Wednesday, September 13, 2017
During our class visit to Rotorua we spent our whole day at Te Puia and the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute. As we toured the facilities it was interesting to learn how different groups of people play a variety of roles in sustaining the campus. The arts institute is a government-sponsored education center for Māori students that gets all its funding from the public through tourism that’s woven into the site. Similar to the Polynesian Culture Center on O’ahu’s North Shore, the tours make their way through a staged village enclosure. One benefit of this is the ability to showcase the work of past students of many generations in Te Puia’s buildings. Some of the rooms in the school where students were actively producing work were open to walk through as well. A classmate and I both had mixed feelings about this setup because for the surface value it felt very “touristy” and took away from the privacy of the students. However we both thought that from a perspective of someone outside of the Māori community it could be a very informative way to be introduced to common themes and values of the culture. As long as Māori are the agents of the operations at the center, they can determine what the comfort level for showcasing their culture can be.
Carol, our guide for the day, was very passionate about the parts of campus she showed to us. As our class toured through the boardwalk with the views of the hot springs and mud pools, she talked about the pā (village) in proximity to the campus. The pā used to be open to the public to walk through but the families who live there grew uncomfortable with the behavior of certain visitors who would overstep into residencies. She shared her hope for a future where the gates could be unlocked again so visitors could walk through. This is because the presence and representation of the local community is something Carol saw as vital to the understanding of the natural features, not just the view itself. In the summer when the weather is nicer, the children from the pā families can be seen swimming in the geothermal pool closest to their home. Carol says that tourists see this and get confused because they’re not used to witnessing the presence of local Māori interacting with the nearby environment. I think it’s interesting that to an average visitor of Te Puia it may make more sense to see Māori of all different iwi working in the “authentic” decorated village center than the local hapu members maintaining relationally with the resources they’ve been close to for generations. It makes me think about how our class is looking at representation and environment. Te Puia’s setup offers a strong example for the values built into Māori material culture, but it is harder to see how people are part of an environment when the natural world is built around purely for speculation.
Overall our day at Te Puia was full off great conversations and stories, and it was interesting getting to learn about the unique setup with the school integrated into the tourism site.
Te Puia: www.tepuia.com