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Turangawaewae vs Marae

Notes on the Pōwhiri Process

6. Dec, 2018

The pōwhiri is probably the most important institution within tikanga Māori. It is within this ritual that elements from the begining of time through to today can be observed. The roles that each play in the ritual have been handed down from generation to generation with very little adaption or change thus it can be suggested that it is perhaps the last bastion of tikanga left in this world.

There are two types of rituals seen within the pōwhiri process, Pāeke and Tū atu, tū mai.  Each of them have their own rules as to how something must be done, and the processes of things that need to be followed. The following will look at Pāeke first, to provide some insight into the processes and roles that are encapsulated into this tikanga before we look at  Tū atu, Tū mai. 


Pāeke has been likened to the construction of a house. The people go about building their metaphorical house and making it strong enough to withstand any attacks from the outside world. The first speaker metaphorically lays down the foundations of the house, introducing the manuhiri to the various landmarks and other important details about the tangata whenua before the second and subsequent speakers build the walls and roof. The last speaker metaphorically inspects the house, plugging up any gaps and ensuring the building is caulked well before closing the door and sealing it against the weather so to speak.

It has been offered that this particular style of pōwhiri or ritual of encounter[1]is derived from the descendants of Tane, that the creation of the house is in memory of the stance that Tane took when the origins of the world of light were taking place[2]. It is also suggested by some that this analogy was actually the stance that Tane took when he fought against his brother Tawhirimatea when the arguments arose over the separation of their parents, Ranginui and Papatūānuku[3]. In either case, the symbolism of the building of the house and its standing against ‘all-comers’ is the common theme.

The tangata whenua are the first speakers. It is they who will lay down the correct or proper rituals to be followed in the encounter. They decide what the process will be and how it will be presented to the world. They speak enbloc, that is they speak one after the other until everything that needs to be said has been done. After that the opportunity to speak is then given to the Manuhiri to speak enbloc. When everything is completed then the whakanoa process is instituted to make everyone safe and secure.

In terms of Pāeke, there is a correct way of standing and a correct process of delivery within the encounter. The Tangata whenua can be looked upon as the tuakana and the manuhiri, teina within the relationship on display. The Tangata Whenua will hold the mātauranga of the land and its resources thus will have an intimate knowledge of their surroundings. Because they maintain control over the lands within their boundaries, it is their right, in fact their obligation to ensure that the manuhiri are kept safe by providing them with the guidelines of ettiquette and appropriate behaviour to follow.

Karanga – First voice heard on the Marae

Kaikaranga: This is usually a kuia of age, beyond the age of childbearing who is deemed to be closer to those who have gone beyond the vale, and is therefore more likely to be able to communicate with them in a better manner. Because a lot of the time, she knew the ‘old people’ that have passed on, there is a better chance that she will be listened to and they, ngā tūpuna, will behave in an appropriate manner. Her role is to open the path for the manuhiri to enter into the ritual of encounter. Her call and the reply from the kaikaranga of the manuhiri set the tone and the appropriateness of the encounter. The lifting of the tapu that lies upon the marae atea allows the people to come into the realm of Tūmatauenga in a manner that safe for all concerned. 

Ferris has offered the suggestion that the karanga is a spiritual call, that it invokes the spirits of the tūpuna whom have gone before to take notice and thus is reserved for those who have the support of the people to carry this role[4].

Whereas the Western thought is that the woman is unclean or noa thus breaks the tapu that lies there, the view from aronga māori is different. It is because of the intense tapu that the woman carries as of right, and her close connection to Papatūānuku, that she is able to lift the tapu and clear the pathway for her people to proceed. It makes the marae atea safe for the people to enter. If this is not done, there is a danger that the people could fall foul of the hidden dangers that lay beneath. The thoughts behind this are clearly evident when people do not have a kaikaranga. The panic that comes upon the people is an indication of the tapu at work. Intense nervousness, anxiety and other emotions can swell and everyone is in a state of angst. Once a kaikaranga is found though, and the first call goes out, the emotions begin to subside and people become more relaxed again.

