is alive and strong in New Zealand. The Maori are the native people who were the first to settle here in Aotearoa sometime in the 1200’s. Due to the extreme remoteness of the main two islands, the Maori were able to create their own distinct culture that was uninfluenced by another society until the Europeans came over three hundred years later, in the mid 1600’s. Even after another three hundred years it is obvious how the first people to live off this land still influence the culture of the nation.

In the past months I’ve been living in New Zealand I have seen the Maori influence in many ways, not just in the souvenir shops. They are very proud of their history and make a point in keeping their traditions strong in the community and the nation. In protection of their own interests there are two Maori parties in the political system, the Maori Party and the Mana Party.

It is a new concept for me, coming from the States, to see an indigenous population have so much weight within their native land. Back home I have learned about our Native Americans, what they ate, where they lived, and how they lived. But I cannot tell you my country has adapted certain aspects of their culture as our own; the Native Americans practice their traditional way of life on the reservations the government gave the tribes in compensation for taking their land without thought to whom might have been living off it first. In New Zealand I see the Maori continuing to fight to keep their customs from becoming tourist attractions.

In schools the language and customs are continued to be taught.  The children learn through songs and the national anthem, use the language when learning to count. Noodle necklaces are not made and popcorn not used for holiday decoration at Christmas time because the Maori do not believe in using food as a play object, this includes play dough because it is made from flour.

It is true New Zealand is the only place Maori is and ever was spoken and some wonder if the time should be spent on continuing to teach children a language no other nation speaks (I’ve seen the debates on the news). There are also those who argue the culture shouldn’t be taught in the schools, it is not every child’s heritage so why should they need to learn it? But I disagree with this, to an extent. It is part of the history of the country, and that the children should learn and take pride in that.

There are aspects of the Maori culture the country has whole heartily embraced. The most famous would be the Haka performed before each rugby match. The Haka is a challenge, used when tribes would meet a new tribe or group of people and they wanted to know if they were friend or foe. It was designed to be intimidating, which it fully excels at.

It is wonderful to see a country that still remembers and celebrates the traditions of a nationality that makes up about fifteen percent of the population; it would be a shame to see the extinction of the Maori’s rich and unique culture. 

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