Te Kura o Koutu students have given Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters a gift on behalf of the people of the French Polynesian Marquesas Islands.
The students gifted a tiki (wooden carving) and other taonga on behalf of Mayor Benoit Kautai from Nuku Hiva, the largest of the Marquesas Islands, to Mr Winters at a ceremony at the Rotorua District Council yesterday.
The group of Year 10 and 11 students have recently returned from a school trip to the islands to learn their turangawaewae (where they came from) and study the historical, cultural and linguistic ties with their kin in that part of Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean).
Principal Uenuku Fairhall said the two mayors the students met with had gone "all out" in making their trip comfortable and memorable.
"On the islands, the schools are headed by people who are sent out by France. Both of the principals on the islands were pretty tentative about having a group of strangers to visit, so we ended up in contact with the two mayors' offices. They came in, in such a big way."
Mr Fairhall said they had taken taonga from Mr Winters to the islands, which for their mayors was a big deal.
"For them it's a huge deal, not like here where we have many cities aligned with us. Their generosity was just huge - they paid for a lot of our meals and provided accommodation for free on both islands. They were incredible people."
Being such an isolated island group, Mr Fairhall said the Marquesas Islanders had waited a long time for Maori visitors and were interested in seeing how the te Kura o Koutu students had kept their language and their culture, something they were struggling to do. At yesterday's ceremony, Mr Winters thanked the group of students for bringing back the tiki and other taonga.
"I'm delighted you were able to go and see them, and learn about different cultures that are closely related to ours. I'm not well spoken in Te Reo, but I can hear the similarity in their words ... because that's where we came from, you can see it, hear it and feel it."