Posted by: scribe9 | December 7, 2009

Maori Introduction

The other day I attended a workshop on Maori culture, given by the settlement house, which is run by the government to assist the many immigrants. The person in charge is a woman from LA.

It was a most unAmerican couple of hours. We didn’t rush right in and get seated. We waited in the lobby (and learned a short Maori welcome song) until we were called, in Maori, to enter the meeting room. (Annie Fox, the woman running the workshop told us that when taking her newborn daughter to her mother’s house for the first time, her mother came out on the porch to welcome the baby and call it into the house.)

The men were seated in front, the women in back, which caused a certain amount of comment among the non-Maoris. A man said a prayer, then gave a welcoming speech—welcoming us physically and spiritually, and our family members, present, absent, or dead; then another responded to and thanked him for his speech—all in Maori. Then we all sang the Maori welcome song, and pressed (didn’t rub) our noses against Annie’s and that of the man who’d given the prayer and welcome speech.

I’m not sure any of the food at the light lunch was traditional; it seemed just generally hors d’ouerve-y, with a few sweets, including a very good fruitcake (which I do not consider an oxymoron). Each of us stood (not only so that we could be heard and seen, but to show self-respect) and introduced ourselves, stating first where we were born, then something about that place—naming or describing a building, river, or mountain. Then we talked about our family, past and present, including where they were from and where we are now. Only then did we say our name, after talking about the other things that go into making up who we are.

The Maori not only have names for sky, and sea, and so forth, but also address them. Annie wouldn’t let her young daughter rush into the sea to swim; first, she’d have to say hello to the sea, and ask it permission to swim. Annie didn’t mention whether permission was ever denied.

We were a motley group. A young woman from Birmingham, England, which I just knew of as an industrial city, mentioned that it has more canals than Venice. François, from Corsica, is married to Françoise, from mainland France. Whangarei has a popular harbor (the “town basin”), so some were “yachties” from Hungary, England, the US, Poland, and France. A woman from central China had been in New Zealand for ten years and thought it the best place on earth. A younger woman, from western China, mentioned that she and her husband were DINKs. There were several South Africans. My Icelandic friend talked about the volcano, as there are no rivers on her island. The people who mentioned rivers included a German and his young son from Frankfurt-am-Main (on the Main), a woman from Glasgow which is on the River Clyde, a woman and her daughter-in-law from Nottingham, on the River Trent, and a Dutch woman who mentioned the Rhine.

By the end, I was thinking how much better a lot of gatherings would go if we started by finding out who everyone was and, to use a phrase I despise, where they are coming from.

PS–The automatically generated posts all include an Asian story about several monks who aren’t supposed to touch women. When they come to a stream where a woman is crying because she can’t get across, one (or two) cross without her, and the last one picks her up and carries her across. The others eventually reprimand the one who carried her, who replies, “Why are you still carrying her? I put her down as soon as I crossed the stream.” See what mentioning European women and rivers will get you?

PPS–I mentioned the Willamette and McKenzie rivers.

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