Raglan: Maori Experience with Tiaki

The group with Ngaronoa after she taught us to make sunscreen.

Kia Ora Hongi fans, what’s up y’all, this is real life,

After orientation we moved to Solscape, a sustainable hostel looking over the ocean, and slept in train cars for a couple nights. Here we began learning about Maori culture with Tiaki and Madi. Starting out strong at 5am, we headed over to Wairenga Falls; it was a really powerful experience. This waterfall is a place where Maori people let go of things that are weighing on them or holding them back, especially when it comes to recently deceased loved ones. After the silent proceedings, we physically and energetically cleansed ourselves in the cold water. This morning illustrated how important nature is in Maori culture.

Later that day we learned the basics of Maori language. For one hour we spoke no English and learned our Mihi, which is a formal Maori introduction that consists of speaking about our ancestry through naming mountains and bodies of water significant to us.

At the hostel we shared a kitchen with travelers from around the world, Nathan taught us some acro-balance skills on the picturesque lawn, and we (especially Xan and Amelia) bonded with a feisty kitten named Aroha. While our time here was short, Solscape was the perfect environment to cultivate long-lasting connections.

Many of us felt inspired after a visit to Xtreme Zero Waste, a recycling center in Raglan. Twenty years ago, a group of locals, Maori and non-Maori alike, approached Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard, a prominent elder, asking what they could do to support the local Maori community. She said they could clean up the unregulated landfill hole that was poisoning their water and food sources. After clearing the landfill pile, Xtreme Zero Waste was born. For twenty years this organization has strived to turn Raglan from a linear to a circular economy, wasting nothing and reusing everything. Here we learned about Raglan’s city wide compost initiative where households and businesses are given compost bins to be picked up weekly. It is the second biggest employer in Raglan with thirty-eight local employees. Not only is this a nationally recognized organization, but countries like China and the US have been learning from their example. It was an incredibly eye opening experience that inspired us to create similar initiatives in our own local communities.

After leaving Solscape we headed to Manu Wairua, a retreat center focused on Native American ceremonies. Here we were greeted by seven excited and adorable puppies, along with Rob and Rangimarie. After sharing one room (which we all loved), we woke up early and participated in our first of many ceremonies, the sweat lodge. Some of us were extremely nervous after seeing the VERY small homemade dome where we would be dripping with sweat for the next 3 hours. However, it was the most powerful and enlightening experience many of us have ever had. The grandparents (hot stones heated by a fire dragon) were handed in and greeted before being placed in the center of the dome. Darkness ensued and with the banging of the drum, the lodge began. We discussed our gratitudes, gave away things that no longer served us, and experienced more emotion and sweat than ever before. After 3 emotionally and physically draining hours the group emerged from the dark more knowledgable and self aware. We were extremely grateful to Rob and Rangimarie for this life changing experience they shared with us. Though it might seem strange to practice Native American ceremonies in New Zealand, we found that utilizing a perspective so close to home helped us to connect the importance of Maori culture to their own land and highlighted our own lack of knowledge on indigenous people.

Upon arriving at the Marae we were welcomed with an official ceremony for our ancestors to meet the ancestors of the land where we performed the song we had been preparing, Purea Nei. Royal amazed us with an eloquent introduction and presented the elders with gifts. After the elders welcomed us and spoke about the importance of sharing their knowledge they bestowed upon us, we finished the ceremony with food. This Marae is one of the few places where the women are allowed to initiate the welcome. We ended the evening with a beautiful sunset on the beach. We shared many laughs with Ngaranoa, who has been teaching us about natural medicine and serves as the group’s adopted grandmother (she is the best). Back at the Marae we have learned about the history of the property and the struggles the people here have faced and continue to face. For years, Native Maori struggled to reclaim land that was taken from them. Though we may think of these tribes’ struggles as a tale as told as time, the reality is that their land was not rightfully returned until about thirty years ago. Still, this tribe is fighting for their rights and justice for their people.

In terms of the group dynamic, we love each other. We’ve grown closer while sharing one large sleeping space, despite the numerous annoying alarms that go off on everyone’s watch each morning. Because of that, we’ve learned each other’s sleeping habits: Rollie sleep talks, Ryker snores, and Xan insists on waking up a minute before everyone else.

Cooking for 14 has been an experience. We either end up with too much food or not enough. It usually consists of a grand idea, but then the plan completely goes off the rails. But we get by alright.

In our free time we have a group goal of X amount of pushups. We love cuddle puddles, playing BananaGrams, making fun of each other, and talking about Lord of the Rings (or at least three of us do).

We’ve spent a lot of time together; here’s what we know so far:
Conner NEEDS to be in the water, literally any water.
Amelia is an outdoor gal.
Ryker is a sweet, grumpy old man.
Shane is low key sassy, but gets away with it.
Rollie is a human dictionary.
Xan is a dictator.
Liz lives in Hotlanta and is afraid of spiders.
Hanna loves muffins.
Claire is a germaphobe.
Maggie is a Horse Girl from Canada, but it doesn’t define her.
Lucas can sleep anywhere.
Mia sings when she is uncomfortable.
Rachael has an impressive earring collection.
Nathan is a professional trickster.
And we are all weirdos.

Alright guys, let’s go salt this tofu.

Mā te Wā

Hongi Spring 2020

The group having fun at Manu Wairua.
Tiaki talking about indigenous cultures and our indigenous selves.
Putting our thoughts and prayers into our medicinal leaves we picked.
Lots of love from Raglan!
Final prayer at Manu Wairua.
Wairēnga and all her majesty.