SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
November 27, 2015
A Visit to Pahia and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
35° 00.1’ x S 174° 25.4 ‘E
Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Yesterday class S-263 and crew arrived to the Bay of Islands and enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner aboard the Seamans with a few locals. Today we visited a town named Pahia (or "Heaven", so called for its historic church presence), and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where New Zealand's historic land and power treaty with the British crown was signed. In order to get to Pahia and the Waitangi Treaty grounds, our class and crew first lowered and boarded a motorized dinghy from the Seamans to Russel (or "Hell", so called for its brothel, bar, and tattoo parlor presence in the 18th - 19th century). We then rode a ferry to the small dock at Pahia.
Once at Pahia, it felt solid to be on land after being on swaying ground for around two weeks (it feels like months). It was also different seeing and interacting with more people than the total of around 30 on-board. Interestingly, while exploring through Pahia, our class and crew consistently bumped into one another, either purchasing food from local grocery stores, ordering a meal at a local restaurant, ordering some coffee (and using highly sought after Wi-Fi) at coffee shops, asking for information at kiosks, or simply ambling about the town. It felt like experiencing a new place with tens of familiar people sharing the experience alongside.
After exploring Pahia, our class, crew, and professor of Maritime History walked along the Pahia coast over to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. We passed shell-full beaches overlooking a rolling island landscape, a series of hostels, motels, and hotels, and enjoyed our company as we talked. Seeing all of the shops, accommodations, and marketing for tours, I couldn't help but think of the presence of the tourism economy in Pahia. I suppose this presence is similar to many other cities and towns near historic sites.
At the entrance of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, we were welcomed by two Maori people in Kiwi cloaks, purchased our tickets from the service desk representative, and were greeted by a humorous, self-deprecating tour guide. The guide shared information on the significance of local animals and vegetation, such as the kiwi and kauri tree; he offered a narrative of the relationship between British colonials and Maori; he described the significance of a more than 100 person Maori war canoe; and even finished with an encouragement to live everyday as fully as possible. Likeable guy.
I think the most interesting part of our day trip was a ritual performed by six Maori people in front and inside a meeting house. As far as I could tell, the idea was to first introduce a chief--a member of the audience--and his tribe--the audience--through a test of resolve and fearlessness. The six Maori performer's spear danced. chanted, and performed other symbolic acts as the audience watched. Ultimately, our "tribe" was allowed into the meeting house, our "chief" gave a speech thanking the six Maori for allowing us space inside the meeting house, and we were introduced to more of Maori dance, music, chanting, weaponry, games, and other culture through a series of dances, singing, displays of control with speaks and thin, sharp clubs, and other performances.
I'm sure the class and the rest of the audience had their own opinions and impressions on the performance. Personally, I wasn't quite sure what to think. In many instances, what appeared to me as the most vocal of the performers mentioned, "We, the Maori People.", which lead me to think whether it's accurate to say whether all of one sub-set people do one thing or another, or if it's more accurate to say, for example, many Maori people, or some Americans, or, a few Kiwi's. Using more specific phrasing seems more inclusive of diversity of opinion in a presentation. Likely even more specific would be quantitative phrasing, though that would likely be less engaging in a performance that is likely meant to be simplified. Anyway, the six performances were very skilled in their dancing, spear handling, club handling, guitar playing, and had strong stage presence. They seemed like amiable individuals. I did wonder what their life is like outside of working in the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. I wondered where they live, what they think of the Treaty Grounds' representation of Maori culture, what their families are like, etc. I wasn't quite sure how to ask these personal questions without appearing rude, so I did not, and that was that.
My final impression is that culture is a difficult and nuanced topic to talk about and understand--but that it is essential to learn more about it so that we can act with understanding and compassion toward other humans.
Thanks for reading and hope that's helpful,