Taupō – Volcanic Zone and Identity Giver for the Maōri

Volcanism created New Zealand and even today the force emerging from the Earth’s inside is omnipresent on those islands in the South Pacific Ocean no matter if as earthquakes in the south or in the shape of real fire mountains on the north island. Like a belt the appearances of Taupō Volcanic Zone lead through the whole country, starting with offshore volcano White Island, the geothermally active area of colourful Wai-O-Tapu near Rotorua, right through to Lake Taupo super volcano and the fire mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu to end at Mount Taranaki. For the Maōri, New Zealand’s natives, the force emerging from the Earth’s inside is highly divine. About that, their own identity, the role of James Cook as well as the white man I got into a conversation with the Maōri before I became guardian angel up on Tongariro volcano complex.

Visiting the Maōri

Almost every New Zealand tourist visits the White Island offshore volcano. I did not. Why? Well, because for me White Island is a boring touristic product. A little bubbling there, some gas here, while up to 80 people having no clue what they are allowed to see get chased over the island. To boot I would have got a guide placing me under disability, limiting my creativity in the field as he thinks I am an amateur. All that has to be paid with a three figure amount. Hello, no! Without me ;-)

Of course I tried to do something on my own to get to White Island and have a look at the volcano the way I want it, but all people of Whakatane block my actions. Why? Because only one company is allowed to go ashore this private island while any other attempt to reach the island gets intercepted by the coast guard to get a substantial fine in the end as White Island is private property. Annoying, isn’t it? A country promoting itself as kingdom of individual freedom shows that it is not free at all. In my case such degenerated ways of commerce and merchandising bite on granite. I ignore them.

Delivering you White Island photos though I owe and thank volcano photographer and friend Vulkanfotografen Martin Rietze. He’s also the one contributing the later shown aerial photos of the Tarawera eruption fault. I continued my journey to Hawke’s Bay, where with Gisborne and Poverty Bay those places were waiting for me where legendary Captain James Cook made his first step in New Zealand soil in 1769.

The spit of land reaching into the Pacific Ocean to the south of Gisborne is the famous Young Nick’s Head, named after the ship’s boy that saw first land appearing on the horizon after Cook’s endless sea journey. On the way to Gisborne I pick up a hitchhiker, a Maōri. Telling that let’s other people, white New Zealanders freeze. Peter living on the campsite near Cape Kidnappers rolls his eyes saying “I would never ever do that!!!”

The background of that reaction is a short story. In the Gisborne region the land of the Maōri changed in very fraudulent way from native into new arrived hands. The Maōri define themselves extremely through their land, their origin and what the white man did back then – the Maōri had no clue about the Anglo-Saxonian way of business and what actually happens to them – left traces behind that even today show its effects by criminal and rebellious behaviour of the native New Zealander’s, the Maōri.

That rebellion happens first and foremost in a way of tightly organised gangs like we know them in our country as e.g. Hell’s Angels. My fellow passenger provides me the opportunity to get in touch with such a gang and talk to them. When those blokes, being tall like a wardrobe, saw my camera quite some suspicion was around. Also my blonde and blue-eyed appearance didn’t kick off elations and a red carpet welcome address.

Switching off the camera brought the necessary disarming but also meant I have even not a single photo of that moment. Being sad about that I was also very happy though as I got an exchange of thoughts that was also intellectual food during working on my photo story about the gannet colony of Cape Kidnappers.

At Hawke’s Bay the Maōri pull Cook to pieces verbally by calling him “Crook Cook”. Speaking with them about history their flood of words mingles positives with negative things and historic with contemporary matters as if I opened a bottle being under pressure. Cook is the #1 symbol for the white man’s arrival to New Zealand; he was the stirrup holders of the fraudulent grabbing of the Maōri’s identity-establishing land.

Well, let’s be honest, the white man is pretty good at invading other countries plus back-stabbing the identity of other cultures. The self-proclaimed Land of the Free, the U.S.A., does that still nowadays.

Actually I don’t like tourist shows, though I have a look at the masquerade shown in Rotorua’s Te Whakarewarewa, Maōri culture centre being located in a geothermally active area in the south of the city. Rotorua means “the two lakes”, and it is the place where Gaia, the goddess of Earth, to Hawaiians also known as Pele, settled down to warm the earth with her fire.

Every hour anew people flock together to watch densely packed the welcome ritual. The Maōri are proud people, with good reason, hence suspicion is written in the faces of natives staying on the show’s sideline as tourists often gather in disrespectful manner while even laughing about the face expressions shown during welcome dance.

That missing respect also reveals when people offer classic Maōri tattoo stamps, of course not being free of charge. Not a few tourists, in particular Asians, make extensive use of that stamping literally imaginable spot a human body has, also the head, that is the most sacred spot for Maōri as it is the house of soul.

Imagine what Catholics would feel like if Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” gets shown in Rome’s St. Peter cathedral. Religiously-culturally seen now you know what the Maōri think about that. To boot with their kindergarten tattoos many Asians try dancing the welcome dance or even a Haka. To 99.9% that results in infantile fidgeting, screaming and general stupid craziness.

After a bus load of Koreans got chased through the mythical Maōri site  I get in touch with John and Sarah, two natives working in the organisation team. John was visibly pissed off by vulgar Korean behaviour hence talking to him wasn’t really possible, but Sarah took it easy and fancied to have a conversation with me. To her the arrival of the white man is a rather positive thing.

European knowledge (e.g. medicine) significantly improved the Maōri life standard as well as increased average life span. Also for her as woman the arrival of the white man meant to live more self-determined and independent from so far existing patriarchal structures as women successively got treated as humans and not as goods being traded (married) from one tribe to another.

A couple of months later, during photographing the Stockholm underground, I met a young New Zealander in my hotel. Boasting a little he invokes that Maōri is a dead language. Well, a country having place names originating from native Maōri language at more than 90% breathes much more life into a dead presumed language than some intellectually challenged have in their heads.

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