Fulbright orientation has begun, and what a great experience it has been so far. On the first day, we got a Maori pronunciation lesson and then headed out to a Maori Marae, called Waiwhetu. The marae has a traditional meetinghouse whose name translated into English is “Goodwill to all Men.” The people who live at the marae exhibited this sentiment beyond expectations. The word marae includes the space of the meeting house, but also the space around it as it is the center of the community for all types of activities.
As I mentioned in my last post, New Zealanders are a hospitable people. But this was hospitality beyond measure. Interestingly, the marae’s sister city is Tempe, Arizona, so I was called out being from Phoenix. In addition, there are a couple of lawyers in the community, and one of them does family law, so I hope to continue staying in touch with the people of the community.
We were welcomed with a traditional welcome ceremony, in which the US Ambassador to New Zealand was our representative and spoke on our behalf, thanking the members of the community for welcoming us and providing such warm hospitality. We had the opportunity to speak with him as well as spend two days with the members of the community. It was truly an honor.
In addition to the cultural interaction, we had a presentation about the Treaty of Waitangi, which is considered the founding document of New Zealand (with a funny story that opened my eyes yet again to the power of beginner's mind). It was a treaty signed by a representative of Queen Victoria and many of the tribal (iwi) leaders of New Zealand. It was first signed on February 6, 1840, and during my whirlwind trip through the north island, we stopped at Waitangi. We had the honor of hearing about the treaty from a Maori who continues to be involved in its present-day implementation.
All of this was wonderful, but I think the best part of the experience was being in the meetinghouse, in fact, sleeping in the meetinghouse. A traditional Maori meetinghouse is built to look like a person. The long pole along the roof represents the person’s backbone, the rafters are the rib cage, and the front is a person’s arms welcoming people inside. Each of them have a head on the front depicting the person represented. Inside, it is a dedication to the ancestors of the community. It is sacred space, a place for births, weddings, funerals, discussions, welcomes, etc.
A view from the front of the meeting house. The rafters reaching out are the arms welcoming all people, and you can see the head at the very top of the triangle.
A close-up of the head, representing the ancestor after whom the meetinghouse is named.
We all slept together on mattresses literally touching (though we each had our own mattress), and as I fell asleep, I felt the energy of the room literally holding me. Another Fulbright Fellow said the next morning, “it was held space.” In other words, I was not the only one who felt it. Being part of that sacred space was a delight and an honor, but on top of all of that, the house is called, “Goodwill to all men.” It was yet another reminder that when we wish all people goodwill, when we attempt to live together, in community, with all people (and I would say all beings), we find ourselves in that held space. We find ourselves safe.
Orientation is far from over. Up next is an introduction to the flora and fauna of New Zealand, a tour of the New Zealand bush, and then more information about the political structure of the country, but I am glad we started by being held, all together, by the ancestors of a very local Maori community. There can be no better welcome to this hospitable country than the sacred space of a home inviting us to have goodwill to all.
Namaste and Blessings!
© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.