The role of the kaikaranga is multi-faceted. It is her who is the first voice heard on the marae and it is her words that greet the manuhiri and allow them to enter onto the marae. When listened to, there is a lot of information that the kaikaranga has to provide as well. 

Maioha: When the maioha or kaikaranga on the tangata whenua side speaks she lets the manuhiri know who they are visiting and the area that they have decided to enter. She will address the dead as they journey with their living descendants, greeting them and providing comment on the thoughts of the tangata whenua regarding their passing. It is also her who will provide the manuhiri with an opportunity to speak about the reason for their arrival or visit.

Tiwaha: When the tiwaha or kaikaranga of the manuhiri speaks in reply, she lets the tangata whenua know who is actually coming onto their marae. In the majority of cases, the names of rōpū are used, although on rare ocassions it can be heard of special people amongst the manuhiri being pinpointed and announced to the tangata whenua so that everyone is pre-warned. She will also greet the dead of the tangata whenua again providing commentary on the thoughts of the manuhiri in regards to theirpassing. 

In most areas the karanga will begin the pōwhiri process and will be given once. It will not be given again until the pōwhiri for the rōpū is complete. This changes in certain areas of the North. There it is common for a karanga to be performed to manuhiri that arrive at the gate, regardless of the time or who is speaking at the time. When this happens, everything is put on hold until the manuhiri have entered and taken their seats. Whomever is speaking at the time, tangata whenua or manuhiri, will mihi to the newcomers before continuing with their own speech.


This is the area of speechmaking, and is a fine art in itself. There are some very good speakers who can enthral the people, entertaining them whilst at the same time putting forward arguments and/or points of discussion from whence the hui can pull threads of ideas to develop. There are others who, due to the lack of experience or some other reason, are boring and often completely miss the reason for whaikōrero. Whatever level they are at though, there is one thing they must keep in mind is that they need to “Whai i te korero”, follow that which has been previously said. This is especially important so that the discussion does not get disjointed and people lose sight of the reason for the hui. 

In the following illustration there are three speakers used. They are used to illustrate the roles of the people and some of their responsibilities as outlined in ngā tikanga tuku iho.

  1. First speaker – usually the weakest speaker of the rōpū 
  2. Second speaker – the whakapapa expert
  3. Third speaker – the rangatira of the hapū and/or best speaker

The Opening speaker: This speaker is an important one. It is he that opens the hui and lets everyone know exactly what the tikanga or kawa is that is going to be followed for the hui. They lay down a simple introduction to the area, usually through the recitation of a pepeha and or landmarks that are within the boundaries of the hapu or iwi. They provide an overviewof the kaupapa of the hui and extend greetings to the manuhiri. On ocassion they may make note of specific people or rōpū within the manuhiri but they do not go into things too much; this is usually left to those who follow.

It is interesting to note that in former times, this person was the potiki or of lesser rank than those of the rest of the paepae. It was looked upon as he being expendable if something of the nature of battle was going to take place. In this situation it was he who would stand to fight first, delaying the attacking party enough for the rest to get away. This is a role that is not often seen today due to the extreme lack of people who are either qualified to stand on the paepae or people who will actually do the job for their hapū.

The Second speaker: He has a heavy load and probably the most important one. It is he who will attempt to bindall of the participants together and create an atmosphere of kotahitanga. It is his role to provide whakapapa connections so that the listening manuhiri can find a tupuna in common to themselves and they can show some sort of connection to the tangata whenua. Often times, it is this person who will carry the knowledge beyond the norms, ie two or three generations, and it is he who will be asked about any connections that may lay hidden within the manuhiri. It is also he who will bear the brunt of any attack should he state something wrong within the whakapapa or miss out a connection. Overall a heavy and often thankless role.

As with the first speaker, his role was to step in to the fray if the first ‘defender’ was knocked down too quickly to ensure the safety of the rangatira.

