Doing the Hongi

No, this isn’t a FanstRAvaganza post but another interruption, because frankly, I can’t help myself.

I’ve talked about RA’s voice and his ear and the wonderful vibrations, and I even posted a little sample of what Thorin may sound like, but aren’t any of you really curious about what’s going on in New Zealand?!! Oh, I want to know! Where is he exactly? What is he doing? Which way did he go? Huh?

Perhaps there will soon be some more photos or at least some words. I know several are hanging on the tweets of Robert Kazinsky and the blog pieces and flickr from Ian McKellen, and maybe a few other things floating around or on the periphery of RA universe. Those have all certainly been treats. I’ve absolutely loved them, but dammit! I want some hard news about RA! LOL! I haven’t gotten any since the cricket match fundraiser and the picture with Vicki Treadell, the British High Commissioner to New Zealand.

I did recently read that ‘The Hobbit’ cast participated in a powhiri or Maori welcoming ceremony the day filming commenced. I knew a little bit about the ceremony since a close friend of mine spent a month in New Zealand a couple of years ago. Actually, I just knew it was a welcoming ceremony, and that’s about it. LOL! So I went in search of info but became a little confused as there was so much terminology to learn. Thankfully, I found a very clear write-up of the parts of the powhiri:

* Kawa – customs or protocols for greeting visitors. These introductory instructions are first given to the manuhiri, or visitors, such that they may be guided “safely through the spiritual and physical realms,” and so “they understand what is expected of them”10.

* Taki (or wero) – a challenge is presented, where warriors appear to determine the intentions of the visitors. If the visitors’ intentions are peaceful, the warriors present a rautapu, or some sort of symbolic peace offering, which the visitors “nod and acknowledge that [they have]… received it”11. Once this is done, the warriors guide the visitors into the sacred marae.

* Karanga – the vocal call of a female begins which will be a kind a purifying preparation or “clear a spiritual pathway between the hosts and visitors… acknowledging the spirits of all our ancestors who have passed on into the veil of the world, without end.”12. It is a type of call to the Maori and visitors’ ancestors.

* Karakia – a prayer or blessing is offered to the gods to “bring everyone together. Asking assistance of a superior being to give spiritual protection to all those who are participating in the powhiri”13. This is a type of demon or devil cleansing such that everyone may be “free from any destructive spiritual influences”14.

* Mihi – formal greetings and identification of who you are. It is a recitation of your ancestors, history, family line (genealogy), and your relationship to one another. These details were often only known by oral transmission and memory.15

* Waiata – a spiritual song is sung. “Traditional waiata of the ancestors were often aligned with spiritual
events, which could include supporting karakia or prayer to evoke supernatural forces”16.

* Koha – the act of gifting, in a very honorable, dignified, way. Traditionally this was done by offering assistance in the gathering of food, or taonga, treasures. Today it is usually a monetary-type gift. 17

* Hongi – the unique and very sacred Maori physical embrace wherein the two sides become one. “The hongi is the traditional greeting of nose pressing. It is the exchange of the ha, or breath of life… This greeting makes the visitor at one with the tangata whenua [hosts]”18. “The most sacred part of the Maori is this portion here – the face and head. When you make contact with a fellow human, it’s the embracing, the light touching of the noses. Because you’re now dealing with the most sacred part of the person. It’s the essence of life to mankind. Where else does the breath of life enter man?”19. This is the portion of the ceremony in which the breath of life is exchanged and intermingled between host and visitor, and makes the visitors one with the Maori, ready to share in all responsibilities and duties. This tradition is said to have come “directly from the gods”20. “In Maori folklore, woman was created by the gods moulding her shape out of the earth. The god Tane (meaning male) embraced the figure and breathed into her nostrils. She then sneezed and came to life. Her name was Hineahuone (earth formed woman)”21. Sometimes this embrace in the ceremony also includes the hariru, which is a handshake between hosts and visitors, and even a kiss or hug. One website describes it thus:

Direction will be given for manuhiri to go forward to hariru/shake hands, hug or hongi with tangata whenua. Whether you hariru, hongi, hug or do all three is entirely up to you at the time. We trust people will feel culturally comfortable whatever their choice. The action of performing hongi is associated with the hariru. The two people shake hands, each using the right hand. At the same time the left hand maybe placed on or near the other person’s shoulder. The head is bent, the eyes closed, and sometimes foreheads touch as noses are pressed. Some choose to press once and some twice – both ways are of equal significance. Invariably, tangata whenua will indicate their kawa/ways by example. It is appropriate to say “tena koe”/”hello to you” or “kia ora”/”greetings” as part of the greeting. In this greeting our ancestors meet as we meet and together we share the breath of life. This physical contact between manuhiri and tangata whenua completes lifts the waewae tapu/sacredness of first time visitors, allowing us all to be one, as tangata whenua for the duration of this Gathering. The running of the marae, for the time of our stay, is now ours to share.22

* Hakari – ritual feasting and sharing of traditional foods in a banquet to finish the binding together. “At the conclusion of that you are finally part of the family. And it’s a very happy occasion. And you can feel it. There’s a warmth in the room amongst everyone”23………

* Poroporaoki (or Mihi-whakamutunga) – final speeches and farewell. It is the returning of the esteem and authority of the Maori hosts back to them. It is a time of reflection on becoming one or a part of the Maori people.

(emphasis mine)

As I was surfing around, it was hard not to realize the importance of the powhiri and in particular the hongi to the Maori:

Essentially it’s the moment the hosts and visitors become one, and I remember my friend telling me how powerful it was to observe.

The Hongi:

Of course eventually I was burning with curiosity to know how RA fit into all of this, and it was almost as if my thoughts were heard and someone took pity on me. I received a note from someone in a position to know something about what went on, or maybe they have only inflamed me some more? :D

To be the leader of the visitors is pretty intimidating – you have to maintain eye contact and yet be diplomatic. Plus to speak Maori in a public occasion is tough. But Richard was the one who replied for the whole cast and even spoke Maori in his reply. Very impressive.

Yes, I think I’ve definitely been inflamed. LOL! My mind is working overtime to imagine him speaking Maori and being honored to represent the cast! Is there any doubt that he did his homework on the powhiri? Yes, that’s what I thought; he definitely was prepared. This is what is so lovely about him — he actually has a wonderful brain and uses it. Thank you, Richard!

I hope some photos emerge to confirm what I’m saying and to help along the wonderful picture in my head. Whatever the case, this is fun to imagine.

Edit: And it turned out to be true! :D More on that here.

All photos are in the public domain.