Gentlemen, Lets Broaden Our Minds!

“So, why do you guys keep saying you’re from different countries all the time?” I looked at the Canadian girl who’d just asked me where I was from, sat opposite me in Curly’s Bar in Waitomo. She sipped her Bacardi and cola though a straw with an expectant look on her face. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you just said you were from Great Britain, that guy just said ‘The UK’, and someone told me they were from England. How come you’re all from different places when it’s all the same island?” I tried to explain that it was just easier than saying ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,’ that Great Britain is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. She tried following me for half of the sentence when she said “So, England is a state in the UK, why isn’t Northern Ireland?”

“No, England is a country, we don’t have states.”

“But you just said it was part of the United Kingdom, so doesn’t that mean it’s a state? And where is Great Britain?”

“It’s the same island, it’s what we call England, Scotland and Wales collectively.” She thought of this for a moment, it was probably the longest her brain had concentrated on something since the last time she had bought shoes.

“Why not Northern Ireland, what’s a matter with those guys?” There the fuse burst, it no longer interested her “You should just settle on one name, like Canada or the States. It’s just bullshit calling it all those different names. Confusing.” I nodded sagely at her, but couldn’t let it finish there.

“You know the Queen, that lady on the front of your money? She’s your head of state. She’s English and she lives in England. That means technically, we run your country.”

So far, that is the dumbest person I’ve met. Everyone else has had some degree of education, including the one and only American I met in Franz Joseph. I was impressed by him, he could get his head around a point of view that was completely alien to what even he said was unthinkable to the average American, that one of the reasons their revolution was successful was because we had bigger problems with France at the same time. I wonder why I’ve not met many Americans, I have heard they travel around in groups so maybe I just haven’t been in the same hostel, bar etc.

In New Zealand there are many museums, usually telling the story of the town in which it is situated. There are loads of car shows, boat shows, cinemas, theatres and libraries. I knew that the first people to arrive on New Zealand were the Maori, and that all of the place names have a Maori equivalent. School children are taught how to do the Haka, (you’ll know it as that strange dance the All Blacks perform before a Rugby match) and learn the stories those people. They are believed to have descended from the peoples of Polynesian Islands, but their real homeland has been forgotten in the mists of time. They came to New Zealand around six to seven hundred years before Captain Cook, but had no written language to make note of the date. Their stories were past down the generations by word of mouth only, much of it told by their music. Other than the odd one or two people I’ve seen walking around with elaborate facial tattoos, I haven’t come across any of the Maori people in the South Island and very few in the North. Until the bus pulled up in Rotorua, that is.

Situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua, and part of an area known as the Bay of Plenty, this town is regarded as the cultural capital of New Zealand. As you head into town, regardless of your mode of transport, the first thing that springs to mind is ‘Who farted?’ This is because Rotorua is a sulphurous geothermal hotspot, all of the springs, ponds and even the swimming pool in the hostel I was camping at, are heated by hot water bubbling from the ground. Like at Hot Water Beach, the town is surrounded by volcanos, the last one of which to erupt was Mount Tarawera on the 10th June 1886. The atmosphere has a background whiff of rotten eggs, but you soon get used to it and hardly even notice after a while. The driver of the Kiwi Experience bus took us on a brief tour of the town, pointing out the steaming pools, the lake front, and the many spas in the area. He also pointed out the main museum, a converted health resort for the Victorian elite, and handed out leaflets for a trip to a Maori village. Since the only history I had seen so far was of the British and European kind, I thought it would be a good idea to see how the natives lived. (www.tamakimaorivillage.co.nz)

