What to expect at a Māori cultural experience
One of the most highly recommended things to do on a trip to New Zealand is a Māori cultural experience. The Māori people and culture are truly unique to New Zealand so this is something you can only experience when visiting Aotearoa (the Māori name for NZ).
While you will notice the Māori influence throughout the country, Rotorua on the North Island is the most popular place to attend an interactive culture experience geared towards curious visitors.
Here’s what to expect when you go to one of the Māori cultural experiences in Rotorua:
There are several immersive evening events on offer. Each features a recreated Māori village to give you a feel for traditional Māori life before Europeans arrived. They won’t be authentic originals, but they are faithful recreations. The performers are often members of the local iwi (tribes) and very engaged in keeping their cultural traditions alive.
Once you’ve signed up to one of the evening experiences, get ready for a powerful and unforgettable night!
The Pōwhiri (Welcome Ceremony)
Every experience begins with the captivating pōwhiri, a ceremony traditionally used to determine if visitors are friends or foes. In the context of a Rotorua show, it is a formal greeting to the visitors.
You will feel chills hearing the wailing calls in te reo (the Māori language) and watching as one or more male warriors perform an aggressive challenge to test the meddle of the visitors. If you have ever watched the All Blacks perform the haka before a rugby match, then you have an idea of what you’re in for.
After the challenge, a welcome chant and dance are performed. This is followed by the hongi greeting as the final step of accepting the visitors. The hongi is a gentle pressing of noses and signifies the mingling of the sacred breath of life as the two sides becoming one.
Depending on which experience you attend, the order of events will vary. You will usually enjoy an interactive tour of the village. You’ll learn about the significance of traditional bone and wood carving techniques and the art of ta moko (tattoos). There are also hands-on demonstrations of various activities and games, such as the poi dance. Historically these games were used to teach combat agility and weapon techniques to warriors. Modern visitors usually get a good laugh at their own lack of coordination.
Another key part of the evening is the kapa haka performance. It is a rousing group song and dance performance to celebrate the Māori heritage, legends and traditions.
The Hangi (Feast)
Another feature of the night is the hangi feast. The hosts will dig up the hangi pit, an underground oven used to cook meat and vegetables with heated rocks and steam. You then get to eat a delicious feast! Expect lamb, chicken and pork to be served, as well as vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkin and kumara (sweet potato). For the sake of modern-day appetites, a range of salads, sides and desserts is served in addition to the traditionally prepared kai (food). They will also accommodate special dietary requests.
Now you have an idea of what to expect at a Māori cultural show in Rotorua. It is absolutely something you must experience for yourself!