the challenge — it’s a wero

pernille gets a nose bump

no red carpet, but a red tongue, a red flag the morning after a blood moon, and the pointy end of a spear greet the new danish ambassador to new zealand

hongis all around!! it was a big day at government house in wellington. the travel ban is lifted! hallelujah! aussies and kiwis can visit each other again. and the traditional maori greeting, the “hongi”, or nose bump — discouraged for more than a year — is back.

a “hongi” or nose touching, is a sign of welcome.

and so it came to pass on may 27th, under a cloudless sky, the morning after a blood red moon and a total lunar eclipse, a trio of spear-carrying warriors danced across the lawn of government house to challenge a group of new arrivals.

it’s the beginning of a welcoming tradition known as “powhiri”, as explained at

The powhiri is the ritual ceremony of encounter.

Traditionally the process served to discover whether the visiting party were friend or foe, and so its origins lay partly in military necessity. As the ceremony progressed, and after friendly intent was established, it became a formal welcoming of guests (manuhiri) by the hosts (tangata whenua or home people).

at the appointed time, a band of maori men and women gathers in front of the flagpole (which by some coincidence is flying a red and white danish flag). they are accompanied by a band of soldiers; in fact, a military band, some armed with trombones and trumpets, one with a sword, others with actual guns.

the visiting party approaches, prompting three warriors to raise spears, advance on the newly-arrived party, and issue the ritual challenge, the “wero”.

acoss the vast expanse of lawn came three warriors, hesitantly

the warrior chieftain dances forward, making loud noises and gesticulating with his spear. he then lays a token (taki) on the lawn, while maintaining eye contact with the lead male of the visiting party.

the lead male (in this case, me) then approaches the warriors, all the time maintaining eye contact with the chief, and picks up the taki.

eyes must be focused on the maori warriors while retrieving the taki

a successful taki pickup seems to satisfy the warriors of our friendly intent, which prompts a warm greeting to the arriving ambassador (a hongi). she is escorted to a platform, (covered in red) from where the force commander invites her to inspect the troops.

pernille pretends not to notice lint on one of the soldiers’ lapels as she inspects the troops

good news! the troops pass inspection. we are all then invited inside, where pernille gives a brief (but brilliantly crafted) introductory speech, conveying personal greetings from denmark’s queen margrethe, and hailing the friendship between denmark and new zealand.

both, she points out, are nations composed of islands. each has two main islands and lots of smaller ones, though denmark also has a spit of land that is actually attached to a continent.

pernille then hands over her letter of accreditation to new zealand’s governor-general patsy reddy.

dame patsy responds with a welcome address, assuring her there was no harm intended by the warriors on the lawn, and reflecting on the similarities between new zealand and denmark. she notes the two nations are tied for #1 on the world anti-corruption index and both are in the top ten of the world’s friendliest countries.

with that, pernille is officially the danish envoy to new zealand.

there’s time for a group photo of dame patsy and ambassador pernille along with two gentlemen of sparse hirsute foliage (not much hair), and karen pullar, the danish consul in wellington.

the standard photo

the photo is followed by a quick round of handshakes and farewells, then we’re out the door into a waiting limousine to whisk us back to our hotel. total time elapsed: 15 minutes.

next is a short walk to a dockside restaurant for a celebratory glass of bubbly and lunch in the warm late autumn sunshine. time elapsed: two hours.

oh , and about that blood moon. just by a stroke of luck i had decided to go for a run at dusk along wellington’s waterfront the evening before the credentials ceremony, forgetting that a lunar spectacular, including a total eclipse, was on that evening.

as i reached the intersection leading to the harbor, an orange sphere hovered above the horizon. sunset? sunrise? ok, we’re in a new country, maybe they do things differently here. but surely not evening sunrise?

out along the bustling pier, pedestrian traffic almost came to a halt as people reached for their cell phones to catch the spectacle. it became an instant social media sensation. “pier reviewed”, even.

then something unexpected began to happen. as i ran along the waterfront, the moon’s relationship to the hills across the harbor kept changing, giving the illusion that the orange ball was rolling up the crest of the mountain, until it dropped below the horizon.

i stopped to take a picture as the moon rose for the second time, then continued my jog. but as the altitude of the crest went ever higher, the moon disappeared again.

by this time, darkness was descending over the city, and as i witnessed my third moonrise of the evening, the reflection shimmering across the water brought the harbor to life, as moon replaced sun as the dominant light source.

we faded to “pillow land” long before the lunar eclipse hours later. (eclipses don’t make great cell phone photos, anyway.) but the next day we woke to an internet full of pictures that made ours look wimpy by comparison. one in particular was the money shot below by AP photographer mark baker over sydney harbor.

 Photo by Mark Baker/AP/Shutterstock

but seeing three blood moonrises in one night? that’s “luna-see”.

it’s a warm welcome and sendoff as we set out for three weeks of exploring kiwiland.

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