Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21st - Day Four - Kia ora! Visiting a marae

Practicum Day 4 - 10/20
hours worked: 6
hours to date: 24

It's probably hard for those of us in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania to really understand Native American culture. We might have been to the recent exhibit of artifacts at the art museum, or remember reading The Indian in the Cupboard, but tragically these are no comparison to the level of exposure that some fortunate New Zealanders are able to get to Maori culture. It may be too much to go into the back story of the Maori here but you need to know that there are places where contemporary Maori follow traditions and in the last 15 years the government has put programs in place to help bolster the practice and understanding of Maori culture and language. You can read about the Maori Language Commission here. The library's website (bilingual itself) has a page of Maori resources here.There are other programs within schools that teach bicultural and bilingual lessons. I got to experience a little bit of that today when I accompanied Daniel, the Maori services librarian, to Puna Reo Kura Marae on Waiheke island. A marae is a Maori living and meeting place where traditional culture is practiced.

Entering a marae starts with a formal welcoming process called powhiri ("wh" is pronounced as "f"). The powhiri includes speaking, singing and a welcoming gesture. The speaking parts give introductions and thanks, and also acknowledge the present deceased. There is also a part that celebrates the living: "It's great to be alive!" The singing and some of the dances are traditional songs and hakas, and the greeting is a clasping of hands and touching foreheads and noses. This shows closeness, so close that you are sharing breath. After you have been greeted this way, you are part of the marae and greet other visitors in the same way.

Here I can describe the library angle. Through Daniel, the library collaborated with a nearby elementary school and the marae to engage students on the marae. Daniel led the school's part of the powhiri and once the students were welcomed, he told stories about the origin of moko (tattoo) and explained how the library has information for them about Maori culture. In this, I saw Daniel not only represent library materials with the books that he brought, but also being an example of how some knowledge is stored in people. (Aside: Auckland City Library recognizes this through their Book a Librarian program).

Being on the marae was not so much a structured program or cultural sketch, but more of an experience of community. At first I felt trepidatious so as not to commit any unintential offense, but I quickly saw that there was a general feeling of community. There was definitely a sacred element about the place and the buildings on it. The main meeting houses are built, designed in fact, to symbolise ancestors. The top of the roof is the face, and the long beams coming down the the ground are the arms. The beam in the middle of the roof is the backbone, and the rest of the roof beams are ribs. Each rib is carved with a Maori story in it. The ribs rest on tree trunks carved with ancestors of the marae. It's all very beautiful.

There were maybe a hundred and fifty children that came to the marae to hear the stories, follow customs, learn the arts of the Maori and become part of the marae. Currently, about 1/7 th of NZ's population is Maori, and the government language initiatives have helped advance awareness of Maori culture to others. It seems like an important focus for libraries to support these Maori collaborations, both to preserve what is there now and to provide services to that part of the population.

in the staff room
hot chocolates drank: 0
hot chocolates to date: 4

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