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Katie Byers

Understanding the Culture

by Katie Byers | Apr 07, 2017

Kia Ora, Spartans!

This past weekend I got a really unique and special experience with some locals in New Zealand. The native people here are called Māori and they are a Pacific Island culture that would be the equivalent to our Native Americans. New Zealand cherishes & incorporates native culture into their everyday life much more than in the United States. Depending on the geographical location of where you were born and live, you belong to different tribes broken down into iwi, hapū and whānau.

This weekend I stayed at a traditional marae called Puketeraki from the iwi in Waikouaiti. A marae is a sacred meetinghouse for those belonging in the iwi to gather and hold various types of ceremonies, anywhere from graduations to funerals. Once we got there, we started with a ceremony called pōwhiri, which is a traditional welcoming to a marae. There is a very specific and respectful way to go through these ceremonies. Shoes and kai (food) are not allowed in the main room ever and cameras are not allowed inside during the ceremony.

Katie Byers
Katie Byers

One very symbolic part of the pōwhiti is the hongi, which is when the guests and those on the marae press their foreheads and noses together and share a breath. This symbolizes bringing together their knowledge and sharing a breath of life. Once the welcome is over, you are considered whānau (family) of the marae. We then shared kai (food). The food was delicious and all homemade (which was awesome because I haven’t had a good home-cooked meal in a while)!

After lunch we went out to the Waikouaiti Bay and dug up some weeds and replaced them with native plants. In order to get to the area with the plants, we rowed waka (canoes) and paddle boarded over. Then we stayed on the bay and hung out until dinner. Another big rule is that you are never late for a meal out of respect for the cooks. When you are called for dinner, you must be there immediately. After dinner we learned some traditional weaving and made our own flowers out of harakeke. Then we spent the rest of the night and the next day at the marae learning traditional games and songs. Right before we left we also got to experience Huriawa which is the nature preserve right in front of the marae.

Katie Byers

This weekend was one that I will never forget. Learning about another culture and getting to be completely immersed in it is one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had since being here.  

Katie Byers '18 is a biology-chemistry major & business minor. A member of the women's basketball team, she plans to study abroad in New Zealand in Spring 2017, and her dream job is to work at an orthopedic hospital. 

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