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The Māori
The Marae - meeting place
A Marae in Northland The Marae, sacred open meeting area, generally situated in front of the "whare runanga", communal meeting house, is the area of greatest mana, the place of greatest spirituality ; the place that heightens people's dignity, and the place in which Māori customs are given ultimate expression.
He aha te mea nui? What is the greatest thing?
He tangata! It is people, He tangata!
He tangata! It is people, He tangata! It is people.

The Marae is the turanga-waewae of the Māori. It is the basis of traditional Māori community life. It is their home. In the Marae official functions take place in : celebrations, weddings, christenings, tribal reunions, funerals.

People may be called to a "hui" on the Marae. The literal meaning of "hui" is to congregate, to gather together. As opposed to other meetings, "hui" are usually run according to Māori protocol. If the "hui" concerns a dispute between two parties, both sides present their argument, and an agreement is reached at the end according to consensus. Otherwise, a further "hui" is called for.

The tangata whenua are the local Marae people. The tangata whenua people make the decisions concerning the Marae, and if guests are expected, for example, the tangata whenua take care of the organisation. The tangata whenua define the roles on the marae, and ensure hospitality is extended to visitors.

Young people are expected to help in the work on the Marae. The older people of the Marae have authority, and are respected. The Kaumatua (older people) are the Marae elders. Their role is to teach the young people Māori traditions such as "whaikorero" (speeches), "whakapapa" (genealogy" or "waiata" (song). The Kaumatua also take part in welcoming visitors.

Waiata (song) is very important in Māori life. Over the centuries, waiata recounts history, legends, and specific events in the life of the person. A speaker may break into song at a given point during his speech. Certain waiata should only be sung on certain occasions, however, such as for a "tangi" (funeral).

A European, or "Pakeha", may only enter the Marae on permission from the Elders, and due respect must be shown while in the Marae complex. If a visiting party visits the Marae, a special ceremony takes place first. This ceremony is called the "te wero", and is always carried out by a male member. Wero means "cast a spear". The "wero" is always issued by a male. After the haka, a male from the Marae places an item of challenge on the ground. The visiting party must wait at the gate of the Marae until the occasion presents itself for them to show that they come with peaceful intentions.

A "wero" may be issued to a high-ranking woman, such as a Queen, but the "taki" (challenge dart) must be picked up by a male member of her party. This is the traditional way of determining whether visitors to a Marae came in peace or with hostile intentions.

When the visitors, "manuhiri", advance into the Marae, they remain close together and advance at a slow respectful pace. The women of the Marae take part in the call of welcome, the Te karanga : "Come forward, visitors from afar, Welcome, welcome!" (Haere mai, Haere mai). Bring with you the spirits of your dead, that they may be greeted , that they may be mourned. Ascend onto our Marae, ascend the sacred Marae of our people. Welcome, Welcome. (Haere mai, Haere mai)" For the Māori, generosity and hospitality are all important.

Usually visitors to the Marae will stop for a minute or two, in order to remember those who have died, before continuing into the Marae itself. Once the visitors are inside the Marae, greetings and speeches take place. The speaker moves backwards and forwards as he speaks. Mostly, speeches are followed by waiata (songs) by the women.

A traditional welcome practiced by the Māori is called a "powhiri", consisting of a "hongi". This is the gentle pressing together of the nose and forehead. The "hongi" is the mingling of breath between the two people, representing unity. Often this is performed three times : the first pressing is a greeting to the person, the second acknowledges ancestors, and a third pressing of nose and forehead honours life in this world.

 
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Picture : The whare runanga, (council house) near to where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, in Northland. Thanks to Planetware.com for granting me the use of this image. Whare runanga
Adjacent to the Marae, standing on a separate Marae area is the Marae-Atea, usually facing the principal entrance to the Marae. Here is the Whare. The Whare may be referred to in a number of ways : the whare tipuna or whare tupuna, (ancestral house) whare whakairo (carved house), whare nui (large house), whare hui (meeting house), whare moe or whare puni (sleeping house) or whare runanga (council house).

The Whare is nearly always situated, as in the past, between the Marae and the gateway. The whare is used for funerals, religious meetings, or entertaining visitor. No members of the local tribal community live permanently in a whare. Apart from rare exceptions, the whare is nearly always named after an ancestor. The Whare is usually symbolically designed to represent the chief and his ancestors.

Outside, in front of the whare and at it's top is a "tekoteko", or carved figure, which is placed on the roof and at the entrance to the whare. The tekoteko represents the ancestor's head. The "maihi", or carved parts of the tekoteko which slope downwards from the whare, represent the ancestor's arms, held out as a welcome to visitors.

The pole, which runs down the centre of the whare from front to back, represents the ancestor's backbone. This is a very solid piece of wood which is used, as when the backbone is strong, the body is strong. The rafters from the carved figures on the inside of the whare represent the ribs of the ancestor. The smaller and larger "Koruru" carvings may be seen on the outside of the whare. The protruding tongue often seen is in defiance of the enemy, and is also a defiant gesture during the haka (war dance).

The glittering paua shell (New Zealand abalone shellfish) eyes of the koruru represent the Ruru, Māori name for the New Zealand native owl. The Ruru was a fierce little fighter bird.

 

Main source of research :
Taonga Māori - The National Museum of New Zealand
 
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Related Links
Māori.org. Excellent Māori info website
Experience the Powhiri - Māori culture presentation from PureNZ.com (requires the latest Flash player)

 

 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.