'We share the Pacific': Makah general manager visits Maori
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Meredith Parker, left, stands with Queenie Rikihana in Otaki, New Zealand. Rikihana is a journalist and author of books about the myths and legends of the Maori. She served as a guide to Parker to Maori marae and churches in the southwest area of the North Island of New Zealand.

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

NEAH BAY — For Meredith Parker, the 7,000-mile divide between Neah Bay and New Zealand is bridged by a cultural connection between the Makah and Maori people.

Parker, general manager of the Makah tribe, spent most of December on a cultural exchange to the South Pacific, where she immersed herself in the traditions of the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.

“We share that same body of water,” Parker said.

“We share the Pacific Ocean.”

Parker was hosted by a family that lived in Neah Bay about a decade ago.

“They were part of our Makah culture when they lived here,” Parker said of the Takao family of Otaki and Motueka, New Zealand.

“They wanted to return that with an exchange of their culture.”

Parker left for New Zealand the day after Thanksgiving and returned Christmas Eve.

During the exchange, Parker said, she experienced Maori culture and was a guest of honor in traditional ceremonies with songs, dances and harvest feasts.

Many similarities

Similarities between the Maori and Makah include weaving, carving and a centuries-old canoe culture.

“They also have a similar indigenous experience that tribal people have had, and indigenous people have had, worldwide,” Parker said in an interview last month.

“It's interesting to see the strategies employed on a regional and national basis in the different countries.”

Like the Makah, the Maori “reach out their hands and heart” to those who are struggling, Parker added.

An accomplished photographer and writer, Parker traveled from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island, meeting with authors, poets, filmmakers and social activists at colleges and universities.

She toured villages and museums, experienced Maori language immersion schools and was entertained by Maori singers and dancers of the haka.

With her own Makah regalia, hand-drum and cedar rattle in hand, Parker exchanged traditions through songs and dances that have been passed down through generations.

Parker's trip to New Zealand coincided with the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

“They actually asked me, and honored me, to be the Goddess of Summer,” Parker said, referring to a graduation ceremony in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Parker said the Takao family became part of her family when they lived in Neah Bay in the early 2000s.

Tommy Takao was a Presbyterian minister in Neah Bay. His niece, Nuki, and their children were readily accepted into Neah Bay and participated in Makah culture, Parker said.

'Full and fun' agenda

Nuki Takao prepared a “very full and fun” agenda of activities for Parker.

“Every minute of every day was special and I was deeply humbled and honored by my hosts' gracious and very generous hospitality,” Parker said in an email.

“I could read books and do other research on the Maori, but nothing compares to being accepted in and being brought into the inner circle and gaining insight from a wide variety of experts of all aspects of the culture.”

Parker said she was honored to wear a Maori cloak — a kakahu — woven of flax fiber and the feathers of the kiwi bird. The garments were worn by chiefs and women of distinction in the late 19th century, Parker said.

Parker said the Maori people were “very interested” to learn of the social, educational and cultural programs offered by the Makah.

In an email, Nuki Takao said Parker was their “white heron,” a Maori image that describes a special and rare event and applied only to a visitor held in the highest esteem.

'A true chief'

“It is a metaphor for the one who travels alone and yet carries the bearing and authority of a true chief,” Takao said.

In describing Parker's visit, Nuki Takao said: “At times it was a meeting of two great sovereign nations, at others the sharing of deep knowledge grounded in ancient cultures and sometimes just a simple meal shared by good friends.”

Overall, Parker said her trip to New Zealand was “life-changing.”

“As Makah and as Maori, we share the same body of water,” Parker said.

“The tides rise and fall upon our shores and the ties that would bind our people are as far-reaching and deep as that body of water.

“I have to acknowledge and respect that.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 01. 2014 5:22PM
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