Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rotorua Relaxing

Whale bone club

As I must have mentioned before, I met a really cool Maori tattoo artist named Kaianga in Rotorua. We spent about 5 days talking together, learning from each other's culture, language, food... but I spent most of the time asking questions and waiting with baited breath and eyes wide open, for the intricate answers that were to come. Though not all Maoris speak the language, nor do they all know that much about their history and culture, this man does and I was blessed to have had the opportunity to meet him.
He taught me a Maori action song that they play for kids, where you learn the colors of the rainbow and you point to the color you are singing. It's a lot of fun! And you really do feel like a kid!

One afternoon, I mentioned the fact that I wanted to try Puha, a "weed" as the white Kiwis consider it, I think from the dandelion family. Maoris eat it and though there were plenty of puhas to choose from at Mimiha cottage, I didn't know how to cook it and wanted to try it properly from someone who knew how to do it before I tried cooking it myself.

Kaianga was really excited and had spotted this really big puha in the backyard of the backpackers. So we decided to have a "boil-up" that night. I wasn't really sure what that was but we went out to the butcher's, bought some meat and then he went out along the highway and found some more wild puha, got some potatoes and kumara and then we reassembled at the backpackers and the meal was on. He showed me how to cook it and I wrote down the recipe, which incidentally I don't have with me as I'm writing this and I stupidly forgot to take a picture of it, but it's kind of like Haitian "bouillon" in the sense that you stew the meat for about 2 hours and then add the puha, potatoes and kumara and then let it simmer for another hour. I asked him about spices and he said we didn't need any. I found that really strange and thought that it would be really bland, but I was really pleasantly surprised. The puha provided all the spice you needed. All we added was a little sea salt and it was done.

We had a delicious meal along with Alix and two young kiwis, a couple...he's 20 and she just turned 18 and they are pregnant. That's something else about New Zealand that I find really surprising. People have kids and get married really, really young here. You'll regularly find 45 year olds who are grandparents. It's so beyond me. They are cute though, and I do hope they make it.

Me and Kaianga with Alix in the background

After dinner, we went to see a movie, actually a documentary, called Rain of the Children...a true story of a Maori woman who had 14 children and lost them all. It's much more complex than that, but if you get the chance to see it, I really recommend it. Kaianga fell asleep and I was really surprised, but he said that it was a little too close to home and hadn't expected it to be so emotional so he just shut off. I can understand that. I was emotional too, yet I can't directly relate because I'm not from here.

Anyway, to go back to a more general explanation of my time there, I did not expect to have such a spiritual experience in Rotorua, meeting Kaianga as well as a French woman, Alix, at the same time. I remember sitting outside at a picnic table smoking menthols and drinking wine and then the next moment I was involved in conversations about the meaning of life, the Mayan calendar, ancestors visiting Maori tattoo artists in their sleep and finding the reason for being here... I was lightheaded by the overflow of information being exchanged. It was exhilerating and exhausting at the same time. I loved it. I have yet to find that energy since, but it has stayed with me and I'm grateful for having met them.

Kaianga suggested that I go to Hastings, a town along the east coast of the North Island, to find seasonal work and since he comes from the Mahia peninsula, not too far away from there, I figured we'd get a chance to meet again.

But again, I learned so much from him and I don't think that it's over quite yet. He also carves wood and stone and the day before I left, he gave me a piece of jade that he had found a while back. It was just waiting for the right owner and he decided that I was that owner. He told me that I needed to find someone who could make it into a necklace for me. I was honored that he would give me such a gift. I had nothing to give him in return. But I think we'll see each other again and perhaps I'll have something to give in return. He told me to trust that I would find someone to make this stone into a neckland and I did...but that's another story to come.

Rotorua on a Sunny Day

He showed me some of his carvings in the stones and also explained to me that a lot of the time, the Maori artifacts he has often come from a bartering system: he has something someone wants, like the ability to give a tattoo, or a carving and they would have something like the whale bone club above. He also plays music, including the guitar and various Maori instruments. Below, a video of a Maori flute with Kaianga playing it.


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