The pōwhiri (or pōhiri) is a process whereby the host people welcome visitors on the marae. In recent years the pōwhiri process has also been used in other situations, such as welcoming a new employee to a workplace.
The marae usually consists of a wharenui (meeting house) with marae ātea (courtyard) in front, a wharekai (dining hall) and an ablutions block with toilets and showers.
Tangata whenua (hosts)
The tangata whenua are the local people. When they are welcoming a group they are responsible for them. They begin the welcome when the group of visitors has assembled.
The visitors to a marae who have never been there before are known as waewae tapu (sacred feet). Distant visitors are known as manuhiri tūārangi (visitors from afar). When manuhiri have never been to a particular marae before a kaumātua (elder) in the group will often perform a protective karakia or prayer known as a waerea. Usually the group will organise their kaikaranga (caller), their kaikōrero (speakers) and collect koha (the donation) to be given to the tangata whenua. They also usually decide on the order of speakers.
Wero or taki
In modern times a wero or taki (ritual challenge) occurs when a particularly important visitor is being welcomed.
A full challenge involves three challengers, who are warriors. The rākau whakaara (warning baton) is laid down by the first challenger. After it is picked up by the honoured guest the challenger turns and returns to his people. Then the rākau takoto (baton laid down) is laid down by the second challenger, and is picked up by the guest. The third challenger kneels and lays down the rākau whakawaha (baton that clears the way), which is also picked up by the guest. This challenger then leads the party onto the marae.
In many cases, there will be no wero and the pōwhiri will begin with the karanga or call. A kaikaranga (caller) from the tangata whenua will begin to call and she will be responded to by a kaikaranga from the manuhiri.
The manuhiri will move onto the marae and the calling will continue.
When the manuhiri are being welcomed onto the marae, the host people will sometimes welcome them with a haka pōwhiri (ritual action chant).
Whaikōrero (speeches) are given by both hosts and visitors on the marae.
At the conclusion of each speech the speaker and a number of supporters will sing a waiata (song). Often these are traditional waiata.
Gold coin koha
Most visitors will place their koha money in an envelope. Generally it consists of notes. However, some kaumātua will bring gold coins to place in the envelope so it won’t blow away with a gust of wind.
The koha is a gift by the manuhiri to the tangata whenua. It is usually placed on the ground by the final speaker from the manuhiri. Once the speaker is seated, someone from the tangata whenua will pick it up.
Harirū and hongi
At the conclusion of the formal proceedings the manuhiri will be invited to come and hongi (press noses) and harirū (shake hands) with the tangata whenua. Traditionally, whether male or female, participants would hongi. After European settlement, the kiss was introduced, and instead of a hongi men and women would kiss other women. Many marae now insist on a return to the traditional method where only hongi and harirū occurs.
The pōwhiri will conclude with a hākari (feast), which lifts the tāpu (sacredness) of the pōwhiri.
In the evening, inside the wharenui the mihimihi process will begin. Mihimihi (or mihi) are speeches in which people introduce themselves by sharing their ancestral ties. A karakia led by the tangata whenua will commence proceedings. The mihimihi will begin with the tangata whenua and then move around to the manuhiri. These introductions and speeches are more informal and reflect the fact that inside the house is the domain of Rongo the god of peace.
The conclusion of a hui will be marked by formal farewells known as poroporoaki. It is usual for the manuhiri or visitors to initiate the poroporoaki. This is because it is considered good etiquette to let the visitors leave when they are ready, and impolite for the hosts to tell them to leave. Poroporoaki generally happen in the wharenui at the conclusion of a hākari but are also held inside the wharenui and, more rarely, on the marae ātea.