Story: Urban Māori

Page 4. Urban marae

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Central to Māori culture and community activities is the marae. In the early years of migration the suburban state house and the community hall served as temporary marae. They were the venues for tangihanga (ceremonies of mourning) and gatherings to mark significant occasions such as birthdays and marriages. Some purpose-built halls such as the Auckland Māori Community Centre provided a gathering place, but were not really suitable for the demands of a tangihanga, or the full expression of Māori culture and hospitality. Many Māori had firmly planted their roots in the city, but they still needed a tūrangawaewae – a place to stand and express their cultural identity.

A city resting place

In the past most Māori in the cities took their dead home for burial in the family urupā (cemetery) alongside their ancestors. Today, the Waikumete cemetery in West Auckland has an area known as the Urupā, where anyone who can trace their Māori ancestry, or is a partner or adopted child of a Māori, may be buried. This is another example of recreating traditional structures within the urban setting.

Urban marae

The 1960s witnessed the widespread beginnings of ‘urban marae’ projects. These were to serve as traditional marae but were built within an urban environment. In many cases, Māori and Pākehā worked together in community fundraising efforts.

Pan-tribal marae

Many of these marae are pan-tribal, like Hoani Waititi marae, which was opened in 1980 through the efforts of the large Māori community of West Auckland. This marae started up one of the first kōhanga reo (Māori language preschools) in Auckland, and now provides language immersion at primary and secondary levels. It is also home to the renowned cultural group, Te Roopu Manutaki.

The Ngā Hau E Whā national marae in Christchurch is New Zealand's largest urban marae. Others have religious affiliations, such as the Anglican Tātai Hono marae in Auckland, and Catholic Hui Te Rangiora in Hamilton.

Tribal marae

In some cases tribal kin living in the cities have established marae outside the tribal boundary. Mataatua in Rotorua and Te Tira Hōu in Auckland are both affiliated to the Tūhoe tribe and the wider Mataatua confederation.

Marae at educational institutes

In more recent times many marae have also sprung up at schools and other educational institutes to teach the language and culture to students. Some are prefabricated classrooms, others are purpose-built and fully adorned with carvings and other fine art: Te Herenga Waka at Victoria University is one excellent example.

A place to stand

These marae have become a locus of pride and a sense of belonging for many Māori in the city. They provide opportunities to reaffirm and rediscover culture. Marae in the towns and city have also provided facilities where Māori and Pākehā can learn and participate in all aspects of Māori culture.

How to cite this page:

Paul Meredith, 'Urban Māori - Urban marae', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Paul Meredith, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 17 Feb 2015