Pacific.Scoop, Opinion by Violet Cho: A Burmese journalist’s reflections on the Māori Expo.
The Māori Expo was impressive for its colour and performances – a new experience for me. The Māori colours of red, black and white were particularly prominent. Unique face paint and diverse moko, attractive costumes of Māori performers and vibrancy brought an exciting energy to the expo. The 2009 Māori Expo, organised by AUT University, included a kapa haka and dance competition for Māori youth. Students from high schools and colleges throughout Auckland came to join in.
As an indigenous Karen journalist from Burma studying journalism at AUT, I think it’s good to raise awareness among people like myself and other international students about the Māori culture. Emma Su, from Mongolia, now studying in the Tourism Research Centre at AUT, says she was stunned to see the performances.
“It’s completely different from performers in Mongolia. I’m amazed at how performers stick out their eyes and tongues,” she says. Su only arrived in New Zealand a week ago so it was her first exposure to culture in Aotearoa, and she says the experience encouraged her to study more about Māori culture.
I was also impressed by the interactive nature of the performances. After a group on stage finished dancing or doing the haka, groups in the audience would stand and respond with another haka. As I wanted to know more about this custom, I asked two different people, both of whom gave me different answers.
One young Māori girl told me it was groups in the crowd giving respect to performers on stage. Another Māori boy told me it was a sign of challenge. So I got two responses and I gather it is actually a bit of both. I enjoyed the experience. It felt like it brings the performers down to earth, and breaks down the dichotomy between audience and those on stage.
Apart from the main stage, there were many stalls with information about education from universities around New Zealand and many innovative programmes. Among them, I was shocked to see a New Zealand military recruitment stall. There were a lot of young people around the stall taking information and fully uniformed soldiers encouraging people to join them.
In Burma, where we have a long-standing repressive military regime in power, people would be angry if they saw soldiers trying to recruit young people like that in public.
Education shouldn’t be “militarised”. I believe young people should be encouraged to study and work without the need to fight and die in imperialist wars such as in Afghanistan.
Violet Cho, an exiled indigenous Karen journalist from Burma and living in Thailand, is the Asian Journalism Fellow at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.