It was also an excuse to dress smartly, time to stick on the shirt and trousers and have a shave. It was a Saturday night after all and included in the (not cheap) tour was a sit down meal, so I thought it would have people thinking the same way and attempt to dress slightly smarter than they did. Ho-hum. The bus to the village was bang on time, the driver greeted me with a big Kia Ora (Hello & Good bye) and from here on in the words get complicated for my spell checker, so I’m switching it off. As we were driven on the waka (any mode of transport) towards the marae (village) the korotiwaka (driver, or guide) asked us to choose a chief from among us to represent our group during the powhiri (formal welcome). We were instructed that during this part of the ceremony it was important not to smile, laugh or stick out your tongue (look serious in the face of possible hilarity). The marae was fortified using large logs taken from the local trees (if I was storming the place, a chainsaw or heavy calibre machine gun would be in order) and we were guided in to a courtyard at the entrance. Our chiefs (three buses, so three chiefs) were invited to step forward, and from the gate to the marae a tattooed warrior appeared holding a taiaha (spear – like weapon). He performed an impressive display of weapon skills, much twirling and jumping around (no smiling) as he went through the Te Wero (the challenge of peace, and no thinking of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark were Indy just shoots the bloke with the sword, and for god’s sake, no smiling). When the teka (peace offering, a frond of leaves) was accepted and the hongi (pressing of noses, a welcome gesture for the chiefs only) was performed, we were allowed to smile again. After the karanga (welcome call) echoed through the trees, we entered their village through one of three entrances. I asked one of the locals why they had three entrances, to be told that it was for the sacred art of getting more people into the village. Inside the marae, the people of the Ngati Tama (name of the tribe) were displaying wood work skills, dancing, games and many things in the same sort of fashion as you’d find at a medieval re-enactment. The people were friendly, funny and informative, trying to teach us the haka and the words that go with it. Soon though, my stomach reminded me that I had not eaten since mid-day and it came time for the hangi (feast, earth oven). We were shown toward a mound of earth and our chiefs were each given a spade so they could dig up our dinner from the ground. Chicken, Lamb, Fish (including Mussels), vegetables and sweet potatoes were on the menu tonight. This was all whisked away to be prepared whilst we were taken through to the wharenui (the big house) and more stories and dancing were performed. It was all good, but I was really getting hungry (bloody starvin’ mate) and by the end of it I was ready to eat the small child who had been wailing all through the performance next to me. Finally, we were shepherded through to the wharekai (the food house) and when the food was blessed with a karakia (prayer), the host asked if there were any English, Scottish, Welsh or Australians amongst their manuhiri (us, the guests). There was, and we were told that the bar (a simple word meaning a place were delightful beverages containing ingredients such as water, hops, yeast and barley could be purchased for amounts ranging from reasonable to gob smackingly expensive) was over in the corner. What was he trying to suggest? I bought my beer, the Germans and Dutch on my table settled with the water provided free. Their loss, I don’t mind re-enforcing a stereotype if it means I can enjoy the meal better. It was an all you can eat buffet and the last time I had stuffed my cake hole that much was at Christmas, the meat fell off the bone and melted in the mouth with the flavours infused by the earth oven. It was poles apart from the canned stuff I’d been living on for the past few weeks, real meat for a change.

As the night came to an end, the tribe finished with the poroporaki (closing ceremony) which involved waiata (songs) and the closing whaikorero (speeches) wishing us a safe journey home. We jumped back on the waka and were driven home happy; stuffed and in my case, tired (knackered). Previous to this the only things I knew of the Maori were from what I’d been told by the people I’ve met and things I read in the newspapers. They’ve been painted as lazy, drunken (a great road safety advert about drink driving uses Maori actors), money grabbing (if a water demon is seen on land that is about to be developed, a payment of up to ten thousand dollars to the local tribe leader will make it go away) and always complaining they are not being represented (even though they have a set number of parliamentary seats reserved only for people of Maori heritage). These things are all probably true, but then all cultures at some point can be accused of the same things. I visited the museum the next day to find there was a Maori regiment of the kiwi army fighting for King and Country during both world wars, and many other details of the history including the ‘Musket Wars.’ This was a period where, simply put, one tribe bought a load of muskets from the European settlers and went on to massacre another tribe. You can draw parallels between Maori history and the history of countries all over the world.

Whenever I enter a museum, I always want to stop in the doorway and say “Gentlemen, let’s broaden our minds, Lawrence!” upon which the hoodlum with stereo on his shoulder switches on the music and we begin to trash the place. Those who don’t know the reference, it’s how the Joker enters the Gotham City museum in the Batman film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Whilst I agree it would be great fun doing that, I can’t help but think that people like the Canadian girl I met in Waitomo should be strapped to a chair and have her eyes forced open in a style similar to that in A Clockwork Orange. Then she can be wheeled about the place and maybe learn something.

Mini Count :- 35 not many spotted on the North Island.

Sorry, Google Earth has stopped putting the longitude and latitude of what you’re looking at. Until I can find them again, you’ll just have to look up the town.

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About Steven R Harrison

Greetings! Thank you for having a look at my blog. On here you will find my epic adventure around New Zealand that I undertook in 2011-12, now available to buy with more pictures and in hard back entitled 'Blogs, Bikes & Jelly Beans' from Lulu.com and Amazon. Since returning to Blighty I have been writing my next novel, Attack of the Atomic Airships, which will soon be available to buy from all the usual channels. For now though, since my travelling days are 'on hold' for the time being, I hope you will enjoy some 'Flash Fiction,' that is, fiction of around 1000 words or less. The subjects are varied, but usually gravitate toward SF. The first one is called Continue? Yes / No. I hope you enjoy it!
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