What is a marae?
A marae is a Māori communal facility that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapū (sub-tribe) or whānau (family). It is a symbol of tribal identity (the area in front of the meeting house is called a marae ātea; this space is sacred).
Marae usually consist of a meeting house, a dining hall, a cooking area, and a toilets and ablutions block.
Marae are used as venues for hui (meetings), celebrations, funerals and other important cultural events. They can house health and family services, educational workshops and host educational visits. Marae can be restricted to members of the iwi or hapu and invited guests, or open to the public for special events or for hire. Some marae also include housing for kaumātua (elders).
If you are looking for marae in your area, your local CAB can help you find them.
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What should I know before I visit a marae?
If you are visiting a marae for the first time, it is important that you try to learn as much as you can about the kawa (ceremonial procedures) and the protocols of being on a marae.
You can speak to someone at the marae about it, or you can research it yourself. It is important to do this even if you have been on a marae before because each marae has its own way of doing things.
You will probably be expected to take part in a pōwhiri (formal welcoming ceremony). To prepare for the pōwhiri you’ll need to learn some waiata. You may also need to arrange for a kaikaranga (who should be a woman) to lead the manuhiri (visitors) from the gate to the marae atēa and a kaikōrero (who should be a man) to reply to the welcoming speech.
Some marae etiquette that you will need to know for your marae stay includes:
- It is usual to give a koha (gift, usually of money) to the people of the marae. This is additional to any fees charged for hui, for example. The koha is usually presented in an envelope.
- You must remove your shoes before entering the wharenui (meeting house). While in the wharenui you must not eat, drink or smoke.
- Never sit on tables or pillows.
- A karakia (giving thanks) is said before eating.
- Only use a tea towel to wipe dishes (not to wipe hands).
- Check with the marae before you take photographs or make any visual or audio recordings.
It would also be a good idea to learn some Māori phrases e.g. some greetings.
The Māori Language website is a good source for beginners.
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What happens in a pōwhiri (welcoming ceremony)?
Your visit may begin with a formal welcome ceremony called a pōwhiri. What follows is a general outline of a pōwhiri – note that the specific details may vary depending on the marae (or iwi, if the pōwhiri is not taking placing on a marae) so it is worth consulting someone from the tangata whenua (the people of the marae) well in advance of your visit.
The manuhiri (visitors) wait outside the gate, with the men positioned behind or around the women and young people (as if to guard them). The tangata whenua stand by the marae.
The kaikaranga of the tangata whenua (the woman who will karanga for the hosts) begins the karanga, an exchange of calls with the kaikaranga for the manuhiri (the woman who will karanga for the manuhiri and lead them to the marae atēa). At the same time, the kaikaranga for the manuhiri leads them slowly and silently to the marae atēa about 20-30 metres in front of the wharenui (meeting house).
When the manuhiri reach the marae atēa, there is a short period of silence which acknowledges those who have passed on.
Then the tangata whenua will sit on the right of the wharenui, with the men in the front seats and the women and children behind. When the manuhiri reach their seats facing the tangata whenua, they remain standing until the kaikōrero of the tangata whenua signals to them that they may sit.
After everyone is seated the whaikōrero (formal speeches) begin. Depending on the iwi (tribe) and hapū (sub-tribe) of the hosts, either:
- the speaking order alternates between host and visitor, beginning with a host speaker (tau utuutu), or
- all of the host speakers except one speak, then all of the visitor speakers speak, then the final host speaker speaks (pāeke).
At the end of each speech a waiata is sung in support of the speaker.
The last speaker for the visitors presents the koha to the hosts. This is often - but not always - done by placing it on the marae in front of the visitors. The kaikaranga for the tangata whenua will give a call of thanks while the koha is accepted by a man from the host side.
This is followed by hongi (the pressing of noses, and often foreheads) and harirū (shaking hands); the tapu has been removed from the manuhiri and they are now considered part of the tangata whenua. (Note that the kawa (marae protocol) for some iwi means the hongi and harirū happen before the whaikōrero.)
The pōwhiri concludes with a hākari (shared meal).
You can watch a video with commentary about pōwhiri on the Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) website or read more about marae visits on the Te Taura Whiri I te Re Maori (Maori Language Commission) website.
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Are women allowed to speak at the pōwhiri?
Generally only men do the formal speeches (whaikōrero) at the pōwhiri, however in some iwi or hapū women may also whaikōrero.
Mihimihi can be done by men or women. This is an introductory speech done after the powhiri, at the beginning of a gathering in which people introduce themselves by sharing their ancestry.