The Third speaker: He is usually the rangatira of the hapū, representing the mana whenua. His role is to ‘wrap up’the speeches and the various kaupapa that has been laid down. In regards to Paeke, his role is also to strengthen the arguments that have been put forward by the tangata whenua, leaving no gaps and ensuring that the bindings are strong. As he is the ‘mauri o te marae’, it is his responsibility to ensure that the mana of the people is maintained and upheld, regardless of the situation; and being the last speaker, he has the final say on the matter in regards to the tangata whenua

His position is also an interesting one. His sitting position is usually the closest to the house, when the pōwhiri is outside or he is seated closest to the end of the house, away from the door. This was because again in former times, there was a danger that attacking iwi or hapū could kidnap or kill the rangatira of the people more easily if they were isolated from their people. 

Once the last speaker for the Tangata Whenua has completed everything he wants to say to the manuhiri and his waiata is finished, he then hands the right to speak over to the manuhiri for them to participate in the proceedings.

The manuhiri follow the same structure as previously mentioned, speaking enbloc until all that needs to be said is laid down and in the open. When they have finished, the last speaker will indicate that they have finished in the usual way, by the laying down of a koha to the manuhiri.[5]

Te Whakanoa: Once the ritual of encounter has taken place, the process of whakanoa needs to take place. This removes any vestiges of tapu from the manuhiri and tangata whenua and allows them to freely interact with each other. The manuhiri will hongi and hariru or shake hands with the tangata whenua, the action creating a bond of kotahitanga amongst the people gathered. In some areas the tangata whenua call the manuhiri across, crossing in front of the house and greeting the Rangaitra of the hapū first. Other areas have the manuhiri greet the kuia and women first before crossing over to meet and greet the men on the Paepae, the first speaker first and so on. From there they move into a meal to remove all traces of the ‘them and us’, and all become one.

Change of Order

In one particular area, there is found a slight difference in the way Paeke is performed, that area is the Whanganui district. In this particular area, everything is followed the same way except when a tangihanga is being held on the Marae. In this case the manuhiri are the first set of speakers rather than the tangata whenua. This is because it is deemed by the tangata whenua that the tūpāpaku is the reason that people have come to the marae, the tūpāpaku is the caller rather than the living, thus the manuhiri need to address them first before the tangata whenua speak. It is only good manners.

In another area, the North of Aotearoa, there is also another change of order. When the karanga is given by the Tangata Whenua, the manuhiri reply then enter the house, the whare tupuna. They proceed up to the tuarongo of the house or back wall where the photos of various tūpuna are hanging, waiting a short amount of time to mihi and poroporoaki to those who have gone before moving from the right hand side and moving around the room perfoming a hongi and hariru to each before finally moving to the centre of the house where the manuhiri papepae will be situated. 

Another point of note about the North is that often times the speakers for the tangata whenua will not be seated together. On numerous ocassions, it will be found that they are seated around the manuhiri so that those who you see on or around the taumata[6]are not always the speakers but each knows their role and place in the order.

A meal is always had after the pōwhiri process regardless of the order.

In Taranaki, it is appropriate to enter the house and hongi and hariru going from right to left around the house before moving to the paepae. This is because of a tikanga they hold that the house is covered by Rongo, thus is a place of peace and should be treated as such. The hongi and the hariru are signs of peace, thus should be shared with all men. It is also appropriate as the manuhiri are just that, guests in their house and to treat them any differently would be an insult.

One variation that has been noticed by the writer is the holding back of one speaker by the tangata whenua until the manuhiri have completed. The mauri o te kōrerois then returned to them and this last speaker ‘wraps everything up’. It seems to be a new variation, and for the people who follow it, it assists them in maintaining the mana of the land and upholding their tino rangatiratanga. When encountered for the first time, it can be unsettling, but it has been suggested[7]that it gives the tangata whenua an opportunity to reply to any controversial statements made by the manuhiri before they leave the realm of Tūmatauenga – the marae atea - and retire to Rongo – the house.

The Laying of koha

The laying of koha is often a controversial thing, although it need not be. There are some iwi who declare the koha and state from whom each contribution comes from so it can be recorded in the hearts and minds of the tangata whenua, whilst for others, koha should not be laid down on the marae atea unless the manuhiri are asking that a body which is to follow can be accommodated on siad marae. At the end of the day, each marae will have their own protocols on the dealing of koha, and it is incumbant on the manuhiri to find out what it is so no offense is taken by the tangata whenua.

