Story: Te kawa o te marae

Page 1. Kawa of the marae

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The kawa of the marae means the protocols that operate on the marae.

Te kawanga whare or te tā i te kawa: the dawn ceremony

At the opening and dedication of a wharenui (meeting house) or waka (canoe) a ceremony, tā i te kawa, is performed to lift the tapu and dedicate the house or canoe. The literal meaning of tā i te kawa is to hit with a branch of the kawakawa tree. The kawa of the marae is laid down by the local whānau, hapū, or iwi associated with the marae.

Roles on the marae

The roles of kaikaranga (women who call visitors onto the marae, or who call in reply for the visitors) and kaikōrero (speakers) are highly valued. Traditionally the right to be caller or speaker was jealously guarded. In general a kaikaranga was an elder and she would be the tuakana (senior) of her family. For the kaikōrero (orators), who are generally male, the same was true. In many iwi a son would not speak while his father was present and younger brothers would defer to their older brothers.

Order of speeches

The order in which speakers deliver their whaikōrero (speeches) depends on the kawa of the local area. There are, broadly speaking, two types of kawa for speaking order on marae.

In pāeke (also known as harakeke or taiāwhiao) all the speakers from the tangata whenua (hosts) speak first, and are followed by all the speakers from the manuhiri (visitors). This means that the number of speakers on each side can vary.

In tau utuutu (also known as tū mai, tū atu, whakawhiti or tauhokohoko) the speakers alternate. A speaker from the tangata whenua side speaks first and is then followed by a speaker from the manuhiri. The tangata whenua speaker is the final speaker. The tribes that follow this kawa are largely descended from tribes that arrived on the Te Arawa canoe (Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa) or the Tainui canoe (Waikato, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa).

Tribal variations

While the order of speeches is largely dictated by pāeke and tau utuutu, there are some tribal variations. Te Āti Awa tribes hongi (press noses briefly) and harirū (shake hands) with visitors as soon as they are welcomed. In Whanganui, while the pāeke style is generally followed, visitors in a party at a tangihanga are expected to speak first. In Northland, at a tangihanga, a speaker will often poroporoaki (bid farewell) to the deceased at the end of the karanga (when visitors are called onto the marae). This can cause consternation when done outside Northland as hosts feel that the speakers are changing local protocol.

Gender roles during the welcome

In most tribal areas women are kaikaranga (callers) while men play the role of kaikōrero (speakers). In some areas, particularly on the East Coast of the North Island, many renowned woman speakers are recalled. Female orators such as Mihi Kōtukutuku and Whaia McClutchie from Ngāti Porou and Niniwa Heremaia from Ngāti Kahungunu spoke on the marae.

Māori language

In traditional times Māori language was the sole medium of communication on the marae. As English has become more common within Māori communities this has put Māori language under threat. The kawa of a large number of marae dictates that speakers may only speak in Māori. A person who speaks in English may be asked to stop speaking.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Te kawa o te marae - Kawa of the marae', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 Sep 2013