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Nov 06
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Celebrating the Indigenous Dralas

E kore a ngaro he takere waka nui:  the keel of a great canoe cannot be lost.

by Susie Vincent

image1Just as all of you in the northern hemisphere decide that it’s autumn or fall, the leaves turn red and gold and the year’s cycle starts drawing into the dark, in this obscure little country in the South Pacific we have just put the clocks forward. The extraordinary burst of youthful, raw energy that ignites the New Zealand spring has arrived.  The air is scented, the birds are bouncing, buzzing, squeaking and trilling with excitement, and there is this almost ecstatic sense of immanence that brings people suddenly out of doors, as though compelled to greet something.  Then before you know it, the ashes in the wood burner lie cold, and we all take our socks and shoes off.

We are a remarkably barefoot culture.  In my village, only 14km (8 miles) from a big city, I see kids walking barefoot by choice to and from primary school all year round (we do have winter frosts in the valley).  In recent memory, kids rode bareback to school here and only the horse wore shoes.

The idea of exquisite five year olds scampering around the streets at dusk must appall parents elsewhere, but at this moment, in this village, they’re fine. New Zealand isn’t perfect: like everyone, we’re sleepwalking into social, economic and environmental crisis and losing many treasured values, yet I cherish this still tangible sense of difference, somehow characterised by planting the naked foot onto the textures of the earth, in that land-based indigenous way.

Kauri tree, Kakamatua Beach

Kauri tree, Kakamatua Beach

I’ve no doubt that any remnant identity of strong values, strong community, participative democracy, and environmental stewardship that enshrines New Zealand in foreign eyes derives completely from Māori cultural norms ingrained in our mixed culture.  These are perishing fast and in dire need of preservation in these times.

Māori call the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand) tangata whenua, people of the land.   This isn’t about owning the land – this land is our land – but the other way around.  The land is in charge: the nature of the connection between human and animal and tree and earth and sky is unequivocal; the natural forces command respect and authentic dialogue.

So what of the canoe?  A canoe is a vehicle; it’s a path; it’s a tradition.  The Polynesian sea-voyaging ancestors – among the greatest navigators of all time – set out from their homeland in great, ornately adorned and carved, ocean-going canoes (waka), and thus arrived in this beautiful land.  A great waka might be as long as 36 metres (Cook’s ship, Endeavour was 33 metres) and could carry hundreds of people.

Kakamatua Beach, Waitakere Ranges

Kakamatua Beach, Waitakere Ranges

To build a great vehicle for the people isn’t done lightly.  First, you need to choose the right tree, and then designate it for human service – taunahatia.  The wind god – Tāwhirimātea – must be supplicated not to blow it down.  Mediation is needed with the elemental world, to remove any tapu prohibiting its use.  The god of the forest, Tāne, needs to be invoked and propitiated.  The builders of the waka need to be authorized, and a powerful energetic container created for the project.

Ceremonies of chants and songs accompany every stage.  Some elements of karakia are quite unearthly: in the karanga, which invites and supplicates the ancestors at the start of a gathering, the voices of women soar in a dramatic wail, as though reaching into the strands binding the visible and invisible worlds.  In Maori tradition, the inseparability of nirvana and samsara is indisputable.

Kakamatua Beach

Kakamatua Beach

Raising drala; raising the spirits; supplicating the elemental; inviting and supplicating tathagatas – the lineage heroes of tradition and myth: while the honour accorded to it is waning, this continual sense of sacred world embedded in a culture still remains.  Most New Zealanders understand these truths:  koha – reciprocal generosity; mana – authentic presence, integrity, honour; aroha – loving compassion; kaitiakitanga – guardianship and stewardship of the earth; wairua – the essential nature of something.

The keel of a great canoe cannot be lost.  Who is the keel of a great canoe?  Lineage holders are the keel – the great structural beam that holds the vessel together and from which everything radiates. When the vehicle and the journey are founded in what is timeless, elemental and primordial, it may be forgotten, diluted or denied, but it can never be destroyed.

We extend this hope for New Zealand, and for Shambhala.

Kia kaha!  Be strong and great like the ropes that bind the great canoe!

Aroha nui

Susie Vincent serves as the head of Practice and Education in Auckland. She offers this story with thanks to Sophie Watt for her inspiration.

All Shambhalians are warmly invited to an M.I. and Guide Gathering with Acharya Dale Asrael (or you can do Guide Training!) in New Zealand in the Southern midsummer, followed by a half-dathun.   The full program will extend from December 28  to January 16. Find more details at   www.auckland.shambhala.info, or contact the local center at: [email protected]

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1 response to “ Celebrating the Indigenous Dralas ”
  1. Bob Taylor
    Nov 6, 2015

    Loved this for many reasons. Thank you and Autumn/Spring greetings!

    Bob Taylor

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