In the heart of New Zealand's north island, the small town of Rotorua has become a stronghold of cultural preservation for a group of Indigenous people.
"Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts traveled to Rotorua to connect with the Māori people, who are Polynesian people Indigenous to New Zealand. The Māori have origins in New Zealand dating back to about 1300 CE, according to Britannica.
In Rotorua, the Māori represent 16.5% of the population, according to the 2018 New Zealand census.
At the Te Puia Cultural Center, Māori traditions have been on full display for tourists from around the world for more than 130 years. Ariana Brailey is a Māori performer at the cultural center. She said the work she does is "beautiful."
"For me, it's not working. I never ever come to work. I come to have fun. I come to perform with my family," Brailey said. "For the people who are genuine and they come and they genuinely want to learn about what we're doing, who we are, what we do, I just think it's absolutely beautiful."
- 1February 2, 2023
- 2November 22, 2022
The cultural center is also home to the national schools of traditional Māori carving and weaving. For Māori people, cultural preservation is paramount. Older generations had been strongly discouraged from using their native language, causing the Māori language to nearly die out.
"They were trying to 'spank' the language out of our grandparents' generation," said Dr. Anaha Hiini, who is a lecturer of Māori and Indigenous studies at the Waiariki Institute of Technology. "Imagine how sad that would be sending your little 5-year-old to school, them coming home to let you know they had been punished for just trying to communicate."
Rotorua resident Tia Smith said her grandfather had even discouraged her from learning the language.
"I even recall a conversation with my grandfather when I was wanting to learn Te Reo Māori at school and he said to me, 'That'll get you nowhere... that's useless. It's not worth anything,' because that's what was embedded in him," Smith said.
Hiini said talking about oppression has been a step toward healing.
"They didn't really talk about it much, but we knew that it happened. And I think it's more now that we talk about it, and we talk about the effects that it's had on our people. Not just the language, it's been a generational trauma," Hiini said.
Now, Māori culture is experiencing a resurgence that's steadily gaining momentum. Many credit New Zealand singer Hinewehi Mohi, who made history after deciding to sing the national anthem in Māori at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
"There are young people that are absorbed and excited about being Māori and learning from Māori, so it is a very exciting time," Smith said.
Grace Hiini said it's incredibly important to preserve the history of a culture, in order to save it in the future.
"Every aspect of our culture and our history is really so important because it's what gives us our connection to our ancestors," Grace Hiini said. "It tells us where we come from and it's also going to tell us where we're going, too."