Sunday, 30 October 2011

Halloween at KDEC

We had our first Halloween party at KDEC this was a blast.  The kids from Totara Village started decorating at noon on Saturday.  The Common Room was festooned in spider webbing, crepe paper, and orange and black balloons in short order.  There were yummy snacks, great costumes and gobs of crazy games.  The big finale was the kids' version of Michael Jackson's THRILLER.  Check out all the fun pictures at

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Powhiri at Ruamoko Marae

From the front of the red-pillared room Michael stomps the floor, his sturdy form sending vibrations we all feel from the feet upward.  He brings to mind a Sumo wrestler but he is in fact the sacred Maori elder at this temple, this Marae (Maori for “meeting place”).  The Ruamoko Marae in Kelston (west Auckland) honors the Maori God of Earthquakes, aptly enough.  Michael looks like I would imagine the God of Earthquakes should look, but I’m finding his western name totally out of sync to his ancient face.  I surmise that he must have a really good name-sign because he is profoundly deaf and he sure can shake the earth. 
Michael Wi, Maori Elder

The ritualized ceremony of welcome, the Powhiri, had begun. We would soon be part of the “whanau” or extended family of this temple.  What an honor for an American (me: Leeanne Seaver from Hands & Voices) and her daughter, Makena (age 14 and happy to be along for the time of her life).  We are humble; very aware that we are the wide-eyed Pakehas (Anglos) who are actually out of place but nonetheless wholeheartedly accepted into this community.  The faces around us are a multi-cultural feast of Maori, Tongan, Samoan, and Cook Islanders, seasoned with a few Asians, Indians and Europeans…your typical Kiwi potlatch or haukai.
The Ruamoko Marae is the only Deaf Maori temple in all of New Zealand.  It’s small, as temples go, but deeply symbolic of both Maori and Deaf cultures.  The earthquake theme has special meaning to the Turi (Maori for deaf) because stomping the floor to get attention, and drawing meaning from vibrations of all kinds is second-nature to them.  Michael gives a nice speech after acknowledging the ancestors, and a special mention of those recently departed from the group.  He shares a  combination of Maori ritual with Deaf cultural values so we get a good primer in both.

We enter the Marae when summoned by Michael blowing long and loudly on a conch shell, then we walk solemnly towards the temple as two Maori women (wonderful young women who are students enrolled at KDEC) sing the traditional  poroporoaki—one from the dais at the Marae inviting us to enter, the other walking with us and announcing our coming.
For our part of the ceremony, Makena and I learned a song in Maori and N-Zed, the sign language of New Zealand.  We will sing and sign it at the appointed time after our male spokesman, David Foster (pictured at center, above) delivers a speech in Maori and N-Zed to introduce us.  Maori is a very male-dominated society, so David, my friend and the CEO of the Kelston Deaf Education Centre where I’ll be working for the next three months, sits in front of us during the ceremony as our official representative. Our introduction includes, among other things, a GPS-like locational poem David chants that will help the Maori ancestors and those present at the Marae understand where on the earth we’ve come from…it goes like this:
Ko Rocky Mountains toku maunga
Ko Michigan toku moana
Ko Mississippi toku awa
Ko Carthage toku wahi
Ko Leeanne Seaver tana ingoa
Katahi ano te waka rererangi ka tau mai
Ki te hari mae ko Leeanne
Ki te awhina, kit e hapai I tenei wananga
When it was time for us to sing, Makena and I stood with David and hoped we'd remember what we’ve been practicing feverishly since learning our part just the day before.
Makena and I practicing our Maori song and signs.
David worked carefully with us to get the signs and the Maori words right, and to understand all of this in the context of its cultural history and deep meaning.  We felt so honored to be a part of this.  We were ready:
Ehara I te mea (not the thing)
No naianei te aroha (of recent times, is love)
No nga tupuna (but by the ancestors it has been)
Tuku iho, tuku Iho (passed down, passed down)

Leeanne Seaver, David Foster and Makena Seaver
The tamariki turi (deaf children) did their part in the ceremony.  They signed and sang a song about New Zealand.

KDEC staff and teachers also had a part to play...what an interesting way to meet the people I would be working with for the next few months. Jill (in bright blue) became indispensable to me...a good friend.
KDEC Whanau

The ritual, the ceremonial words and the heartfelt spirit of the Powhiri experience elevates the ordinary ("hey everybody, meet the new temporary project consultant from America") to an extra-ordinary level. It set the stage for what Makena and I would come to feel was our New Zealand "home" and family in so many wonderful ways.
Whanau is so important…whanau both living and no longer among us having contributed to the love and connection that create a sense of belonging in any community.  We feel lucky…blessed. And I think we did ok with the song; David says we did great.  As yet, there have been no requests for us to take the show on the road, so I think we’ll stick with our original agenda, which was for me to write a national public relations/communications campaign for the Kelston Deaf Education Centre, which is about to take its considerable show on the road.

The Powhiri concludes with a very tender display of our new bond as whanau through the touching of noses and breathing of each other’s air: the Hongi.  In the days that followed, as I started work with many of the people whose faces I first saw and noses I touched with my own at the Powhiri, I felt the happy realization that it is impossible to pass a colleague in the hall without a kind word and warm feeling after you’ve inhaled a little bit of each other’s wairua.  Wonder if I can import this back to the states…
© Leeanne Seaver 9/2011