The month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the United States, celebrating the many contributions made by people from this region of the world. They include people from New Zealand, New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Vietnam, the Philippines, Samoa, Thailand, Kiribati, the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, the Solomon Islands, native Hawaiians…really anyone considered to be Asian or a Pacific Islander.
I’m lucky to have family history rooted in the beautiful country of New Zealand. In the 1950s, my mother left New Zealand for a bus trip around the United States and Canada. It was a courageous move for a young woman who did not realize she was leaving her homeland for good.
Legacies live on!
New Zealand has always been a magical place of people, traditions, and family. As kids, my siblings and I visited there for months at a time – going to school, visiting farms, and learning the culture. As an adult living in Australia, I hopped across the pond with my husband and friends to Rotorua, a city on New Zealand’s North Island. While touring the countryside, we enjoyed a very South Pacific Island evening at a ‘hāngī.’
Explanation of a few terms might be helpful! A hāngī is a meal traditionally cooked by New Zealand’s Māori people, in which food is steamed underground. Who are the Māori? For those who don’t know, the Māori people are amazing! They are the indigenous Polynesian settlers who came to New Zealand from East Polynesia during the 1300s.
We loved the dance
The Māori have a cultural dance called a ‘haka.’ As my group arrived at the Meeting House, a haka was being performed. Traditionally, this passionate, energetic dance was performed as a challenge, an act of war (or a way to mentally prepare for battle). Nowadays, it is performed as a greeting to visiting dignitaries. The haka is also performed before New Zealand’s All Blacks and Black Ferns (male and female rugby teams) compete as a show of strength to opposing teams.
Luckily, we were treated as honorary friends who were visiting, rather than challenged to a battle! We enjoyed a feast that had been cooking on heated rocks buried underground for many hours. Before dining, thanks were given to those who came before and forged the traditions running deep within the Māori culture.
A priceless cultural experience
Our group walked away from the visit with a wonderful perspective on New Zealand and the realization of how important it is to learn new things and experience other cultures. Our diversity is what makes us great. Different ideas, different experiences – we all have something unique to bring to the proverbial table. Learning about our differences opens our eyes and creates a better world for everyone.
If you find yourself down under in the future, be sure to explore the cultural centers of Whakarewarewa, Mitai Māori Village, and Tamaki Village for a step into the Māori culture. You will be glad you did!