I had visited Central America once before. It was in 2014 and I was on a spiritual path, following in the footsteps of Māori who had gone before me.
This became evident when a Costa Rican bartender pulled out his phone to show me a video of a Māori doing Ka Mate years before in the exact spot I was standing. It only seemed right that I performed the haka too.
Me and my Māori cousins (sorry about the “all Māori are related” stereotype!) are well received in Central America – I’m often mistaken for being Latino. I rate the region for its culture and beauty.
But Pluma Hidalgo in Mexico takes the cake when it comes to that spiritual relatability between the tangata whenua of this world.
Pluma Hidalgo is something holy. Mountainous. Actually mountainous… as in you’re walking through rain clouds. It’s very green too. That rich kind of green you see in Aotearoa. The indigenous people are strong there. Their presence is everywhere. It reminds me of Wainui Bay in the far North and our holidays there when we were young. It was just us (a crew of little Māori kids) and the land – the only remnants of colonisation were the western clothes on our backs and the Weet-Bix in our bellies. You get that sense of belonging from the Zapotec people in Pluma Hidalgo, and you get very little of the colonial feel you get in places like Mexico City. I related to this very natural setting. It was like coming home.
Working with The Lucy Foundation opened my eyes to the virtues of living off the land, which is something my whanau from Ngati-Maru did in post-war Thames. The similarities are strong as far as hunting and what not, but they have something else that grows naturally there too, something that gives you a buzz … coffee.
I worked on one of their coffee farms and felt pretty chuffed as we cut down a mini banana tree forest to clear the land. One or two slices per tree. Their trunks are like butter, all gooey and wet. It’s freaky stuff! We also spotted eagles, a snake and some devilish looking ants. We collected a bunch of bananas to take home for brekky too! The crazy thing for me was how similar and dissimilar the experience was. Minus all the dangerous animals the process was the same. A little sweat, effort, foresight and positive intent, and in a bit of time you’ll get some high-quality coffee beans. It’s the same here as it is there and anywhere people live off the land. It’s a simple principle, but it’s special. It’s how we survive.
I was extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to partake in a cultural exchange with the Zapotec people of Pluma Hidalgo.
To me the fundamental key to a cultural exchange is the sharing. What I want for young Māori, is for those with an interest in indigenous culture and living off the land to come on board and share their culture with these people and learn about Zapotec culture in return.
The Lucy Foundation has a base in Pluma Hidalgo where there is so much fun stuff for people to get involved in. I had the chance and I hope that more opportunities will open up… I have a few ideas so please watch this space!
Yonel Watene, of Ngati-Maru, is an Auckland-based Māori artist
Do you have something say about disability, coffee and employment?
Flick us an email, we’d love to hear from you!