Home > News > A Cultural Exchange: Three Days in Turangi, New Zealand with the Māori Community

Yalcin Solak, Executive Director at PIF

Over the weekend, Pearl of the Islands Foundation (PIF) had the privilege of being guests at a Marae (traditional meeting house) near Lake Taupo in the town of Turangi, located on the North Island of New Zealand. Hosted by the Māori chief of the region, Kaumatu Sam, and his family, our group of 29 people, consisting of 23 adults and 6 children, embarked on a unique cultural experience just a 4-hour drive from Auckland. The attendees included 7 families from Auckland, 1 family from Wellington, 2 friends from Christchurch (Mike and Toby), and Bryan from Auckland, whom we had coordinated the program with.

The Marae served as our shared accommodation, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds under one roof. Turangi’s local Muslim Māori, Mathew (Ebubakar), joined us in staying at the Marae and served as our guide, introducing us to sacred Māori sites in the region. Together, we performed prayers and engaged in spiritual activities, with Mathew beautifully reciting the calls to prayer.

The warm welcome extended beyond mere hospitality; it was a rich program filled with mutual conversations, songs, and the exchange of gifts. The traditional Māori greeting, Hongi, where noses and foreheads touch, symbolizing the sharing of breath, goodwill, and hardships, was performed. Sam, in his address, emphasized the connection between nature and humanity, stating, “God has given us seasons, mountains, and rivers to recognize Him and share all His blessings. In Māori culture, we greet our guests with Hongi, signifying, ‘Your breath is my breath, your tears are my tears, your pain is my pain, your happiness is my happiness.'”

Throughout the three days, we immersed ourselves in the Māori culture and history, listening to firsthand accounts, visiting sacred natural sites, fishing, swimming in the lake, and enjoying hot springs. We shared meals, conversations, and even learned to prepare Hangi, a traditional Māori dish cooked for 12 hours in a pit with hot steam, featuring meat, chicken, and vegetables.

Our cultural exchange extended beyond Māori traditions as we taught our Maori and Kiwi friends the art of Ebru (water marbling) and introduced them to Turkish music by playing the saz.

As the time to bid farewell approached, emotional moments filled the air. Sam, in his closing speech, expressed, “Beautiful bridges have been built between us. You have crossed this bridge and become part of our hearts; we are now one family.” He personally and collectively invited us to consider their home as ours, ensuring that we could return anytime. The farewells were accompanied by gifts for the female attendees, and the Hongi was performed once more, with hopes of meeting again in the future.