War dance in New Zealand parliament: Who are Maoris, where to experience their culture?

Hana Rawhiti Maipi Clarke performs 'haka' in New Zealand Parliament (left). Presentation in the city of Rotorua, New Zealand, about Maori culture, their customs and traditions (right). Photo: iStock/MaRabelo

An ancient ‘war cry’ shook the New Zealand parliament recently when the country’s youngest MP delivered her first speech and it also took the internet by storm. Hana Rawhiti Maipi Clarke, 21, who belongs to the country’s native Maori community, started her inaugural address with a ‘Maori Haka’ performance – a ceremonial war dance – pledging her commitment to her people.

The youngster, who calls herself a guardian of the Maori language, is also the youngest MP of New Zealand in 170 years. But, who are the Maoris? And where can travelers understand and experience their community?

The Maori people
They are the indigenous Polynesian community of New Zealand, with a rich, distinct culture. They speak ‘Te Reo Maori,’ and have many tribes and sub-tribes with individual histories, customs, territory, and more. Historically, there were many conflicts between the European settlers and the Maori people in New Zealand and activists from the community are increasingly making efforts to preserve their rights, culture and language. Hana’s ‘haka’ was a similar attempt.

Where to experience Maori culture?
There are quite a few places in New Zealand ranging from museums, villages, historical sites and cultural performance avenues where you get to understand this ancient culture. Here are a few options:
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum: It is the national museum of New Zealand and offers a comprehensive display of Māori artifacts, art, and cultural exhibits. The name of the museum means ‘container of treasures’ in Maori language. The museum is in Wellington, the capital of the country.

Tamaki Māori Village in Rotorua: Rotorua is known for its bubbling mud pools, natural hot springs, and many similar geothermal attractions. Visitors can also participate in a traditional Māori feast (hangi), enjoy cultural performances, and learn about ancient customs here. It is on the North Island of New Zealand.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Around 3 hours from Auckland, this historical site in the North Island is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The treaty was a contract of respect between the Maori people and the British. The spot has traditional waka (canoe) displays, a carved meeting house, and cultural performances.

Haka Experience: ‘Haka’ is the traditional war dance of the Maori people. Many tourist destinations, especially in Rotorua and Queenstown, offer Haka experiences where you can learn about the significance of the dance, witness live performances, and even participate in a haka workshop.

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