Official Opening of Mana Maori Exhibition

Trip Start Oct 18, 2010
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Flag of Netherlands  , Zuid-Holland,
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yesterday was the official opening ceremony of the Mana Maori Exhibition, in the Volkenkunde Museum, to which I was invited.

I was really looking forward to it. I must admit, that sometimes the Dutch can be a bit reserved at things like this but the New Zealand spark was ignited again within me and the Maoris went all out to show us their traditions, which I was delighted with. Being part of the ceremony and seeing the Maoris do their haka and follow their protocol really pulled on my heartstrings.

A friend of mine, Alie, came down with me on the train to Leiden. When we got there, we found out that after the official opening that was going on outside, the rest of the programme was closed to the public. Because Alie didn't have an invitation, she couldn't join me in the other part of the celebration, so we decided to meet up at 5pm at the gates, when I thought things were supposed to finish.

There was a covered, seated tent for all the people who had invitations, facing the canal and the podium. On the other side, the banks of the canal were thronged with an eagerly awaiting public. So at 3pm, the Njord crew came with the Waka Teetee Kura, followed by the Waka Taua, crewed by 15 Maori paddlers. From a distance, you could hear the deep throated "hmph, hmph" from the Maori crew, as they were singing their song, making their way to the podium. The sound of the Putatara (shell trumpet) echoed through the crowd, signaling the start of the handover of wakas. Then the ceremonial call by a female member of the Toi Maori Aotearoa organisation. The Maori women normally do a welcome song when welcoming visitors into their Marae (meeting house) or into their pa (town), so the call by this member of Toi Maori was part of their protocol.

Then the Maoris, who were standing at the podium, started to come up toward our tent, like warriors and did their haka in front of us and the distinguished guests. God I loved it. I think the haka is very primal. The power and the energy of it is so strong, you could almost reach out and touch it.

They were wearing the traditional Maori outfits made of flax and jewellery such as hei tiki. They were also wearing shorts, in this weather! Fair play to them because it was damn cold. Waana Davis, the chairperson of Toi Maori gave a speech, which was followed by the ritual greeting between the Maoris and the honoured guests, which consists of shaking hands and also the Hongi (the traditional nose greeting).

Njord Rowing crew joined the Maoris in their haka. The Maoris then said a prayer before they handed over the Waka Taua to the Njord crew, who paddled away in the Waka Taua in their full glory. Steven Engelsman, the director of the Volkenkunde Museum also did a speech, along with Pieter van Vollenhoven (who is married to Princess Margriet, sister of Queen Beatrix). Steven Engelsman was the creator of the dream to get a Maori waka made and brought it over to Leiden and made it a reality. I have a lot of respect for someone like that. It's very inspiring.

The outside programme finished at 4pm. All the people who had invitations were invited to go inside and have a drink. So I had a quick look around the exhibition, as I had arranged to meet up with Alie and another friend of mine, at 5pm. I was very impressed by what I saw, with all the interactive media they use to get the message across. Things were only just getting started at this stage and I didn't feel like going home.

So Alie, Wietske and I had a quick cup of coffee and we decided to try and get Alie in for the "after party", because I thought she would really enjoy it. We waited until Pieter van Vollenhoven left and they let Alie and I in again afterwards. Alie told me that some people on her side of the bank where the public were standing, were laughing because they didn't really understand what was going on. I can understand their reaction and even I, who have only been to 3 various Maori performances in New Zealand, am only beginning to understand their protocols.

It turned out to be a great evening. We got talking to so many people, including two of the Maori paddlers, a New Zealand artist, Lisa Reihanna and we even got talking to Waana Davis! We were also speaking to the guy who's on the cover of the invitation/website. They also provided a buffet dinner which was delicious and afterwards Steven Engelsman presented gifts to different people involved in both projects. The main rower from the Njord Rowing Club was given a gift of a Tiheru, which is a canoe bailer, for bailing out water of the canoe. But if you didn't know what it was, you might have a giggle as it looks like something else, especially when it's put standing up! The Dutch sang a song and in return, the Maoris sang one of their songs. I really enjoyed the whole evening. It was such a privilege to be part of an historic event and get the chance to meet such lovely people.

I went back to the Museum last Saturday to have a closer look at the exhibition. I thought I would only need an hour to get to see everything but I was there for 3 hours. It's such a brilliant exhibition. I think it's the best exhibition in the whole of Holland. The interactive media is excellent. Some of it is in English and some of it is in Dutch. For example, when you go in, there is a touch screen on the right , in what I call the Haka room, where a very good explanation of the haka is given by Iniah Maxwell, a haka expert. He explains in depth about the meaning behind it, the gestures in a haka and when it's used etc. Very informative.

There is also a 25 minute film called " Een waka voor Leiden, een waka voor Europa - The Making of". It's shown every half hour and every hour. Well worth watching. The exhibition is spread out over two floors so there is a lot of exploring to do. I just think it's so well done. I left there feeling totally gobsmacked at the extremely high standard of the exhibition and how well they portrayed the Maori way of life, culture, treasures, language etc. There are several short interviews with a wide range of Maori people from all walks of life, talking about the structure of their society, the importance of the family: teaching children to take care of their older and younger brothers etc. Himiona Grace Poutakawaenga (a researcher of the New Zealand film archive) talks about the land and the environment and how it's part of them. He says that it's really important for the Maoris to keep their land, that they will never sell whatever land that they own. Their respect for the environment, to me, stands out amongst any other country I've been to and I really respect that.

So I would recommend for those people who don't fully understand the Maori protocols and way of life, to go to this exhibition. It will give you a much deeper understanding of the Maori people. It's worth spending the time going through the interactive media on display there and seeing their treasures, jewellery, weaving, understanding their haka and their language. I found it a very informative and inspiring exhibition.

I'm delighted to add that this wonderful exhibition, due to its huge success, has been extended until 18th September 2011.


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