[The following are from personal observation only, through experiences gained and may only be indicative of the marae and people I have been involved with.]

In Taranaki, it is often considered a tono if you lay koha down on the marae atea., usually for a tūpāpaku. Instead, the more appropriate way is to hand the koha to the first person you meet as you enter into the house as you shake hands. It can be done very discretely so that there is no fanfare.

In Ngapuhi, the same whakaaro is often found. When the koha goes down they will often ask about the tūpāpaku that is coming, this being a gentle reminder of where you are and perhaps too a small admonishment for not ensuring that the tikanga of the marae is known.

Waiata Tautoko

[This particular section of the pōwhiri has become routine now. You are more likely to hear songs from another worldview rather than our own, a sad state of affairs].

The waiata tautoko is exactly that, it is a waiata that supports the kōrero of the speaker and should be in line with what has been spoken about in the speech. Often today, a hymn is used rather than a waiata tawhito or mōteatea. Although it is often thought that there should be a waiata after every speech, on occassion there will be times when it is deemed necessary to leave the words of the speaker hanging and/or there is no waiata in the repetoire of the rōpū that could do a better job. One kaumatua has spoken of a time when he was put into the situation of speaking and his kuia ignored his standing waiting for the waiata tautoko. When he looked around to her, the question was given “e tatari ana koe mō te aha?’ followed quickly by the statement “tau ki raro!”[8]When asked about these statements at a later date, the kuia replied “Pai noa iho te kore waiata i te waiata take kore”[9]. The explanation provided was that it is okay not to have a waiata after the speech, especially if the only one you have is not appropriate for the kaupapa. 

Iwi that follow Paeke (a sample only)

Ngāti Apahapaitaketake                  Ngāti Awa                             Te Aitanga a Mahaki                    Ngāti Ranginui                                                                         

Ngāti Kahungunu                              Ngāti Ruanui                         Te Rarawa                                      Muaupoko

Ngā Rauru kītahi                               Te Aupouri                             Te Ati Awa                                      Rangitāne

Ngāi Tai                                              Taranaki                                  Ngāi Tuhoe                                    Ngāti Porou 

Ngāti Whātua                                     Te Whanau a Apanui            Kai Tahi                                          Te Whakatōhea 

Te Atihaunui a Paparangi                 Nga Ruahinerangi               Ngā Puhi nui tonu                           Ngāti Manawa[10]

Tū atu, tū mai

The kawa Tū atu, tū mai is where each speaker from both parties alternate between the two parties and the tangata whenua have the last say. This kawa is said to be derived from Tūmatauenga, the atua of mankind, who stood against his brothers and ensured that the world was a safer place for all of us.

This kawa begins like the kawa of Pāeke with the first speaker being from the tangata whenua. Like Pāeke he also opens the hui and lets everyone know exactly what the tikanga or kawa is that is going to be followed for the hui. He may also lay down a simple introduction to the area, usually through the recitation of a pepeha and or landmarks that are within the boundaries of the hapu or iwi. They provide an overview of the kaupapa of the hui and extend greetings to the manuhiri. On ocassion they may make note of specific people or rōpū within the manuhiri but they do not go into things too much; this is usually left to those who follow. Once he is finished speaking a waiata may be performed then the right of reply is then handed over to a member of the manuhiri. At the end of each speech and waiata the right will alternate between the two groups until the end speaker, who will be from the tangata whenua side will close the proceedings.

The first speaker from the manuhiri will greet the landmarks of the tangata whenua and greet the marae, buildings and other significant places within the rohe. This provides the manuhiri an opportunity to acknowledge the mana of the tangata whenua and at the same time provide an inkling of what they have done in preparation for the journey. 

Again the first speaker is usually the weaker of the rōpū and will be seated at the end of the line, furthest away from the gateway of the marae. 

One significant thing that is found in the kōrero of each rōpū, whether they be utilising Pāeke or Tū atu, tū mai, is the mihi. It is considered very bad ettiquete for the Tangata Whenua to mihi to their own house or marae. This is the role of the first speaker of the Manuhiri and should be left to them. Often times today, this can be heard from learners, people who have been thrust into the position at the last moment perhaps due to the dearth of speakers, but it should still be avoided at all costs.

