In my posts about New Zealand I promised to come back to talk about the power of Maori culture in New Zealand. Because what we experienced there was pretty powerful and deserves a post of it’s own.

And even now, as I sit here looking back at pictures and watching these videos, I am teary-eyed.

Because it’s just so beautiful to belong.

Everyone needs to know that they matter.

And when you have a powerful cultural tradition, that belonging becomes part of the air you breathe and the fiber of who you become.

This makes me think much more deeply about the power of FAMILY CULTURE as well. It is powerful. And what we do to create it matters.

Three cultural experiences we had in New Zealand

There were three specific instances on our trip where I really felt the power of culture deep in my soul. Some of my new “waka canoe friends” explained that the Maori culture had been fading away, enveloped by Western culture. But that there is a resurgence of appreciation for Maori culture. People are going back to school to learn the language. People are realizing they need culture. It is part of them. And those customs and traditions are something to be proud of.

1) New Zealand Hangi

The first of the three powerful experiences was at the “Hangi” where we were encircled in by the friends of our awesome tour guide, Pete.

I explained how they cooked us delicious food in the “hangi,” a big Māori tradition:

And how they made us feel so welcome.

I love that the patriarch of the family stood up to welcome us, and spoke only in Maori, not English.

The depth of Māori culture we experienced wasn’t from where we sat (we just gathered in a large shed), or what was worn (there were no fancy outfits).

But that culture was wrapped all around us because of the love that was woven into the dances and singing they shared.

Maori songs shared at the hangi

After eating and visiting, they cleared out the tables and gathered everyone together.

I want you to watch these videos and see if you can not tear up at the love that comes through the screen. Let me know if you can feel it: the dads and brothers in the back with their “growls” and bass “accompaniment” and the girls who have obviously done this a time or two. The smiles and the genuine enjoyment of them all. Enjoyment to share something that they love that binds them together.

Did they realize that in sharing they were binding us to them as well?

Don’t get so distracted with the awesome balls in the front of this one that you forget to notice those amazing boys/dads in the back. I could almost feel their love pulling the song along.

You can just tell not only that everyone knows the songs and actions so well, they are actually enjoying it.

New Zealand Haka

And then I’ll wrap it up with this one. In case you’re wondering, the haka performed in New Zealand is a deep part of Māori culture. It has been passed down through generations and reflects the unique history, traditions, and identity of the Māori people. The Ha’a performed in Hawaii is an adaptation of the haka from New Zealand. (More about that over here.)

Seriously, it makes me cry to watch. Gosh, what is wrong with me?

Can you just feel the love? And the beauty of culture?

I can.

Music that binds cultures together

It made us wonder about singing and dance in our culture here in the U.S. Do we have it? Do we need to be more passionate when we sing the national anthem? What are our specific customs?

And also, it made me think, what is my family culture? Sure, we used to sing at FHE with the kids growing up. Maybe “Give Said the Little Stream” is our “anthem.”

I still remember being on a road trip with my dad growing up. We were making up words to a new family song. It is still one that we all remember…well, we have a few family songs. Is that part of the culture that glued us together so well? Maybe.

Just some things to think about.

2) The Waka Canoe

The next deep cultural experience was when we got to head out in the waka canoe. We learned the chants and beauty of how they row, so united.

The three Maori men who were teaching us, and guiding us, had each previously been afflicted with addictions and really hard lives. In individual conversations we got talking deeper and each explained how they had found belonging and meaning in life by finding their Maori roots.

These men were able to crawl out of incredibly difficult situations by finding out where they came from and how they belong. My favorite thing was sitting with Julie in the back with Kevin (pronounced “Keevin” with the accent) sitting behind, steering us. He filled us up with so much about his life in between the times while we were paddling our hearts out.

Some things I learned

  • There is a draw for Maori people (about 1/3 of the inhabitants of New Zealand) to get back to their roots. The Maori language was starting to be lost, and now people are actually going back to school to learn it again.
  • I love that Kevin told us a little of his past life and how he went through some addiction programs to help himself heal. He talked about how he felt like his disfunction came because he wasn’t connected. Connection is so important and there is connection in everything in Maori culture.
  • There’s connection to the earth. I love how they talked about the earth and how it has so much power to wrap around us and make us whole.
  • We learned that the “IWI” is the overarching tribe and symbolizes
  • “HAPU” is the extended family and community and symbolizes pregnancy.
  • “WHANAU” is family and is pronounced “fa-no” or “far no” as in don’t be far from each other. It’s a symbol of the placenta.
  • Kevin was kind of adopted into this tribe through marriage, and I love that he said: “As I’ve joined this family I’ve learned everything to be able to hold myself in high esteem.”

I’m telling you, culture is healing.

Ancestors calling

When we rowed past this island the chants of the rowing echoed back to us. I LOVED how the men told us they like to think the echos are our ancestors “answering” us.

And somehow that really spoke to me…I do actually believe it. I love to think about those who have gone before cheering us on from another dimension. My Grandma Hazel whispering to my children that they CAN do the impossible. I love to think of my Grandpa Dean whispering that “love surpasses everything else.”

Through Grammie Camps all the grandkids in our family know stories of those who have gone before. That they have paved the way for our own life to be so different.

And I love to think that our own choices here and now will impact future generations.

What we do matters.

Every day, we are creating a bold new heritage.

I love how those men guiding us on that waka canoe are doing just that.

Oh so much to think about.

Here’s my friend Kevin:

It takes knowing where we come from. The sacrifices of our ancestors who have gone before. There are such powerful links as it explains in Malachi.

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Malachi 4: 5-6

We need these links of ancestry. There is so much more than just us living here in this moment of time. So much trailing behind, and so much to build for in the future.

I love that when we feel connected we have so much more power, like Kevin, to hold ourselves in high esteem.

3) My Mountain-Top Epiphany about Ancestors

The third deep cultural experience I had in New Zealand was on our last morning. With our last few hours, Dave hiked up the gondola mountain with me again. We sat there together at a table overlooking God’s incredible creations stretching out below.

I opened some emails as we waited for friends to join us, and found the one from my mom about going to the temple with family names the next week. My heart instantly related it back to my ancestor experience in the Waka Canoes with Kevin back on the North Island.

As I wrote an email back about it I just got so filled with the power of connection with ancestors. I don’t know what in the world came over me, but I just started explaining my feelings to Dave and started bawling. Like, literally ugly crying, and I couldn’t stop.

My heart was swelling with thinking of my ancestors who have gone before and the powerful chain of love I feel with them. The power of the opportunity we have to do temple work for them. And the power of knowing that we belong to this chain of other human beings who have gone before. And also who will come after we are gone.

We are all interrelated.

Dave was looking at me like I was a crazy person, but oh I felt that love so deeply. I hope I never forget that feeling of being so cradled in love of ancestors that took over my heart sitting at that table at the top of that gorgeous mountain that day.

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