Hearing the Ancient Chant of Grief From New Zealand

This Is a Saturday in February.

The Auckland Hop On Hop Off bus was hauling us throughout our final full day in New Zealand. We had noticed the grass-covered cone of an extinct volcano that sits across town. I snapped a photo of my daughter chained into the finest, while we tried to picture what it had appeared like 60,000 years ago as it was spewing lava. We couldn’t.

Additionally, we passed a suburban park with its own sheep, chomping bud in the foot of the busy road. There are 4,000,000 people in New Zealand and 45,000,000 sheep. Following a few occasions it seemed normal to find these anywhere.

We climbed in the memorial which sits across town in a huge park. We seemed down to some cricket match that we couldn’t understand and climbed the steps to the memorial we figured we could. We’d learned about the celestial series there, a genuine depiction of the music and practices of the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand.

We were ushered into a elaborately carved meeting house, asked to remain silent for a welcoming ceremony, subsequently guided through a group of songs, games and dances. There’s been a cast of eight, four women and four guys, dressed in traditional clothing of muted layouts and ornamental beads. The men wore elaborate loincloths, the women grass skirts. The men held guitars, the women tucked poi balls at the waist. The oldest and most serious member of the troupe narrated.

Following the women danced, there was a hula-like effect; when the men did there was a fierceness, emphasized by their protruding eyes and prolonged tongues. Like many native people, they’d had plenty of folks they wanted to scare away.

Midway through the program, the narrator introduced a pair of chants. At the absence of a written address, she advised us these chants had allowed the people to remember and keep their traditional ceremonies. The very first one was harmonious, something that might have found its’ way into South Pacific. The following one was dumb, sad and haunting. And long.

The show moved to games performed with magic and sticks that are thrown back and forth with increasing speed while drums put the rate. This was for enjoyment, she explained, but also to build the warriors’ speed and coordination so that they would be ready for battle.

At the end of the program, she invited the viewer to approach any of the cast members collectively with questions or opinions. Nearly all the audience registered employing a nod and a thank you. I had to ask about that song. And that I had to ask, just one.

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