During my travels I have been hit with some surprising (and frankly not so surprising visceral reactions. I can’t always call these moments epiphanies, as often I do not instantly understand why I am having these powerful emotional and/or spiritual moments.
As is my wont after these experiences I go off into lots of research, reflection and introspection. Many times, I cannot find enlightenment – however I am always grateful to have been moved so intensely.
For example, my readers will recall my admission that whenever I am at the edge of the Grand Canyon, I cry. Or my physical shaking during my walk through the Choeung Ek Memorial for The Killing Fields in Cambodia. I have also heard a baby crying while inside the tomb of a Pharoah’s Queen, learning later that her mummified infant also shared her final resting place in this world.
I have chanted Native American poems during an inipi ceremony in a sweat lodge in New Mexico, searching for my inner spirit animal – and nearby coyotes howled a return to my call. I have even had an out-of-body experience (no drugs involved) of flying with eagles during a meditative “unwinding” session. That was kind of cool.
it was during a Maori “Haka” performance in New Zealand’s Queenstown that I was hit again. Here’s a little background.
When stranger(s) approach a Maori tribe, the villagers don’t know if he/she/they is/are a friend or foe, so they perform a very stylized ceremony called a “powhiri” involving speeches, dancing, singing – and it starts with a challenge, or “wero.” A brave warrior approaches the strangers(“manuhiri) with menacing expressions, often carrying a spear to check to see whether the manuhiri come in peace.
You will probably recognize the wero, especially if you are a fan of New Zealand’s sports teams, who often try to intimidate their rivals with this admittedly terrifying display:
Here is a longer version with a bit of translation:
After this display a warrior will place a small token – a small branch or stone – at the feet of the manuhiri. If the manuhiri picks up the offering it is a sign of peace. The warrior and manuhiri greet each other the ceremonial touching of noses, called the “hongi.”
As scary as this warrior dance is, it was not the stimulus for my reaction. Read on.
An older woman takes center stage and sings a “karanga” which is a call to the manuhiri to join the hosts. I have looked for hours for a video of this song, for this is what gave me chills and brought me to tears. It is sung in a minor key with a tremulous, plaintive voice while constantly shaking hands. The sound is heartbreaking.
Fortunately, the ceremony continues with dancing and singing:
Included is this energetic synchronized dancing using a poi (ball) strung on a long rope:
Lenore was the bravest of our duo when volunteers were asked to go on stage and learn a poi dance – I stayed in the audience as videographer – although Lenore lost her poi, she kept her poise. Our guide Tia also went up – but I think she was a ringer since she had previous experience as a poi dancer:
I hope you will watch this next video, for it sums up why this Haka welcome ceremony and my entire adventure in Aotearoa touched me so deeply: