Monday, January 9, 2012

1 January 2012: Rotorua

Today we had a very special introduction to Maori culture.  We visited a site called Te Puia, which specializes in teaching people about Maori beliefs and traditional weaving and carving skills, and offers the opportunity to partake of 'hangi', a meal of meats and potatoes cooked in an earthen oven.  Our group learned of the first Maori who arrived in New Zealand between 600-1000 years, and the speculation about the origins of those people: many long believed they were Polynesians, however, recent DNA evidence suggests a southeastern Asian origin (interesting!).  We also learned of the myth the Maori used to explain the widespread occurrence of geothermal pools and geysers in the Rotorua area (one of 3 places on Earth that has geysers!): after the arrival of the first Maori, the explorer called back to the gods of his homeland and twin sisters were sent underground to the explorer.  The emergence of the sisters in Rotorua is thought to explain the prevalence of geysers in the area. In addition to the mythical explanation, our guide gave the scientific explanation for the geysers (which we were told was much more 'boring'!): the collision of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates and the superheating of water beneath the shallow mantle.  After learning about some Maori history, we learned about how native flax plants are used to make baskets and clothes, and then learned about the carving of totems out of kauri trees (some of the oldest trees on Earth).  One of our students, Bryan Pujol, was given the opportunity to hold a traditional fighting staff (see below).  Our visit was capped with a visit to the geothermal pools at Te Puia, a traditional welcome by the Maori, a chance for the female students to learn a traditional dance and the male students (and faculty) to learn the 'haka' (traditional war dance) and then an incredible hangi feast!  A great time was had by ALL!

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