We gathered together early on Thursday 2 of Feb. to begin our Fulbright New Zealand Orientation. This included all of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Recipients (6 of us) as well as the Fulbright Scholars, Fulbright Graduate Students and the Ian Axford Public Policy Fellows. All together there were 22 of us awardees at the orientation. Our orientation began with a welcome and introductions by the Fulbright NZ staff, and we each introduced ourselves, of course with our name, where we were from, and sharing an interesting story about our name. It was fascinating to hear stories about peoples names – what a great way to have a group introduce themselves!
(It doesn’t hurt that as “Merry” not Mary, I do have a pretty neat story to share)
Our first presentation was a Snapshot of NZ Culture and History, lead by Dr. Jock Phillips. Jock did a great job of giving us an overview of significant events in NZ history – NZ – like the US, has a relatively new history – but certainly fascinating, and the history of New Zealand is an essential background to understanding the significance of Maori and Polynesian cultures and their impact on New Zealand. Jock is the former general editor of Te Ara, a general encyclopedia of New Zealand – which is quite fascinating. This snapshot from Te Ara is a great overview of what Jock shared with us.
After Jock’s presentation we had lunch – let me just tell you – Fulbright NZ fed us well. It felt like we were always having lunch or tea or snacks!
Following lunch we had a presentation titled “The peopling of Polynesia: An Introduction to New Zealand and Polynesia Histories” led by Amber Kiri Aranui, a repatriation researcher at Te Papa Tongarewa (The National Museum of New Zealand). Amber’s talk was a fascinating lecture on the settlement of the Polynesian islands (forming a triangle from Hawaii to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to New Zealand) all connected by similar bloodlines, traditions and language. She drew a distinction between Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, which was quite helpful for me as I begin to understand the interconnectedness of the first peoples of these lands. If you want to learn more, check out http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/pacific-migrations or even https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesia (The maps are great visuals for understanding the journey of these ancient peoples).
Following Amber’s presentation we had a session lead by TP (Te Puoho) Katene. It served as an overview of basics of the Maori Language, pronunciation, protocols and the ceremonial aspects that we would encounter at the Waiwhetu Marae. TP’s session was helpful, fascinating and most beneficial. He even helped us learn our waiata – a song we sing as a part of the Powhiri (Welcoming Ceremony), “E hara I te mea” – you can have a listen here, if you would like.
The Powhiri is difficult to explain, but a lovely experience. This page explains the elements of the Powhiri, there are quite a few videos if you are interested, but there was something magical about being in that space, hearing the ancient chants and becoming a part of such a rich tradition. The Hongi – or sharing of breath as you touch noses- is a key element – and was deeply touching as well.
The people of Waiwhetu were absolutely lovely, and welcoming and the entire stay was just a joy! They welcomed us to their meeting house, allowed us to visit Te Maori (their treasure room) and we were even able to get in a try our the Waka (canoes).
In our time at Waiwhetu we learned about their steps to develop a strategic plan to create a sustainable future for their community, as well as what they see as important for their people to continue to thrive and flourish. The dedication, passion and excitement that the have for their Marae is absolutely touching. We spent the night in the Marae, and the following morning we were treated to a timely presentation on the Treaty of Waitangi, which was quite timely, given that Waitangi Day is February 6th.
Following this it was time for our Poroporoaki (or farewell) and we were to sing a song to thank the Maori for their hospitality and as a farewell. We selected “We are the World” which was a very appropriate song to share, if difficult to sing. If you would like to join me in having the song stuck in your head, please refresh your memory – it is a lovely song. We only sang the first bit.
We then journeyed back to Fulbright NZ’s office where we had a brief session on Award details and logistics, then had free time – we were given the opportunity to tour NZ parliament, so I decided that was the way to go. NZ parliament buildings were lovely (no cameras allowed, however) and our tour guide was fantastic. The buildings reminded me of an interesting mix between the new and the old – with lots of nods to British architecture, as well as some modern flare, much like what I saw at the Reichstag in Berlin.
Following this time we had a Reception at Fulbright New Zealand – it was great to mix and mingle with alumni, board members, university sponsors and other who are engaged and interested in the Fulbright NZ community. Following the reception the Fulbright Teachers all had a lovely dinner at Wagamama on the waterfront to cap off our orientation experience.
All in all – my head is full of facts about NZ culture, history and the rights and struggles of the indigenous peoples, and I feel much more culturally aware, prepared and educated.