Written By Jim Barnes of Earth Guardians Golden Bay
After almost a year in planning, Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh arrived at the Wellington airport on January 3, 2017. His new year began by boarding the plane for New Zealand on New Years’ Day. New Zealand is the land of first light, the first country to see the new day and the new year, and this is where the Kid Warrior (now deemed ‘Mana Warrior’ by me), initiated his year of massive challenge and accomplishment.
Kiri Danielle of Rotorua, respected Maori kaitiaki (guardian) and environmental warrior, called him into our New Zealand whanau (family) with the traditional karanga and then led those of us who had gathered to greet him in a heart-felt haka welcome. Embraces followed which included the Maori hongi, a head and nose meeting that allows visitor and host to share connection to their third eye and their breath. I personally cannot express how glorious it was to at last embrace Xiuhtezcatl and welcome him into what has become my homeland for the past 25 years after having been born and raised in Oregon. Maori TV, the indigenous TV station, was there to interview him and they aired the interview that evening.
Kiri loaded us all into her friend’s hatch back and we drove into the forest above the capital city where we stepped into a beautiful native bush reserve so Xiuhtezcatl could connect with Tane (guardian/spirit of the forest) and the waters of Papatuanuku (Mother Earth). Returning to the youth hostel that had given us half price on their accommodation, our party settled into their rooms and then went shopping at Commonsense Organics who had donated a $100 voucher for the special guest.
The gig the next day at Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, was a huge success. TV One interviewed Xiuhtezcatl before his performance and, typical of his amazing adaptability, he took everything in an easy and confident stride. I moderated the panel discussion and allowed the panelists to respond to questions about climate change and effects on Aotearoa. Afterward, Xiuhtezcatl delivered an impassioned keynote address followed by an inspiring performance with his Byron Bay friend, Jaiia Cerff.
On the 5th we boarded Interislander’s Kaitaki, the enormous ferry to carry us to the South Island. Interislander was yet another generous supporter of Xiuhtezcatl’s visit and they gave all five of us free passage. The Boulder youth was privileged to experience the rough seas out of Wellington Harbor and across Cook Strait but then the calm beauty of sailing into Picton through Queen Charlotte Sound. I took the team through the drive known as Queen Charlotte Drive, the winding and picturesque route toward Golden Bay. We had a stop at Pelorus Bridge where the cold clear waters welcomed the travelers with its chilling embrace.
On the first morning in Golden Bay, I took Xiuhtezcatl, Pearl and Jaiia to the sacred waters of Waikoropupu Springs, recognized as one of the clearest waterways in the world. The springs rise from the earth from deep limestone cave aquifers and flow to the sea only 2 kilometers away. We spent at least two hours here as Xiuhtezcatl connected deeply to this sacred place, sang prayer songs into the waters, and carried the spirit of the waters with him for the rest of his journey. The young Earth Guardians who were inspired by his time here are now engaged in a campaign to protect the waters from forces that want to extract and endanger their pristine quality.
The ARYSE week was exhilarating and full of new connections, workshops and celebrations of life. Xiuhtezcatl’s performance at the first concert was one of his best and the crowd of 200 were on their feet dancing with him for his entire performance. He was on fire! He and Jaiia led workshops together that allowed young people the opportunity to explore ways to actively engage in environmental action for positive change as well as learning to express their creative flow in rap. The week concluded with all participants showcasing their week’s creative endeavours. A huge shout out to Siti Jongkind and Sybille Feint who were the main organizers of this event.
The last three days in Aotearoa afforded Xiuhtezcatl the opportunity to be welcomed onto the Maori marae in Motueka where he addressed the gathered indigenous whanau and received gifts from them representing their culture and the special connection they felt to his mission. This was his last night in New Zealand and we were hosted to sleep in the marae after an eventful day that included a performance in the park at Tahunanui Beach outside of Nelson and then the final glorious opportunity to meet and mix with one of New Zealand’s top performers and icons, Tiki Taane and the band Fly My Pretties. Xiuhtezcatl was invited to give a short talk in the interval but was told because of the nature and size of the band (15 members), he wouldn’t be able to perform any music. Tiki decided otherwise! During the encore jam, Tiki called Xiuhtezcatl onstage and he spit out a verse of “Break Free” and the crowd of 2,000 went wild. What a way to conclude this incredible journey.
The night’s sleep at the marae was privately quiet after so much activity and the next day was a rushed (4 platefuls!) breakfast in Nelson before arriving at the airport only to discover their flight was cancelled. As Pearl was busy engaging with Tamara and the airline authorities, I had the opportunity to pull Xiuhtezcatl to a quiet corner where two chairs were waiting for us. One can imagine the universe allowed for this much needed time to connect. The two of us were able to express our deep appreciation for the magical, incredible and inspirational time, and mostly for the love we had for each other across the seas and across the years. Homies of a lifetime is how Xiuhtezcatl expressed it and this elder homie could not hold back the tears at the parting. But the Mana Warrior, in his signature compassion and eagle arms, unreservedly embraced me and I him, and after offering a special parting gift, the time approached to say farewell and promises to return.
Xiuhtezcatl’s time in Aotearoa was far bigger and more universally significant then I ever could have imagined when I first started engaging in the fantasy over a year ago. He is the embodiment of the commitment of youth to stand idle no longer but to engage their passion, their skills and their powerful voice to be the change we’ve been waiting for. And he is also a kind, delightful, talented, compassionate young man and a true friend. Ake ake, kia kaha! (Forever and ever—be strong!)