TRIBES GATHER AT ROTORUA
It has now become traditional for the Maori people to entertain Royalty at grand functions at Rotorua. In January almost 1000 performers gave haka, poi, and action song items in honour of the Queen, while over 10,000 supporters applauded them. Such giant gatherings have, in the past, been held only to honour Royalty, and in the future it will most probably be the same.
All the tribes selected to perform at Rotorua were able to put forward well-trained, ably-led parties, still imbued with the spirit of Maori dancing. Arawa and Ngati Tuwharetoa put on a fierce and exciting peruperu; the haka, not only of the Ngati Porou, but also of the Aotea people were powerful and impressive; among the traditional and ancient items, the magnificent chanting of the Poi Aotea by the women of Taihauauru, aroused the admiration not only of the Queen, but also of the entire audience. It was a good idea of the organizers to alternate these traditional items with lively, modern, occasional songs, such as performed by the 300-strong combined Arawa Poi and the Mataatua parties.
It says much for the richness and variety of the programme, and the uniformly high standard of performance, that the dancers could captivate such a huge open-air audience for two hours. This could be done only by dancers who put all they had into their performance.
The organizers of the Rotorua reception followed the precedent of previous receptions in most matters. We must be grateful that, as on previous
Led by their paramount chief, Mr Hepi Te Heuheu, Ngati Tuwharetoa are rehearsing their items at the school grounds, Whakarewarewa.
occasions, the performers and many of the visitors were left in camps for a few days. Those days were delightful, and ensured that the people had time to return to the traditional spirit in the midst of their own tribe, before going to Arawa Park. On earlier Royal Tour receptions, Arawa Park had been used as a Maori camp; this time, fourteen maraes within a ten-mile radius of Rotorua were used to quarter 4000 performers and visitors. This complicated the task facing the organizers, but Te Ao Hou, invited by the Aotea group to stay at Kearoa Pa, Horohoro, found conditions very pleasant.
Before being allowed to enter Kearoa, guests had to placate a local taniwha, situated next to the Horohoro School, with a spring of manuka.
West Coast women in ancient dress emerge from modern style army tents at Kearoa marae, Horohoro, to rehearse fine old poi dance which made a deep impression at the Rotorua reception.
(Photo: John Ashton)
The camp we found an array of neat little army bell tents erected for the occasion, plenty of straw, palliasses, and all other necessities. Kearoa was one of the two places that had become host maraes at the last moment; the hosts had generously allowed us to stay there when accommodation became short, but the marae had to be specially equipped to hold so large a number. A temporary dining-hall was built and various extra sanitary facilities, and when we came, all amenities had been installed. It looked simple, yet this small instance revealed the enormous organization this Maori reception required. To avoid complicating things even more, we had been asked to bring our own crockery and cutlery, and do our own washing-up. It reminded us of army days; yet we thought that, under the circumstances, the arrangement was excellent. It had been intended from the first not to burden the hosts too much; after all, they should be able to enjoy the Queen's visit as much as we did. We managed by doing a few things ourselves to avoid having large, overworked fatigue parties, leaving the performers free to train, and most of the others to relax. From what we heard the arrangements between hosts and guests in the other maraes were just as good; we heard that, particularly, the Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Tuhoerangi got on famously at Whakarewarewa.
So New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were spent lying in the burning sun or rehearsing; on January 2 we all arrived at Arawa Park early for the general rehearsal, which went very well, except for the desire of some of the haka parties to eat one or two of the press photographers who were too fond of close-ups. (Te Ao Hou's photographer kept at a respectful distance.)
The marae specially designed for the reception was in most respects quite adequate. Seating accommodation had been planned for 9,000 people; there was ample space on the grass in front of the stands for the schoolchildren, and most of us had a good view of the performances. Unfortunately, the Aotea people, who suffered most from the sudden
Tribal leader gives a stirring speech to members of the Taihauauru party before they depart from Kearoa marae, Horohoro, for Arawa Park on the morning of the reception.
(Photo: John Ashton)
Everybody went home satisfied, however. The day had undoubtedly been exciting. We shall all long remember the highlights—the Queen not flinching from the fierce challenges, and concluding her speech with the Maori words, ‘Kia ora Koutou’; Bishop Panapa laying the korowai around her shoulders, and at the end the wonderful performance of Ruaumoko—a worthy farewell from the Maori people.
More pictures of Maori receptions will be offered in the next issue of Te Ao Hou.
Her Majesty studies the official programme in which the significance of the various rituals of welcome were explained.
(Photos: National Publicity Studios)