Story: Te kawa o te marae

Pōwhiri, the ceremony used to welcome visitors onto the marae, was traditionally a way of finding out whether people were friends or enemies. Different marae have slightly different protocols depending on their iwi or area, but the same formal roles and structure.

Story by Basil Keane
Main image: Manuhiri (guests) arrive at a pōwhiri, Pāpāwai marae, 2012

Story summary

All images & media in this story

Kawa of the marae

The kawa of the marae means the protocols or rules that operate on the marae. Different marae have different ways of doing things, but there are some things common to all.

It is an honour to have an official role during the pōwhiri (welcome onto the marae). Kaikaranga (women who call at the beginning of the welcome) and kaikōrero (the people who make speeches, usually men) are usually the eldest and most respected in their families.

On some marae all the speakers from the tangata whenua (hosts) speak first, followed by the manuhiri (guests). At other marae the speeches alternate, with one speaker from the hosts followed by one from the guests, and so on.

Pōwhiri process

When the manuhiri have gathered outside the marae, the tangata whenua begin to call them onto the marae. If an especially important person is visiting, there will be a ritual challenge first, where warriors lay down batons and the guest picks them up.

When the guests are on the marae, usually on the courtyard in front of the wharenui (meeting house), whaikōrero (speeches) are given, followed by waiata (songs). A koha of money (usually in an envelope) is given to the hosts, and then the guests and hosts hongi (press noses) and harirū (shake hands) in greeting.

The next stage of the welcome is a hākari (feast). In the evening, inside the meeting house, there is a mihimihi, where people introduce themselves by sharing their ancestral ties.

When the visitors are ready to go, they begin the poroporoaki (formal farewells).

Mythology and pōwhiri

Important gods are symbolised by parts of the marae. For example, the courtyard outside the meeting house is the domain of Tūmatauenga (or Tū), the god of war, and speeches in that area are allowed to be more forceful. The meeting house is the domain of Rongo, the god of peace, and speeches inside are expected to be peaceful.

History of pōwhiri

The pōwhiri process developed as a way of checking whether people were friends or enemies. In the past members of one tribe might use a meeting to attack another tribe.

Historic accounts of pōwhiri suggest that the process has remained much the same for hundreds of years.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Te kawa o te marae', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 February 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 Sep 2013