Rotorua and the Maori Culture

By Dakota Lum

Posted On October 4, 2018

From Hobbiton we set out to Rotorua. We got there around 3 p.m. and didn’t know what we were going to do that evening. So we talked to the lady at the front desk of our hotel, the Bella Vista Motel, and decided it would be nice to have a cultural learning night. So we decided to book dinner and a show at the Mitai Maori Village

We had a few hours to spare though before they picked us up so we decided to go walk around the park near our hotel. For those who don’t know, Rotorua basically sits on a giant caldera. It’s full of thermal pools and smells like rotten eggs. Doesn’t sound like the ideal place to vacation but it’s cool to see for a day trip. 

So we walked around the park which was full of thermal pools and eventually my dad sniffed out a craft brewery for us to sit down for a bit and have a few drinks. From there we headed back to get ready for dinner. 

The bus arrived at 5 p.m. I was a bit skeptical at first because the girl who picked us up didn’t greet us and was just kind of rude. The bus was clearly dated and not well maintained and my dad was freaking out at how the elderly lady driving the bus was driving in too low of gears, and making it sound like the engine was going to explode. 

They quickly went around town to get the rest of the guests and shortly after we arrived at the village. We were shuffled into a dining hall covered in black drapes, so again I was still skeptical. 

But once the rest of the guests arrived, the host of the show, John, came to the center of the room, and instantly all of our moods changed. He greeted every nation in their native tongue, it was quite impressive. He would also attempt to say “We have good chocolate cake,” in each language, but if he didn’t know it he would ask for help. Still there were over a dozen nations represented so he did an excellent job. 

John proceeded to tell us a brief history of his ancestors and how they came about to making this small parcel of land a representation of their history. It was very interesting. 

From there he led us out to see our dinner in the making. They cook similar to the Hawaiians. They have a large pit in the ground where they stack wood at the bottom and cover it with stones and dirt. They then burn the wood until it gets through to the stones, making them white hot, and a steam produces through the dirt. 

The food sits on a rack above this and it is covered with potato sacks so the heat does not escape. As we stood there admiring our food, he decided then it would be a good time to designate one of the men in the group as our “Chief of Many Nations.” No one wanted to do it so eventually a young man named Yasha took one for the team. 

Then John’s niece, Grace, led us down to see a grand canoe. This canoe would’ve been used as a war ship for their people. The ends of the canoe were built up high, the back extending about an extra four feet above the main part of the canoe. They built it this way in the case of tipping over, so the ship would break the fall instead of the heads of their warriors. 

The man in the front of the boat was the navigator, while the one in the back made sure all the men were chanting and rowing at in sync with one another. We were able to see this in action as Grace guided us down to the stream. There they had a canoe full of Maori men dressed and tattooed in the historic way. They were chanting and rowing down the stream. 

They guided us to their stage where the rest of the show would take place. First they performed a greeting which our Chief of Many Nations was part of. If you were every forced to watch those old anthropology videos in school where a white man is trying gain the trust of a primitive culture so he can study them, yeah it kind of reminded me of that. 

After that they performed songs and displayed their instruments and accessories. Then they showed us their weapons and demonstrated how they would fight their opponent. Then they performed a haka, which most people know because it has been made famous by the All Blacks rugby team. Lastly, they explained the tattoos and facial markings that their ancestors would wear. 

I found this particularly interesting because every symbol has a different meaning. For them usually one side of the face told the story of their father’s side of the family, while the other side told the story of their mother’s side. There was never exact symmetry in the tattoos because they displayed different meanings. 

Once the show finished, we headed back into the dining hall for a fantastic dinner. It was all buffet style with a ton of options. And of course there was chocolate cake to enjoy after. More dessert options were offered but I had to have the chocolate cake considering how good John said it was.

After everyone finished their meal we took a short “bush walk” as they call it, which is just a walk through nature. Here we learned about the native plants and animals and got to see some more glowworms. It was a very full four hours that we spent at the Mitai Maori Village, and it was well worth the price of admission.