Story: Māori feasts and ceremonial eating – hākari

Hākari – feasts – play an important role in Māori culture as a demonstration of hospitality and mana. Some 19th-century hākari featured vast amounts of food, displayed in stacks or on stages.

Story by Basil Keane
Main image: Feast at Matatā, mid-19th century

Story summary

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Food in Māori tradition

In the Māori creation tradition, Papatūānuku (earth mother) and Ranginui (sky father) were pushed apart by their children, the gods. Tāwhirimātea fought and defeated four of his brothers, who were the gods of the sea, the forest, cultivated foods and uncultivated foods. He then used them as food.

Food is noa (ordinary), as opposed to tapu (sacred). Māori were careful that food did not infringe on tapu. For instance, some tohunga were so tapu that they could not feed themselves. Food can also be used to remove tapu.

Hākari (feasts) were a way to demonstrate hospitality and mana. Sometimes hosts and guests competed to outdo each other with the biggest feast and greatest hospitality.

Traditional feasts

Hākari were held to mark events and rituals, including:

  • the tohi ceremony, when a child was dedicated to a god
  • moko – the tattooing of a young person of rank
  • marriage
  • tangihanga (funerals)
  • ngahuru, the time of the kūmara harvest in March
  • the appearance of Matariki (the Pleiades) or Puanga (Rigel) in the sky – the Māori New Year
  • the opening of the whare wānanga (house of learning)
  • the sealing of a peace agreement.

19th-century feasts

Hākari became huge in the 19th century. Some featured thousands of guests, with many tonnes of food. Food was displayed in huge stacks or on whata (stages), up to 30 metres high.

Kaihaukai were traditional feasts where tribes exchanged foods from their own regions – for instance, seafood was exchanged for food from the forest.

Poukai are a series of hui (gatherings) held mainly in the Waikato. They were started by the Māori King Tāwhiao in 1885, as a harvest festival and a way to feed the needy.

Feasts in the 20th and 21st centuries

Traditionally, a hākari could be the sole reason for a hui. In the 2000s feasts were held at the end of hui, but were not the only reason for them. Mana was still an important part of hospitality – it was important to feed guests well.

In the 2000s many marae were concerned with healthy eating, and served healthy foods.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Māori feasts and ceremonial eating – hākari', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 September 2013