Arron and I sat at the dinner table after the wonderful meal hosted by the Waihao Murae friends was finished. We all tended to do that, hang around. People sat in groups here and there talking. I listened to the raucous laughter around the room and confessed, "You know, I've never met people who were so strong spiritually like the Winnemem and also, goofballs like us too."
Arron laughed and agreed, "I know! I was thinking that too! They're like us."
Behind us, Pauline and Wendy, two of our hosts overhearing us joined in, "You're just like us!"
When we first arrived, greeted in the traditional manner, Tia chanting as she walked with us, entering into the beautifully simple room, the light streaming in on polished wood, the spiritual leader,a kind faced young man, spoke and translated a message which touched our hearts. It was wonderful to hear about the sacred mountains, the salmon, to be understood so completely.
Following that, as we all gathered for the customary Tea, the thunder rolled and we were surprised by an incredible hailstorm coming from the mountains and the sacred Aoraki. The young spiritual leader assured us, "This is a good thing" but before he could get the words out, our dancers had already run outside to greet the hail and thunder. Maybe they knew we were being greeted by the mountains and the great New Zealand sky.
Everyone enjoyed the sight, their young people joining.
I don't know when the joking began, but only the heartfelt and serious conversation of Nur and Tu Nah gave it pause. That conversation showed several things. First, both our tribes were actively and spiritually involved in Guardianship of their fish relative -- the Tu Nah and the Nur. Both (peoples and fish) had endured and survived extermination policies. Both had a special connection with Fish, Mountain, River, Ocean. These conversations were deep, heart felt and real enough to forge a connection as warrior guardians. Then the hilarity would start again. "We'll trade for the Head Man!" Pauline joked at one point. Mark sat with mouth-opened surprise. Then the Winnemem, not to be outdone, would make smart comments back of whom the trade would involve. It's not often that our Head Man is left speechless.
That line of hilarity began again after dinner the next day after a day long bus trip with the Ngai Tahu and Waitahu Mamoe Fisher People where we visited the Sacred Aoraki hiding behind his cloak. We'll have to come back again to see the Mountain. We had gone to the sacred lakes. We stopped and saw the dam which stopped the Longfin Eel from continuing the journey to the ocean to spawn. John Wilkie had shown a video the day before of a project he was part of to gather up the eel and drive them past the dam to a point the eel could successfully reach the ocean, even going part of the way across the sand, to reach the waterline. We were moved by the Eel's courage. Looking at the dam, we thought of the Shasta Lake Dam at home which stopped the salmon runs completely and I said a quiet prayer for John and others to continue their work for the Eel. On the way back to the Marae on the bus, at our "comfort stop" we saw oak trees with acorns mature enough to drop and picked up hatfuls wondering if they could be used for "acorn water" which the fasting dancers would need. Several Winnemem women were shelling sitting around the table that evening after dinner. Henny Rongi who stayed with us for most of the trip, 75, sincere, and full of conversation also sat with us with her knife, scraping off the shells.
The young spiritual leader picked up the comedic theme of giving one of their men to the Winnemem to bring us close together, who would pay the fee? Karl, one of their men, was offered and Jill, Winnemem, always game for fun held up $20. When someone else joked about an alternative to Karl, I joked, "I say yes to Karl! We have use for his knowledge of ancient things." Karl had talked to us earlier about the Maori way of skirmishes and war. At one point Karl had described in detail with some of us what was done to the dead enemy in a matter of fact voice ending with, "and then afterward they packaged him neatly up and presented him to his Chief," then pretended to just notice our Chief was listening and said, "Oh, sorry."
So after Jill waved the $20 to everyone's entertainment and laughter, and the offer was accepted by the spiritual leader, Karl with blase expression pulled a chair up to the table, picked up a small knife, and joined the Winnemem women scratching the shells off of acorns to screams of laughter. Jill shouted out, "You'll like it. We all live together, one big family" and gestured with both arms toward the 29 Winnemem in the room. Then she waved to her son James who swept over to hug Karl, "Daddy!" Jill gestured again, and her second son Jared flew into the air and landed in Karl's lap. Jared was quite a few inches taller than Karl.
Meanwhile Karl's son ran over to give Jill a big hug as I referred to Jill's daughter Audrey at home, expecting a baby, "You're going to be a grandfather too." By now the laughter and tears filled the room to the rafters. That's how it was with us. As was said over and over "We're just alike!" This is a match commemorated by strong prayer, good work and from the gut laughter. Unstoppable.
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