Nose to nose with Maori warriors

ROTORUA, New Zealand -- The Maori, a Polynesian people who were the first humans to live in New Zealand, are today more numerous around Rotorua than elsewhere in the country. As a result, a chance to learn about the aboriginal culture is another lure for tourists to visit this region.

The Maori, who first arrived in about 800, evolved a culture noted for warfare and the arts. Both themes are apparent for tourists who attend a hangi, an event that at its simplest could be described as a culture show and dinner.

I attended a hangi staged by the Maori-owned Tamaki Tours at the Tamaki Maori Village (e-mail: [email protected]; Web: www.maoriculture.co.nz), during which our hosts had to establish that we came in peace.

This determination began in a courtyard outside the fortified village, or marae, where warriors tested us with their best offensive postures, finally offering a peace token.

We were instructed not to laugh at the warriors. The Maori, whose ancestors were cannibals, would stick out their tongues as a threat; this meant, "You would taste good in my pot."

The peace challenge is followed by a stroll through the marae (in this case, a reconstructed village on the site of a 19th century marae) to see demonstrations of Maori skills, such as hand-to-hand combat and carving.

Our welcome continued in the meeting house, culminating in the hongi (not to be confused with the edible hangi), which is a nose-to-nose greeting between hosts and our designated "chief."

Only then was it a sure thing there would be no hostilities, and women could move to the front rows for better viewing of the culture show of song and dance to follow. The liveliest part of this entertainment (no surprise) was the haka, or war dance.

The dancing done, we adjourned to the food house for a buffet of meats (lamb and chicken), vegetables (potatoes and carrots) and stuffing cooked on hot rocks.

The meal was not gourmet by the standards of a westerner in the 21st century, but not wildly different from my mother's plain but substantial meals. -- N.G.

Sales pitch

• Do your research; take a specialist course and sell your expertise. New Zealand's prospective visitors typically need guidance in planning their trips; be prepared to give it.

• In direct mail, at your Web site, in conversation with clients, promote the country by highlighting the following strong selling points: Mother Nature is awesome (even overused and trivialized words have legitimate applications); the U.S. dollar goes a long way; and choosing New Zealand is a very effective way to get away from the stresses of the current world political scene.

• Offer clients a choice of two airlines (Air New Zealand and Qantas) knowing that, for now, you will be paid commission.

Sources include Donna Thomas, a New Zealand specialist.

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For more details on this article, see Welcome to Rotorua, an underground in turmoil.

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