“They Never Taught Us This,” She Said, With Tears in her Eyes

Judy, her grandson, and Hone at the Maori ceremony.
Judy, her grandson, and Hone at the ceremony in the shrine.

“This isn’t part of the tour. You paid to take a trip on the boat and listen to me talk, but you didn’t pay for this part,” Hone told us this as he stood in the back of the long Waka, the traditional boats used in the South Pacific.  I didn’t understand why he was telling us this until later, when he again talked about how some things aren’t for sale…and some proud Maori traditions can’t be bought or sold.  What he was referring to was a moving Maori welcome, involving his grandson, a centuries old protocol, and some time inside a shrine built in the memory of his departed father.

After the greeting, being invited to come ashore by his grandson, holding a traditional spear, we entered the low slung hut and saw a statue in the back, a memory of the ancestor. As the young sturdy grandson spoke to us in Maori, next to Hone’s wife Judy, she sang, and then he  poured forth the traditional words of welcome and an invitation for us to speak.  After a few of us got up to say thank you, an older woman born in New Zealand but who now lives in Canada stood with tears in her eyes. “I never learned this, I feel so ashamed, I grew up here yet all of what you’re telling me they never taught me.” She reached for the shoulder of her friend, crying and feeling the emotion that packed this little hut with such a rich tradition–with three generations of a family all present.

Hone shows us his mapped body.
Hone shows us the language on his body, a map of the region.

It was indeed moving to share this ritual in an actual shrine, and to have paid for this indeed would have been almost blasphemous. Instead, as Hone told us, we were invited to hear their ritual, to bring not only ourselves but our own ancestor’s spirits with us, and to listen to the words of a man who doesn’t compromise.

Hone’s  body is tattooed with symbols that are map of the Bay of Islands, and as he showed us, is evidence of a written history that goes back thousands of years before the “Northern tribes” ever set foot in Aotearoa, or New Zealand.

We learned quite a bit as we paddled the big Waka, about the sailing craft that South Pacific islanders used to crisscross these vast oceans, and about how their craft were able to sail nearly into the wind. And the joke that Abel Tasman ‘discovered’ Aotearoa, since all he really did was discover the culture that had already been here for so many generations, and themselves had already discovered the land.

You can take a trip on a Waka and learn a whole lot in a few hours with Hone. Visit Taiamai Tours Heritage Journeys or call them +64 405 9990.