We stood on the steps of the war memorial in Auckland as Prince and his mother welcomed us to the Land of a Thousand Lovers.
What struck me most was how genuine the blessing he bestowed upon us. Even though I did not understand a word, I knew that it came directly from his heart.
This must be the way Maori’s have greeted each other from the beginning of time.
Why don’t we do that it in our culture? It’s usually a shy aversion of the eyes, a cordial handshake, or a solemn nod of the head.
Prince called on the spirits of the ground and sky to be with us as we walked and talked through the Auckland Domain.
“Today is a good day,” Prince began. “My mother is here visiting and she has graced us with her presence. It is a fine day for a walk and she will be joining us.”
Throughout our time together he would gently touch her shoulder with love and reverence whenever he spoke of her, or to her.
If I was to have a son, I would hope with all my heart he would honour me in the same way.
Prince won me over immediately, and opened my mind and heart to learn from him on this personal historic and cultural tour.
For the short time we spent together, I felt as if we were with old friends. We joked, and laughed, sharing stories of our children, countries and of course rugby.
His eyes came alive with that fierce glow of victory as he recanted how he almost had a second heart attack during the final moments of the match.
His first came a few months earlier, the passion and enthusiasm he showed on our walk gave nothing of this away.
The Myths, the Legends, the Facts
He shared stories with us of his people, the original inhabitants of the Land of a Thousand Lovers, which is the meaning of the name, Tamaki Makau Rau, the original Maori name for Auckland.
We learned of the struggle his people, the Ngati Whatua tribe, went through when the white people arrived and how his tribe once held the title of the “only tribe who owned no land in the country.” It was taken from them through treaties that weren’t honoured.
Prince then spoke of how his tribe is now the wealthiest in all of the Maori Kingdom and of the battle his people went through for years in the court system to reclaim what was rightfully theres.
“I never learned the language of my people when I was growing up. My parents were afraid I would be beaten. I learned it later at University.”
He told us that the Maori people are now the indigenous culture that is most thriving throughout the world.
“Tell me Prince,” I asked “If this is so, are the Maori people helping other indigenous cultures around the world? Are they teaching them how to be entrepreneurs and how to balance keeping their own rich cultural traditions in this modern world we live in? I think the Maori people could teach a lot.”
“Yes actually we are. My mother has not long returned from speaking with the Canadian government about these sorts of things”
The Sleeping Giants
He also told us how Auckland sits on about 40 volcanoes. Sleeping giants that could erupt at any time, the last being about 600 years ago.
“Wherever you see a mountain in Auckland it is a volcano. You are standing in a big crater now.” He then told us more about ‘The Aucklander’s Playground,” the domain we stood in, the springs running underneath us, bubbling up in the gardens as fountains.
We learned about the native fauna in the park as well as taking a stroll through the English Gardens.
The Auckland Domain is a peaceful recreation area where many Aucklander’s come to lie in the sun, play a friendly game of soccer, or go for long walks, the Sky Tower marking the city scape sitting just beyond it.
In the centre of the Domain on a small hill sits the neo-Greek building housing the Auckland Museum, said to have one of the best displays of Maori culture and the history of New Zealand’s involvement in the war.
The Parting Gift
Prince’s mother slowly walked along side us, nodding her head in agreement and adding bits of information here and there. She remained relatively quiet, yet the strength of her spirit was anything but silent.
I felt as if you were in the presence of a great lady who had lived a long life full of contribution and love. It was only at the end when we were departed that she opened up with the excitement of a four year old dying to share the toys they received for Christmas.
“You see this on my chin,” she pointed to the markings that were etched on her chin, symbolic of something we did not understand.
“I only just received this a few months ago. These are the markings of great honour with my people. I am 75 and only just received them. I had been asking my brothers for it for years. But this is not something that can be handed to you, it has to be earned. Finally, they told me that I had earned the right to wear it and here it is.”
I thought she was about to skip around the path.
“Wow. Thank you for sharing your story,” we said as we touched noses in that special Maori way of respectful greeting.
“It is a way of my mother saying how much she has appreciated our time together. A gift for you as we part,” Prince added
We stood under the draping branches of a tree unknown to me in the shade of the Wintergarden. Prince and his mother began once again to bless us, this time as we departed company.
They asked that the spirits of their ancestors, who had joined us for the two hour talk, now leave us, lest they want to stick around and keep us company.
“The spirits must stay here. They cannot go with you.”
They then sang us a farewell song of blessing.
My skin pricked and my heart swelled with happiness.
How lucky we were to have such a short time with two beautiful souls. The world has been made better because of them.
If only I could impart half as much respect and honour onto complete strangers.
Tamaki Hikoi Guided Walking Tours
What: 1.5 – 3 hour guided walking tours available with a guide from the local Ngati Whatua tribe.
Cost: Starting from $40
Have you had an experience like this on your travels before?
Note: So caught up was I in enjoying the moment of our time together, I did not take many photographs. Sometimes the lens needs to be removed in order for you to clearly see.