Meeting in the Māori Marae

“Wow!” the other study abroad students and I whisper. I step barefoot into a hall filled with colorful wooden engravings. Looking around, I see a rainbow spanning the ceiling and equally intricate carvings on the walls. This is the first night of my ISA New Zealand adventure!

Tonight, we are being introduced to Māori culture. The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and have a history and culture that dates back to the 14th century. The other ISA students and I are in a Māori Marae. A marae is a meeting place that often belongs to a tribe or whānau (family). Inside the building, the ceiling planks tell stories and statues of the ancestors line the walls.

‘Marae Ceiling’ Each plank of this ceiling represents a rib in the body of the marae. Each is uniquely carved and colored!

Once in the Māori Marae, I expect to see a show performed by the Māori people or to learn about their culture in a straight-forward way. Instead, we learn a Māori song and dance! Three Māori men teach us the melodies and a few dance moves. They help us feel the deeper meaning of the song and we share this piece of their culture instead of only getting to see it performed. We will also learn to throw the tititorea (wooden sticks). “Uh oh, this is going to be hard” we laugh to each other. We nervously partner up and are handed two wooden sticks each.

First, we practice tossing both to each other and struggle to catch them! In order to not drop them, we have to fixate on the task. We focus solely on the present: solely on the flying sticks, the beat of the song, and each other’s laughing faces. As I narrow in on the tititorea and my hands rushing to meet them, I feel entirely in the present. I’m not just learning about Māori culture. I’m experiencing it! The rhythms, the notes, the excitement and passion of the song run through me and I connect with a culture far different from my own. 

‘Marae Ancestor’ Here I am with one of the Māori ancestors!

Most of all, I feel humbled. Grateful to be smiling with new friends, learning and growing as a person. I am especially grateful to be here, in New Zealand. With the colorful patterned arch of the marae above me, I’m starting my journey in the best way: by sharing a moment of laughter with those around me. 

Sierra DeWalt is a student at Chapman University. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and studying with ISA in Wellington, New Zealand.

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