Hail to the Chiefs

At the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Mai, our guide, instructs us in a greeting ritual that we must perform before we may enter the marae, a sacred house of the Maori. The essentials of the ritual are these. We must designate two chiefs. Neville Peat is one. I am the other. Mai will stand between us at the beginning of a walkway that leads up to the entrance to the marae. My traveling companions are to line up behind. We are meant to think of ourselves as villagers and their chiefs paying a visit to a neighboring village. We must assure the host village that our intentions are peaceful.

A warrior comes out to test our intentions. He performs a fierce dance, replete with popping eyes and a protruding tongue. He wields a fighting stick. We must watch him without any trace of emotion.

The warrior throws down a branch. Neville and I move forward. We must never take our eyes off the warrior. We are to pick up the branch and back away. The picking up of the branch and the backing away is taken as a sign of our peaceful intentions.

Apparently we have gotten our non-violent message across. Mai instructs us to advance along the walkway. When we reach the steps of the marae, we take off our shoes and enter. Neville and I are told to sit at the front where we shall each deliver speeches in response to the Maori speeches to us. Neville goes first and speaks entirely in Maori. I follow and deliver a speech, partially in Maori, thanks to Neville's help, and partially in English. Here is what I say:

Rangatira maa 'chiefs and others'

tangata whenua 'people of the land'

Teenaa koutou katoa 'greeting to you all'

Nga mihi nui kia koutou 'warm greetings to you'

Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui.

'Be strong, be brave, persevere.'

The Maori warriors to whom I address my greeting don't know what to make of it. They sit there politely, attentively and, I suspect, anxious for the ordeal to be over.

At lunch we have sweet-potato soup. The sweet potato or kumara originated in South America. How did it get to Polynesia? There are two possibilities. Either the Polynesians originated in South America and left there with the kumara to settle in the great Polynesian triangle of New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island. Or else, they started in the triangle, sailed to South America and returned with the kumara. Michael King thinks the latter story the most likely. I follow him.

Last night the sea was rolling. We took seasick pills and hunkered down in our cabins protected from the swells by thousands of tons of steel. Compare that to the ancient Polynesians who made their way across this same ocean in open outrigger canoes, some big enough to hold 100 people or more. They didn't know where they were going, driven in part by a sense that their ancestors had always found land and so, too, would they.

Tonight the ship is rolling even more thanks to 10 ft. swells produced by a low that has been hanging over New Caldonia for several days. After dinner, I go to the promenade deck. The swells have increased in size. The ship is beginning to play seesaw with the water. The ship's wake is phosphorescing just beyond the railing, a miniature sky in the water.

Back in my cabin falling asleep was not a problem. Staying asleep was another matter. I remember reading in Francis Chichester's Along the Clipper Way that one wave in every 132,000 will be four times the height of the average wave. I think the 40-footer must have hit around 2am. That was when the cabin’s refrigerator joined me in bed.

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