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Full Circle

Day 147: Kaikoura

Michael Palin - Full CircleKaikoura is an important Maori centre. The Whalewatch operation is owned and run by them. Before I leave I am to be received by the local Maoris in a traditional ceremony at the local marae or meeting place. As I am a pakeha - a fair-skinned foreigner - I shall have to be guided through the complex procedure and will be required to give a short speech, and, horror of horrors, sing a song!

Introducing me is Rik, a very senior local Maori, currently pursuing a compensation claim for several million dollars arising from the government's failure to observe the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840. He has a mobile telephone tucked into his trousers. Two Maori women accompany us. As we walk up to the marae I ask them about its significance. Rik tells me it is a place where the local tribe meets. I ask him how important the tribe is these days. 'To a Maori,' he says gravely, 'it is tribe first, Maori second, New Zealander third.'

Feeling rather as I did on the day I got married, I am led into the garden before the meeting hall and told where to stand and what to do. Two young men, dressed in warpaint and carrying spears and shields, come out to issue the willigi, the Maori challenge. It is an exercise in controlled intimidation. They thrust their bodies towards me, waving their spears up and down, grunting, chanting, stamping the ground and pulling frightful faces. Apart from some of the London reviews of my play, I have never encountered quite such a display of naked hostility. (Or, in this case, semi-naked hostility.) Eyes are rolled, tongues extended, mouths stretched in sneers of disgust and loathing that would make a gargoyle look like Julia Roberts. At the end of this display one of the men comes forward and lays a small green branch on the grass in front of me. If I pick it up it means I have been suitably frightened and agree to come in peace. I pick it up. The two rude warriors smile like babies.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 147
  • Country/sea: New Zealand
  • Place: Kaikoura
  • Book page no: 203

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