A significant thing about Tū atu, tū mai, is that the last speaker of either side should not stand until it is his time to speak; this is particularly true on the tangata whenua side. This includes the standing to sing waiata tautoko and other things. This is because it is a sign that the talking is over and it is time to wrap things up. The last speaker, being the mauri of the marae, remains sitting until it is time for the return of the mauri back to the tangata whenua. Then and only then is it appropriate for him to stand, and with that standing, the mana and the reputation of the marae and the tangata whenua is returned to them for closing.

Iwi that follow Tū atu, Tū mai (a sample only)

  1. Tuwharetoa
  2. All of the Te Arawa Confederation iwi
  3. The majority of  Tainui Confederation Iwi. 


This is a variant that can be found among the iwi of today and is only practiced within the areas that use tū atu, tū mai. This kawa is often seen when the manuhiri have more speakers than the tangata whenua. In this case, the tangata whenua will open the kōrero in the usual way.  On ocassion the speaking will follow the normal format, that is prescribed for tū atu, tū mai until the second to last speaker. Once this person has finished he may pass the mauri or the rakau over to the manuhiri who will then continue to speak until all have had the opportunity to say what they have to say. Again once the koha is laid down, the mauri is returned to the final speaker on the tangata whenua side to complete the proceedings. The hand over is usually prefixed with a comment like: 

            “tū, tū mai koutou! A te mutunga o te kōrero, ka hoki mai te mauri ki konei’

            ‘Stand all of you! When finished, return the mauri back where it belongs”

It must be remembered that it is only through the good graces of the tangata whenua that this change takes place. In former times, it was considered bad manners to put more speakers on the paepae than the tangata whenua, the object being that perhaps the manuhiri had come to lower the mana of the tangata whenua, to shame them. In this case, if percieved so, this was tantamount to a declaration of war. Today, it is less likely to occur but care should be taken.  


The preceding note is but a few comments on the various kawa that can be found within the ritual of pōwhiri. Each iwi and hapū will have their own way of expressing this practice, but it is up to the manuhiri to ensure that a) they are aware of the variations that can be found; and b) that they are prepared to move with these changes. I hope this contribution will assist all on their journey through.

Ngā mihi 

Koha - a contribution

1. May, 2017


Our Marae?

When the word ‘koha’ is heard, seen or otherwise encountered, there seem to be many pictures seem to spring to mind. For some of us, it is that $10.00 or $20.00 that we put into an envelope when we go to a marae or other gathering place, whilst to others of us it is the time and effort we put towards a kaupapa. All of these things have merit and can be included in the heading, but for this particular note, I am going to focus on one particular aspect and one particular kaupapa – tangihanga and koha.

For many of us, the marae is that place where we take our tūpāpaku back to so they can be buried with their tūpuna. We take them there because we hold the belief that it is our right to do so, it is our marae, our tūrangawaewae, and we have been told that nobody can stop us! Sadly this is not the case and in fact, like many things regarding our tikanga and kawa, it is a mistaken belief created by white anthropologists that has been repeated so often that it has gained validity and a ‘sense’ of truth.

The marae is a place that requires commitment and participation to succeed, it is not a holiday camp where we can just wander in and out as we like, and it is not somewhere that will always be there, regardless of time and space. The marae is also a place where mata kānohi or the “seen face” is paramount. It is through being seen and participating in the life ways of the marae, that rights and privileges are given, upheld and maintained. It is also through these things that honour and respect are given, from the people who remain to keep the ahi kā or home fires burning. Birthright only gives you a chance to participate, active support through the koha of resources, financially and physically, gives you a voice.

Koha as a reflection

Koha should reflect our expectations, and it should also reflect the mana that we, both individually and collectively, carry with us. If we are going to stay for but a brief time, i.e. a cup of tea and/or a bite to eat then leave, our koha will be less substantial than it would be if we were to remain. But it should also be reflective again of our mana and err on the side of generosity. If the situation is that we are going to stay, we need to think about what that may entail for all parties. Why are we staying? Are we there to provide support for the ‘front’ or the ‘back’? If so, all well and good, our koha can take that into consideration, still keeping in mind that our mana and honour is at stake both in how we perform and what we provide. If we are not helping out, then why are we staying? Is it to decorate the whare with our presence? Is it to warm a seat and await the next call from the kāuta? If so, then we need to reflect this in our koha … remember that even food needs to be prepared and cooked before it is set out on the table.

