Nau mai haere mai ki Tauranga

Haere Mai — Welcome — to the little town of Bethlehem, next door to Tauranga (still in New Zealand). I’d heard of most every other port of call on this 64-stop itinerary, but the city of Tauranga was not one of them. It is best known, my Viking bible tells me, as the gateway to Rorotua, the region of bubbling thermal mud pools. I had originally signed up to climb the Mãori’s Sacred Hill — Mount Maunganui, right in the middle of town — but when I learned it was considered a ‘demanding’ excursion, I chickened out and signed up for ‘Discover Mãori Culture.’ A wise choice! On the bus out to her village, our Mãori guide, the modestly tattooed Jada, taught us the song we would have to sing as part of the Welcoming Ceremony when we arrived at the village. She told us the vowels were not pronounced the way we think. HA! They are perfect pure vowels that every singer knows! The tranquil low tide view from the village — a field filled with morning glory vines, wild dill, and bright red crocosmia.

Our arrival has not gone unnoticed. A young warrior approaches the intruders from the Sun tribe, making a challenge (wero) with his spear. The man on the right is our chief, name of Bob, who slowly bends down to leave a leaf peace offering.

The Viking tribe sings the waiata we had practiced on the bus. This was followed by whaikorero (speeches), including an assurance by Chief Bob that we have come in peace. We walk very slowly and unthreateningly towards the meeting house, where the elders stand in line for the hongi, the traditional greeting. We say ‘Kia ora,’ an all purpose greeting, as we shake hands, press noses to exchange the breath of life, then roll our head forward so our foreheads touch, to exchange knowledge. And so on down the line.

Barbara with elder Lance, then his wife Rawinia.

Louise and the fierce warrior seem to be on good terms now.

We were treated, and it was a treat, to a concert by a chorus from a nearby Mãori immersion school, i.e., all classes are taught in the Mãori language. This included the famous Haka. Male members of our tribe attempted to Haka and it was pretty pathetic. Google ‘All Blacks Haka’ and you’ll see what I mean.

The young singers decided to teach us some Mãori vocabulary — the words for feet, head, hand. You know where this is going, don’t you? Jan joins them in the Hokey Pokey.

Our ‘hostess’ Rawinia Gray, below. When I asked her to spell her name she told me then said, ‘Google me... I have a website.’ Which is It gives you some of her family background. This is inside their meeting house, where all important events take place. The decoration on the ceremonial blanket she’s holding, which she wove, is feathers that people find and bring to her. Not to be confused with the feathers that ancient tribes acquired for their capes and headdresses by killing and plucking many thousands of birds.

As my friend Barbara said, Rawinia is a ‘special soul.’ She was gracious, wise, and conveyed to us the pride she has in her Mãori culture and lifestyle. And funny: When one woman greeted her nose-to-forehead at the initial welcoming ceremony, Rawinia’s first words to her were: ‘So... how is the cruise?’

On the bus ride back to the ship, we stopped atop a hill with a lovely vista and one of our tribe took a picture of Roary, the lion who’s traveled around the world with him for 34 years. Roary has been to the base camp of Mt. Everest, up the Amazon, to the Great Wall of China. Who does he remind you of, Priscilla?#

©2017, 2018 Susan Nash/PassePartout
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