October 26, 2008 – Glistening Waters Storytelling Festival, New Zealand
Kia Ora, everyone. We’re growing accustomed to hearing the Maori greeting, even among the non-Maori population.
Indigenous Aotearoans (New Zealanders) experience the same issues so common in colonized countries – unemployment, family violence, addictions – but they seem to be moving along the path to partnership with the descendants of the settlers.
We experienced some of that at the Glistening Waters Storytelling Festival. The festival committee very kindly included us in the Maori welcome arranged for the visiting tellers. (I should have taken notes since I don’t know the names for things and don’t have easy access to Internet to check them out. Feel free to post corrections!)
The greeting was at the Town Hall instead of a Maori meeting house, but we were still led into the room and seated as honoured guests, across from gathered dignitaries and the waiting audience. Men took the front row, women behind.
After the traditional welcome (not translated, as it generally is for Canadian gatherings), we were treated to a performance by youth from two schools. Their proud families understood the words. We had to content ourselves with the spirit.
The official ceremony ended with a hongi. Visitors lined up to press noses with dignitaries, a gesture of welcome many Maori have replaced with cheek kissing.
The young people had prepared a play about the importance of teaching Maori culture in order to combat endemic family violence. Then they performed a haka that would have sounded fierce to enemies, extending their tongues, opening their eyes so that the whites showed, thumping their chests, shouting their challenge. They were answered by young people in the audience, who gathered on one side of the room, facing the stage and shouting out their own aggressive chant.
When the haka ended, the mostly Maori audience burst into applause. These young people are growing up fluent in their language and proud of their culture.
Foodies take note. The refreshments we were served would have made you proud: lots of fresh fruit and cheese. Not a Tim Bit in sight.
The festival started that evening with a Kiwi dinner – lamb and pork roasts, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, roast potatoes and gravy, creamed cauliflower and broccoli. Both New Zealand and Australia claim to have created the Pavlova we had for dessert, along with trifle, fruit salad, and heaps of whipped cream.
As for the Pavlova, whoever invented it clearly loved sugar. It’s basically a meringue, thick or thin, topped with slices of kiwi and a passion fruit sauce. I gave it a try, but in future I’ll probably give it a pass.
We don’t have any photos of the festival itself. We had permission to film the Maori welcome, but festival etiquette requires all recording devices be turned off and tucked out of sight.
Hard to capture stories with snapshots anyway. Glistening Waters is a small festival with an enormous heart. A tiny committee worked an incredible number of hours to organize it. Seeing how few people did all the work, we were even more impressed by how quickly they had responded to any of our e-mails and how warmly they welcomed us even before we arrived. During the festival, no matter how busy they were, how many questions they were answering or minor crises they were attending to, they were unfailingly friendly and hospitable.
Maori tellers Apirana Taylor and Hera Taute gave strong bi-lingual performers. [Google Apirana, and you’ll find his impressive credits as a poet and writer.] They also worked for six weeks before the festival to train a group of Maori youth.
Two of the performers were from the States – Izzi Tooinsky and Dovie Thomason. Another, Lethea Erz, moved to Golden Bay from Oregon years ago, and emcee and song leader Mary-Alice Arthur left Indiana for Wellington 25 years ago.
Two of the tellers have Canadian connections. Kath Worsfold said goodbye to Ontario when she met her Kiwi husband, Bill, more than thirty years ago. Mary Kippenberger, who performs with partner Peter Charlton-Jones, is from New Zealand but lived in Vernon, B.C., between her fourth and thirteenth years.
Australia was represented by Donna Jacobs Sife, Anna Jarrett, and Hendre Roelink. New Zealanders Liz Miller (one of the festival’s founders), Gaye Sutton, Ken Benn, and Alan Bilton rounded out the roster.
For Saturday’s open mike (“Telling Tales”), I shared “Man with No Brain”, a story I learned from Mohammed Belhalfaoui. The story has traveled the world with me. Mohammed is gone now. Years ago he sent me the stories of his mother, Zorah, to translate into English. Now that I’ll have more time for storytelling, I want to pick them up again and tell more of them in his honour.
We had a ferry to catch Monday morning so had to catch the train from Masterton late Sunday afternoon. That meant we had to miss the gathering Marie and Mark Hinton were hosting for the tellers, the committee, and – to our delight – a couple of wandering Canucks.
We were sorry to say goodbye to our new Masterton friends. We’d arrived as just two story enthusiasts but were made to feel like special guests.
It’s Monday as I write. My brother’s memorial service is Tuesday, which will be Wednesday here. I’ve sent flowers and a letter to be read at the service, but I’m troubled to be so far away.