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For many students visiting New Zealand for the first time, a trip to a Maori marae or wharenui (meeting house) and taking part in a powhiri (formal welcome ceremony) is a must-do during your stay.

As like many cultures, Maori have special rules and protocol that must be followed when on a Pa (Maori village/settlement), in a marae and during a powhiri.

Many schools take field trips to visit local marae. Before you visit, it’s important to understand some of the traditions around a visit to a marae. We’ve compiled an example of how a typical powhiri is performed, tips on how to introduce yourself in the Maori language and a list of customs to follow during your visit. Start by learning how to introduce yourself – the Korero Maori website has a list of nga mihi (greetings) to try.

Maori Meeting House

What happens during a powhiri?

A powhiri is the traditional way to welcome guests onto a marae. There are six main steps during a powhiri.

1. Stand at the gate or entrance of the marae. Depending on the formality of the occasion it is usual for women to dress modestly, skirts that are not too short and males to wear long pants. It is polite to arrive early and wait for hosts to acknowledge your arrival by sending forth the first karanga, the call of welcome. This call is an oratory summons done by a high-ranking female elder in the host group as the first call of welcome.

2. You will have a guide with you who will reply with a karanga as your group begins to walk forward towards the marae. The common custom is women will walk in front of the men behind the kai karanga (the female caller), the men often form a V around and behind the women. The entry depends on each marae’s protocol as they do differ, the guide will have established the appropriate practice. The women’s karanga will greet and address each other, the oncoming manuhiri (guests) will identify themselves and who they represent. This is also where both groups  pay tribute to the ancestors gone before them and most certainly acknowledge the more recently deceased.

3. Formal speeches called whaikorero start with the hosts, followed by the guests. Again it depends on the particular marae protocol as the hosts and the guests may alternate in speaking order.  Whaikorero is always in Te Reo Maori (Maori language) and skilled speakers bring forth powerful verbal images. The gods are always acknowledged. The courtyard outside allows speeches to be more forceful as the area is represented by Tu, the Maori god of war. Once inside, the speeches are more peaceful, as the inside is the domain of Rongo, the god of peace.

4. A waiata (song) is sung after each speech. These are usually traditional Maori songs sung to support the speaker. If you’d like to listen to a waiata before your visit, the Korero Maori website contains four popular waiatas.

5. A gift (usually monetary), called a koha, is presented by the last speaker of the visitors and is received by a male or female from the host group (again it depends on the particular marae practices).

6. The hosts line up and the guests with men in front walk forward to press noses, called a hongi, in a traditional greeting process called a hariru. This hariru signifies the joining of the two groups. Sometimes this is accompanied by a handshake or a polite kiss on the cheek.

Depending on the occasion either a light supper or a hakari (feast/meal) is shared, signalling the end of the powhiri.

Rules and guidelines in the marae

    • Shoes must be removed before entering a marae.
    • Local customs dictate which side the visitors and hosts sit – your host will let you know where to sit ahead of time.
    • Food or drink is only to be consumed in the wharekai (dining room). Often the person calling to say food is ready will say who should come first; elders always  go first. A karakia or the blessing of food takes place before everyone begins eating. Passing food over someone’s head or sitting on the table is considered not only impolite but considered a serious breach of tikanga (protocol).
    • In the wharenui, just like the tables – you should not sit on sleeping pillows, or step over people or in front of people who are speaking.
    • If you are staying the night, mattresses and pillows are usually provided, but you must bring your own sleeping bag or blankets. Make sure you arrange your sleeping position prior to setting up, as some areas of the marae are reserved for particular elders or leaders.

Have you ever been on a marae or taken part in a powhiri? Tell us your story in a comment below.

Photo credits:

Maori Meeting House by Big Blue Ocean, CC-BY-2.0

Hongi by Kiri Dell, CC-BY-2.0

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