This is the second part in a three-part series on my experience at the World Christian Gathering on Indigenous People
From my journal:
Today the WCGIP shifted from Hamilton up to Auckland for the final phase. It’s being held at the Telstra Clear Event Center, a cool-looking building designed to look like a Maori canoe. I’d driven past the building several times on my way to and from Auckland and I was curious to know what it was like on the inside. The shift to Auckland also meant that a “wero” was in order. This is a Maori tradition where one tribe comes to the land of another’s to visit. As one of the Maori leaders humorously explained, the host tribe comes out to ask “Are you here for a meal, or are we the meal?” It’s basically a ceremonial way to determine if the visiting tribe is a friend or foe. For the sake of this conference, all of the participants made up the “visiting tribe,” while the Maori people of the Auckland meeting place made up the “host tribe.” I joined the participants in the visiting tribe for this awesome spectacle.
As we approached the doors of the event center, two Maori warriors came forth, scantily clad in war costumes. They wielded hand-made weapons, chanting and moving cautiously towards our leader. After some seriously scary faces threatening advances, one of the warriors placed a small leaf on the ground and retreated. After a pause, Richard, a Native American Indian and founder of the WCGIP, picked up the leaf, confirming our peaceful visit.
The next step in this tradition was the “powhiri.” Once all the visitors had entered, the host greeted the visiting tribe. The visiting tribe’s leader then responded, and this process continued for hours! It was a pretty dry process, especially because they spoke in Maori and I couldn’t understand most of it. Fortunately, after the greeting is completed, everyone involved partakes in a giant feast! As we rose to attend the meal, the hosts greeted all 300 visitors with the traditional “hongi.” This involves shaking hands and pressing each other’s noses and foreheads together. I went through and performed the hongi with all 50 of the hosts. I must say, I am intrigued by the Maori people. Many of them are very large in size, and them men especially are built like warriors. Yet when they perform a hongi, they reveal a gentle, warm and welcoming side as they carefully press their nose to yours. It’s impossible to explain; I hope you get the chance to have a hongi with a Maori some day! I have much to learn from these people.
The rest of the day was less eventful, consisting mostly of workshops and breaks for eating. The Maori people know how to eat well and eat often. Me likey! At night, we had an inspiring concert by Cindy Ruakere. It’s a crazy story, but she’s the reason I was at this gathering in the first place. I met her months before at a church in Auckland, and if it weren’t for her telling me about the WCGIP, I wouldn’t have come.
After the music, everyone participated in a “hungi.” Different from the “hongi” greeting, a hungi is a delicious, slow-cooked meal. In this case, we had kumara, the New Zealand sweet potato. Talk about tasty! They asked us each to go and find someone who was from a different culture than us, wearing a different kind of clothing, to share our kumara with. I met Mohan, a man from Sri Lanka, and we prayed for each other and shared our kumara.
I haven’t even mentioned Ata yet, whose story I would love to share some day. God has completely transformed his life from the ground up. He was in a gang for over 20 years and spent 10 years in prison. Now he is one of the most gentle, kind and loving people I’ve ever met. He works so diligently all the time. He is incredible.
This continues to be a very eye-opening and enriching experience.