Hongi adj. (from Maori) literal translation, Smell.

In several cultures the kiss in the Western sense, had no historical precedent, by that I mean, touching your mouth to another's was neither an act of affection, nor of communication. Sucking face hasn't always been a widely accepted custom.

Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, "rub noses" in greeting. The custom takes place between and within genders. So in many ways, it is an act with an intention somewhere between a kiss and a handshake.

In truth rubbing noses or hongi as the Maori call it, is not "rubbing noses" at all. But that's how the white settlers of New Zealand interpreted the action and it's the myth I, like many New Zealanders, grew up believing.

A better description follows. It is the pressing of noses - and often the forehead - together. In this position like bookends pressed close, the participants inhale nasally in a single breath. So hongi is also sharing the breath, if not the exhalation, of another person. It's a pretty sincere experience. I've been to a tangi and as I entered the room, I joined an inner circle moving against an outer circle of people receiving hongi from each in turn. The feeling is a cascade of impressions, the way one has with a succession of varying handshakes, yet different.

Sharing breath has a symbolic meaning that doesn't necessarily translate into English well or easily into Anglo culture, but there are many references to its place in other cultures, and hints of words in our own lexicon.

Try it sometime.

There are some pointers to be aware of:
Firstly, Maori have a facial structure through Melanesian ancestry and penultimately to an Asian origin. Meaning, pressing faces together is a little different when you lack a protruding keel of cartilage. West Eurasians are often challenged by their noses.
Secondly, our contact-phobic culture of dental dams, disposable gloves and antibacterial plastic doesn't always leave us in a position to appreciate being so close to another in meeting.

* Think of lying face down, or the way a surgical mask doesn't sit right and your glasses steam up.

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