After a good night’s rest, we met in the hotel lobby at 8:20 a.m. on Sunday 4 October and drove up Highway 1 to Tawa, a suburb on the north side of Wellington. Several weeks earlier, after Vic and Rangi learned that the rest of the full-time staff of the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Centre was planning a trip to the national capital while the museum was closed for the Church’s General Conference, they made their own plans to visit Wellington. Rangi had grown up in nearby Porirua and many of her relatives still live in the area, including her youngest daughter, Hinemoa, so we didn’t expect to see much of Rangi and Vic over the weekend. They had, however, arranged to meet us at the LDS meetinghouse in Tawa, where we all attended sacrament meeting together.
They also had invited us to go with them to Porirua after church. The plan was to visit the marae (traditional Māori community center) where Rangi’s whānau (extended family) had gathered for generations, and then attend a presentation on the history of her iwi (tribe) prepared by her son-in-law. Unfortunately, someone in the community had just died, and because funerals always take precedence over anything else scheduled at a marae, we were unable to go inside—a disappointment. But Callum had set up his presentation equipment at a nearby Māori education center, so we spent a couple of hours there, learning about the origins of the Ngati Toa and how the tribe had moved south from Kawhia (in the Waikato, not far from Hamilton) during the 1820s amid a series of disputes with neighboring iwi that turned violent. What impressed us most about Callum’s presentation was his obvious passion for his subject. He and Hinemoa are part of the generation that had to learn te reo Māori as adults because their parents and grandparents were discouraged from using the language or practicing many of their cultural traditions. We admire those who have worked hard to reclaim their Māori heritage and share what they’ve learned with others.
After the presentation, the seven of us American missionaries left Rangi and Vic with their whānau and drove to Karori, a suburb on Wellington’s west side. The stream that runs through the community was the site of the first baptism performed in New Zealand by Latter-day Saint missionaries, and the country’s first LDS congregation was formed there a few months later. That was in 1855; now fast-forward to 2018 or so, when local Church members began seeking permission from community officials and general Church leaders to erect a marker next to the stream where the baptism took place. The exact location of the historic event is uncertain, but it’s thought to be on private land that would be hard for visitors to access, so the Church and the city of Karori have agreed to place the marker on a nice plot at the edge of a public park. On the day we visited, the park was full of families enjoying a pleasant Sunday afternoon, as well as a number of practicing cricket and rugby players.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the place that had been our primary reason for visiting Wellington: a special exhibit at Te Papa, New Zealand’s National Museum, called Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War. Barry and Eva had seen the exhibit in 2019 and told the rest of us that it was not to be missed; now we understand why. But before we describe the show and our reaction to it, we need to give some historical background: The Gallipoli Peninsula in western Turkey was the site of a major World War I campaign in which military forces from Russia, France, and Great Britain (including Australia and New Zealand) attempted to wrest control of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus—crucial waterways for international trade—from the Ottoman Empire. The campaign, which dragged on for eight months, was an utter disaster for everyone involved. Half a million casualties were almost equally divided between the sides, including more than 113,000 deaths from a horrific combination of injury, illness, exposure, and starvation. New Zealand’s death toll was 3,431, which may not sound like much until you consider that the number represents more than 20 percent of its fighting force. Over 4,100 additional Kiwis were wounded. Ultimately, the Entente nations pulled out, leaving the Ottomans in control of the Turkish straits—although the war, exacerbated by internal strife, soon led to the Empire’s complete collapse. Russia, France, and Great Britain achieved almost nothing from the Gallipoli campaign, but the effort had a significant, lasting effect on Australia and New Zealand. With the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) having been regarded as a full, valued participant in the military operation, the soldiers and citizens of those respective countries began regarding themselves as legitimate players on the world stage. Gallipoli thus became a touchstone of national pride for both South Pacific nations, and the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing—25 April—has become both countries’ most revered holiday.
Now back to the exhibit at Te Papa. Its title, Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, gives a hint of what makes the show so stunning. The exhibit features six dramatic dioramas containing lifelike, minutely detailed figures of ANZAC soldiers and medical personnel—at a scale 2.5 times normal size. The dioramas were created by Wētā Workshop (the wizards behind Peter Jackson’s fantasy films), and their effect is truly overwhelming. Each tableau, whose figures represent actual people, is accompanied by the stories of those individuals, both in written text and dramatized audio recordings, based on diaries and letters written either by the people themselves or others who knew them. The stories are so poignant that one cannot help but be moved to tears. The pictures we’ve included here (along with quotes from the narration) fail to convey the exhibit’s sense of scale and thus cannot possibly do it justice, but they at least provide a glimpse of what we experienced. The show, which also includes a number of artifacts, short films, and a wealth of interpretive material, was so impressive that we wanted to absorb it all, but the experience was so intense and emotionally draining that after about an hour and a half we simply had to leave. Why must so many lives and so much potential be lost to war? Why can’t humankind let love prevail so we can break free from this cycle of destruction?
To find some relief, we went upstairs to the permanent Māori collection on the fourth floor, where we found the answers to several questions we had had about the history and culture of New Zealand’s native people. We learned, for example, that the sails of traditional waka (canoes) were made not from canvas, but from coarsely-woven reeds and flax. Pataka (storehouses) were tapu (sacred) to Māori because stored food represented not only the community’s ability to survive, but also its ability to provide an appropriately gracious welcome to visitors. We also learned about the history of poi, a traditional dance form in which small woven balls attached to the end of a cord are twirled in rhythmic, symbolic patterns. The dance was originally developed as a means of providing an audible rhythmic beat to keep a team of rowers in sync. Poi also provides exercise to increase strength and flexibility in the hands and arms and improve coordination—useful skills for both combat and craftsmanship. (Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph anything in the historic Māori collection.)
While many of the items on display in the museum are from earlier centuries, many represent more contemporary interpretations of Māori cultural traditions. One that particularly impressed us (and which we were allowed to photograph) was Te Hono ki Hawaiki, the whare (meetinghouse) of Te Papa’s marae, a large gathering space located at the back of the museum. The name of the whare refers to the legendary homeland of New Zealand’s Māori, and its whakairo (decorative carvings) symbolically relate the whakapapa (genealogy) of the country’s major tribes.
Our group reconvened in the museum’s atrium at 5:30 p.m. and then walked a few blocks from there to Indian Alley for dinner. Our selections, served family-style, included Parda Biryani, a traditional dish of rice, meat, and vegetables steamed in a casserole under a piece of naan; it looked almost like a pot pie. We also shared Lamb Rara (a spicy dish from northern India combining lamb chunks and mince with a yogurt-based sauce); Mango Chicken, Diwani Handi (chopped spinach and other vegetables with “smoky aromas”), and several types of naan.
We left thinking we were too full for dessert but changed our minds when we passed a couple on the street who were eating ice cream. They pointed us toward Kaffee Eis, a full-store version of the gelato stand we had seen on the wharf the day before. Nancy had what she still claims is the best gelato flavor she has ever tasted: “Indian Summer,” a sublime mixture of ginger, cardamom, and turmeric in a yogurt base. (We’re going to have to try recreating that one at home!)
Back at the Intercontinental Hotel, we finished the evening playing Quiddler in a corner of the lounge. Wendy had borrowed the game from her cousin, who is serving a mission in Wellington. Nancy thought that since the object is to create words from the cards in your hand, she would have a better chance of winning than she usually has with number-based games like Farkle. Alas, the game still involves the element of chance; she lost abysmally.