The second attraction that makes people come to Rotorua is a strong presence of Maori culture, mostly manifested in over-commercialised evening shows. There, tourists from “different tribes” eat Hangi, food cooked on hot stones in pits dug in the ground and watch various dances. The more famous ones are the “Poi”, where female dancers swing ball tied to the end of a cord and the “Haka”, a dramatic dance with a lot of chanting, facial movements and tongue poking.
Of course, tourists are asked to join in some Maori singing and a “chief” was appointed to present the visitors. He had to give a speech addressing the real chief of the village and do the traditional nose greeting, which is pushing each others nose and not rubbing.
Despite the fact that these dinner shows are purely aimed at large tourist crowds, we decided to dish out the 80 NZ Dollars. We followed the recommendation of our hostel and went to the Mitai Maori Village, named after the family who runs this very lucrative business.
We must say the food was excellent and the show itself tried to introduce us to traditional Maori life style, culture and weaponry. We particularly liked the part on Moko – tattoos – that traditionally mainly covered the face and the buttocks. One technique was to literally chisel (!) them into the skin, we cringed thinking of the pain this involved. Luckily, the chief who lead through most of the presentation did so with a good sense of humour and a dash of irony, so it hardly ever was embarrassing. However, this is certainly not something we would do twice.
The real lives of Maori nowadays are less spectacular, although compared to other minorities, they gained a remarkable fair representation in politics from early on. It is obvious though that Maoris do not belong to the upper crust of New Zealand’s society, especially when looking at the statistics on juvenile crime: sadly, young Maoris are over-represented.
We had hoped to buy some wood carving here in New Zealand that the Maori are so famous for. Unfortunately the pieces we liked were either too expensive or too big to be mailed off, and not that impressive at that, especially compared to what we saw for instance on the Cook Islands.