Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I love it when you call me Te Papa

Last week we had the chance to visit New Zealand.  I absolutely loved everything about it.  From the manuka honey to free museums, from the friendly people to the crazy silver fern sphere that hangs in the middle of the civic square, Wellington won me over quickly.  So much so that I was looking at property prices.  (Don't worry mom, it's probably wishful thinking)

On Saturday morning we had some brekkie at a Mojo Cafe (there seems to be a cafe on every corner) and headed over to the Te Papa Tongarewa museum. Te Papa Tongarewa literally means 'the repository for precious things' in te reo Māori, which is the language of the Māori.  I didn't know what to expect since the museum is free.  I must say we gave a healthy donation as we left because it was worth paying to see it.

Entrance to the museum

The bottom floor focuses on native animals and plants.  New Zealand is rare in that it doesn't really have any apex predators on land outside of man.  This has led to almost flightless birds that are either extinct or going extinct because they didn't know to fly away when humans arrived.  Oh, that crazy Darwin, what did he know? That was written in sarcastic font by the way.  You see, New Zealand is the youngest area in the world to be settled.  It only happened about 800 years ago.  A paradise of riches that no one really cared about until the Māori left their other Polynesian home and sailed to Aotearoa (pronounced ow-tea-uh-row-uh).

The Māori are amazing at wood carving

Te Papa is the only museum in the world to house a Colossal Squid.  It's creepy and amazing how big these things can get.  It also has an area dedicated to earthquakes.  Wellington sits directly on top of where the Pacific plate and the Australian plate collide.  This creates daily earthquakes.  Yes, I said daily.  Apparently while we were there they had a 3.0 earthquake but I was told it doesn't count unless you feel it.  Before any event I attended they mention, "in case of earthquake...".  But most buildings and houses are earthquake ready and they are extremely prepared.

Partially because of its youth, New Zealand has managed to blend and incorporate the culture of the indigenous Māori people and in doing so have created harmony.  Unlike Australia and the United States, British settlers in New Zealand ended fighting and strife between them and the Māori with a treaty that is still in play to this day.  The Treaty of Waitangi is on display in the archives in Wellington.  It is in a darkened room and torn and tattered due to moths and fire but signifies in essence the beginning of New Zealand as a country.

The need for a treaty was probably aided in the fact that the Māori people were big, fierce warriors that were not going to go away to any reservation quietly.  If you've ever seen the Haka that the All Blacks rugby team from New Zealand do before every match you can somewhat understand what early European settlers faced.  They scare me and I love it.  Here is a video of what I'm talking about.

Today, schoolchildren have the option of learning the Māori language in school and there are even bilingual immersion programs.  When I was walking around the Carter Observatory a gaggle of little girls suddenly appeared speaking Māori and English interchangeably.  All colors, shapes and sizes speaking both languages.  It was rather inspiring.  I almost cried.  Seriously, I am that ridiculous and silly but it was so incredible seeing a little girl talk about how she is going to go to Tū-mata-uenga (Mars) in a rocket, for so many reasons.  It gives me hope for the new world.

There are three official languages of New Zealand: English, Māori and New Zealand sign language.  This means that all official documents are available in all three languages.  It is fascinating and seems to have been woven into every Kiwis DNA and identity. In contrast, the United States of America does not have any official language.  Our founding fathers did this on purpose.  The U.S. is a melting pot of many cultures and wanted to be welcoming to all languages.

In the Māori language, they use the same word for land and placenta.  It is called Whenua and shows just how close they consider the relationship between the earth and man.   Human beings are made from earth, Papatūānuku (earth mother) and after birth they actually placed the placenta and umbilical cord of this first human in a special receptacle and ritually buried it back in the earth.  Leading to the origin of an old Māori proverb: 'What is given by the land should return to the land', ‘He taonga nō te whenua, me hoki anō ki te whenua’.

This is what they place the placenta in to be buried

This being said, when they arrived they proceeded to destroy a large chunk of the forests to create space for their people to live.  When the Europeans arrived they destroyed even more so that image of rolling hills dotted with sheep is man-made.  They brought the Pākehā, sheep, along with them.

Illustration of the evolving land of Aotearoa

As you move to the upper levels of Te Papa they explore more of the Māori and other Polynesian cultures.  

A waka, the large boat they sailed on to Aotearoa

Creative hand-woven sails

They would store food in this

This place was sacred so they didn't allow pictures inside but it featured unbelievably articulate wood carvings and light.

If New Zealand was in the center of the globe. 

I found Wellington to be a breathtaking waterfront city that truly lives up to its motto; Absolutely Positively Wellington.  It's a shame Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and the namesake of the city never visited the "coolest little capital in the world".  Stay tuned for more blogs on Welly and New Zealand.

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