Society

The unseen world

We shake hands. I say, "Kia ora," you say, "Kia ora," and, unless you're Maori or we are in a Maori setting, this is usually followed by a conscious effort on my part to contain the urge to press noses with you. For a Maori, the hongi is a physical expression of our meeting on a spiritual level. My wairua (spiritual self) greets yours. The hongi is the key to a free flow of emotions based on mutual trust and goodwill. The breath of life enters and leaves through the nose. The practice of hongi with the deceased at a tangi is a physical acknowledgement that the wairua has indeed departed its mortal coil — the nose being the final part of the body to turn cold. But, back to you and me, the Maori in me says, "Go ahead," but somehow the conventions and the times in which we live dictate something else. There is an uneasiness. I see it in your eyes, I feel it in your hand — your wairua and mine do not sit comfortably together. We have merely acknowledged each other's presence. Even after 150 years we still choose merely to co-exist. Come, feel the warmth of my nose.

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