The first night of the experience, students from all around the world gathered at the marae and brought a dish from their home country. We ate and ate, not stopping when we were full, but only once we were tired. I can’t put into words how special it was to learn about the Māori culture with other international students; even though we spoke different languages and came from different places, we were all welcomed into the marae with open arms.
We slept in the marae overnight and spent the next day learning waiatas (songs) and Tī tī tōrea (a stick game). Later, the men and women split up so that the women could learn poi, a traditional dance and the men could learn the haka, a ceremonial dance or challenge usually performed by men.
Dinner was a traditional hāngi of meat and vegetables cooked on hot rocks below ground. Our full cups and full bellies stayed with us as well into the night, through our continued celebrations and camaraderie.
On Sunday morning, we gathered once more (still full from the night before) and were formally welcomed into the Ngā Wai o Horotiu marae. There were many speeches, but the most enjoyable part had to be when students from each country gathered together and performed a song and dance from their country as a thank you to our hosts.
My fellow Americans and I decided that we should be as obnoxiously American as possible… and we succeeded. We left with our hearts full and spent the rest of the day sleeping off all of the food that we ate.
The biggest impact from the weekend were not the songs or games, but the sense of belonging that you get from having these ancient traditions entrusted to you.
I get chills every time I think of everyone at the marae, arm in arm, singing a song in a language that few of us speak.
The noho marae experience bridges the distance between our countries of origin and the languages that we speak at home, bringing us together like nothing else could.
We know that no matter where our lives take us, we will always have a place in our marae.