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New Zealand Club seeks to showcase its language and teach cultural respect through song and dance

Members of the New Zealand Club practice for Culture Night.

While they prepared for the Winter 2020 Semester Culture Night that was canceled due to COVID-19, New Zealand (Aotearoa) Club members said they hoped to bridge gaps that come from different upbringings. Club members said they wanted to showcase the Māori language and teach cultural respect through their performance.

Club President Devon Beatson, a sophomore from Whangarei, New Zealand, studying social work and psychology, worked behind the scenes to honor her culture. “For me, Culture Night is all about celebrating culture. It isn’t a competition, but it’s just an opportunity for everyone to learn about each other,” said Beatson.

Beatson said it was her first time being involved in Culture Night but she came to understand how important it is for the community to participate in Culture Night. Beatson said they planned this year to do a choral song, perform a haka and also an exit number.

The girls predominantly would do the poi, which is a form of dance where weights are swung through rhythmic patterns. The boys wold do the haka, which is a traditional dance involving vigorous movement and stamping of the feet, noted Beatson.

Tiare Metekingi, a freshman from Hamilton, New Zealand studying psychology, said she grew up dancing at home with friends and family and practicing the Māori language, te reo, to celebrate and keep the Māori culture alive.

“Around my grandparents’ generation, the government banned te reo Māori. They said it was a dead language, and there was no use for it. They thought a lot of the Polynesian culture was savage, and their way was proper.

“They would punish kids in school if they caught them speaking te reo Māori. It’s not too far off, but it affected the language and culture afterward.

“Since then, there has been a lot of effort to bring it back. If you lose the language, you lose the culture.” Club members said their Culture Night performance was to showcase te reo Māori through their choral performance.

Te Manu Matenga, a freshman from Tauranga, New Zealand, studying music, said she loves her culture and wants everyone to feel the love as well. “New Zealand is filled with so much love for family, not only in person but also in spirit as well.

“Our culture is what keeps us eternally close with our loved ones, even to those who have passed. It makes me proud to be from here because of the endless love we give through song, dance, prayer and service.”

Both Metekingi and Matenga agreed devotion to the community and family makes their culture special. They added Culture Night allows others to come together and understand how different upbringings do not have to divide us. Metekingi explained, “Because you love and respect your own culture, treat others like you would treat your own. If I saw someone performing Māori, I would want them to do it respectively, and to do a good job.”

After working with other club members at the first Culture Night practice, Metekingi said, “Seeing everyone get really into it by singing, dancing and paying attention was humbling and touching. You love your own culture, but it’s nice to see someone else loves it too.”

Not only are New Zealand natives welcomed to partake in their own culture, but the New Zealand Club members are making efforts to reach out to those who may not be from their home country, said Metekingi. “Everyone is very open and welcoming. The club gives you a grounded place to go to. Don’t be shy about trying something new.”