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Pōwhiri – welcome ceremony/ritual of encounter

A pōwhiri encapsulates the formal welcome ceremony onto the marae, starting with the initial karanga (call) from the tangata whenua (people of the land, the hosts) right up to the sharing of kai. This process also removes the tapu (sacredness) from the manuhiri (visitors), who are referred to as waewae tapu (literally, sacred feet) if they are first-time visitors to that particular marae.

There are two main types of kawa observed during pōwhiri, and within this, several variations.

They are tau utuutu (or tū mai, tū atu) and paeke:

What follows is a step-by-step account of the pōwhiri (which can either be held inside the wharenui, or outside the wharenui on the marae atea), outlining what is expected of you at each stage.

The following is what you might expect to see when being welcomed outside the wharenui on the marae atea:

Waerea/wero*

A challenge which attempts to determine the intent of the manuhiri, which, once established, clears the way for the rest of the welcome ceremony.

Karanga

A series of ‘calls’ usually conducted by elder women, alternating between the tangata whenua (who starts the karanga; you cannot enter the marae grounds until you hear this call) and the manuhiri. It involves incantations both to the living (those gathered) and the dead (those who have passed on) and begins the exchange of information to establish the purpose of the visit.

Whakaeke

While this starts with the gathering of the manuhiri outside the gate to the marae (therefore before the karanga), the whakaeke refers to the ‘going onto’ the marae, entering the tapu (sacred) grounds, once the karanga has started.

 

 

Haka pōwhiri*

This is a chant/dance of welcome whereby the manuhiri are symbolically drawn onto the marae.

Whaikōrero

This refers to the formal speeches (which usually have a set format: see below), the exchange of greetings made by the speakers (usually male) from both sides. Oratory is much prized and upholds the mana (prestige) of the side speaking (for example, the tangata whenua and/or manuhiri). An expert in oratory will display his knowledge of whakapapa (genealogy) and mythology, as well as his mastery of language, rhetoric and dramatic presentation. During whaikōrero, links between those gone before us (ancestors) and those present are made, and genealogical links between the tangata whenua and manuhiri are emphasised. The kaupapa (purpose) of the occasion is also discussed, as might the current issues and concerns.

 

 

Waiata kīnaki

Waiata kīnaki (song which relishes the speech-making) is performed after each whaikōrero. The quality and intent of the waiata kīnaki is critical, as once again, it upholds the mana of that group (i.e. the tangata whenua or manuhiri) and embellishes the exchanges made during the whaikōrero.

 

 

Koha

At the conclusion of the whaikōrero, the manuhiri will present a koha (gift) to the tangata whenua, symbolising thanks to the hosts for the manaakitanga (hospitality) extended to them. Someone from the manuhiri (usually their last speaker) enters the marae atea and lays a koha down before the tangata whenua, who in turn, have one of their kaikōrero to collect it. You may hear acknowledgement of the koha from the kaikaranga (caller) from the host side. Contemporarily, the koha is in the form of money, but in the past, it would have been food or valued taonga (treasures). 

 

 

Hariru/hongi

Nearing the conclusion of the pōwhiri, the manuhiri now move across the marae atea to hongi the tangata whenua. This involves the shaking of hands and a gentle pressing of noses (possibly also a kiss on the cheek, signifying the sacred breath of life – the mauri (life principle) – mingling together as the two become one.

 

 

Kai/kapū tī

The sharing of kai (food) and kapū tī (cup of tea) concludes the whakanoa (making ‘ordinary’) process of the pōwhiri, the final removal of tapu from the manuhiri. It is where the very best kai is reserved for the visitors, including delicacies from that area (such as tītī (muttonbirds) and tio (oysters) from Murihiku/Southland). As a mark of respect, the manuhiri are fed first; kaumātua (elders) and tamariki (children) next, followed by the pakeke (adults). Kaumātua and tamariki from the tangata whenua then eat, followed by everyone else. As in other cultures, the provision and sharing of kai symbolises the final binding together of the tangata whenua and the manuhiri as the two groups now merge for the remainder of the hui (gathering).

 

 


(* these parts of the pōwhiri only occur nowadays in special circumstances to welcome esteemed or prestigious guests)

Huirapa Marae
Huirapa Marae, Karitane, Otago.