New Zealand is home to many different groups of people from different backgrounds. Unique among them are the Maori, the original Polynesian inhabitants of New Zealand. I received a travel enrichment grant to travel across New Zealand visiting traditional Maori sites, museums and interacting with the people. Having watched the New Zealand rugby team perform the haka in 2007 (traditional Maori a war dance), my interest in Maori culture grew tremendously and that is what drove me to apply for a travel grant. I started my journey by taking a class on Maori performing arts which involved learning and performing Maori song and dance. In the course of the semester the class presented me with opportunities to meet Maori students and professors within the university. I also attended the regional high school Maori dance competitions and watched remarkable performances. I learnt a great deal about Maori culture before starting my travels at the end of the school semester.
I left the Otago region in the south at the end of the semester and took a road trip north to explore the rest of New Zealand. I visited Christchurch (a city still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2011), Auckland and Wellington where I went to Maori museums and preserved traditional sites. Most of this places show-cased Maori culture through display of crafts, traditional weaponry, traditional dress and food. I was also lucky to sometimes catch a Maori performance in session especially the spine-tingling Haka and Poi.
It was at Rotorua that I had the best experience of Maori culture. On the first day, I visited The Living Maori Thermal Village of Whakarewarewa. This village was built decades ago amidst a landscape of erupting geothermal activity. We had a guided tour through the village - which was basically surrounded by erupting geysers and hot mud - and it was amazing how for decades, the people within the village had been able to live in such a unique environment and even using the heat from the geysers for cooking. I also visited Tamaki Maori village in Rotorua. In the village, I got to watch women weaving and making Maori crafts, villagers telling stories of ancestors and history and also see ancient horticultural practices. I also participated in a Maori dance after getting a few lessons from the hosts. The whole experience was concluded with a sumptuous Maori three-course feast which crowned my whole experience in New Zealand.
Without the support from the grant I would not have been able to engage in all these activities. I am forever grateful for this unique opportunity to be part of this amazing experience that has definitely had a great impact in my life. I would like to thank the CIIS and the Romeo-Gilbert family for making this experience possible.