The following note emerged from discussions held during a series of wānanga held at our marae. The writer was asked to put together some advice around a number of subjects, advice that could assist us in building our understanding of some of the tikanga and kawa that prevails within our society, and within our particular circumstances as we find them on our marae. This note is but one contribution to the learning for our whānau.

Professor Whatarangi Winiata once wrote in his report to the Commission on Social Policy (1988) that the marae is our principal home; that it should be well serviced and maintained, and thoroughly respected. Part of what he was referring to in regards to maintenance is the paepae and the kāuta, which are the front and the back. These two places are of utmost importance to our tikanga and kawa but are often sorely lacking due to the fact that they are thankless roles. Whānau travel to the marae to uphold these roles, often taking days out of their jobs and homes; they arrive to kitchens that have a lack of resources because others have ‘borrowed’ some of the resources and haven’t quite returned them yet, and they have hungry manuhiri who expect to have healthy, nutritious 5 star meals set in front of them, all for minimum or no cost to themselves – i.e. the aforementioned $10.00 or $20.00. And they expect this to carry on for the duration of the tangihanga and often beyond! There is no organization in the world that can sustain such attitudes. The majority of the funds that are received during tangihanga barely cover the costs of the food consumed, even when it is a small one, and often times, it is through the manaakitanga and generosity of the ahi kā (read skills of the people within the kāuta) and marae community that there is enough to go around!

“Koha has strings”

One great thing to remember about koha is that it has strings attached. What this means is that it is a bilateral agreement between the donors and the receivers. For many of our marae, when koha is received, the amounts and whom they are from are recorded in books so that at a later time, the koha can be returned, with interest, back to the donors. Even the work that people provide both in the kāuta and on the paepae are reciprocated, and again, it is mana at stake. When things are not given the chance to be reciprocated, when the balance in ‘the ledger’ shows up ‘in the red’ so to speak, there is a need to balance the books and in fact a need to gain the upper hand so that mana is restored and everything is on an even keel again.

So next time you go to a marae or some such other gathering, think about your koha, think about what you are going to contribute and what it may be saying to those of the mana whenua in regards to how you see them, and how you are acknowledging their mana, and also how they may also see you, and yours, in the light of your contributions towards the kaupapa that has called you all together.

3. Apr, 2017

There have been a few questions posed about what the difference is between these two things, so it was thought that I put a few words together to assist and provide some insight into these bastions of our society as an aid for people who would like to know. 

A marae, at its simplest, might be referred to as a collection of separated, functional buildings on an area of reserved land, usually deemed to be sacral to some extent. Marae have an ancient history both in New Zealand Maori culture, but really originating at least in part, in the older cultures from which our Maori culture was eventually derived, from other, earlier settled, Pacific Islands. 

Beyond the historical forms of the marae are the other aspects that delineate what a marae really is. It is not simply a group of buildings at all, although this is a common non-tangata whenua understanding of its position. A marae is a tapu or sacred space, and within or nearby that space are buildings whose form, function and meaning have only come to their present conjunction in (written) historic times. What makes the marae is the combination of the people and the ritual that is involved on a marae, the marae space and lastly, the physical buildings. The buildings, particularly carved houses, have additional meaning that they lend to the thread of the story of the people. They themselves represent the whakapapa of the marae, and specifically of the hapū who inhabit that marae. They do this by direct representation, but also by analogy and by spiritual means something that is often overlooked by people outside the culture. Our tūpuna are deemed to exist within the very fabric of the building and have a renewed or continuing existence that is instilled through ritual and belief.

The traditional marae

The marae has been described under many different guises, but it is generally agreed that they were and are the focal point of iwi and hapū cultural and communal activities. It is a place that encapsulates and enables life crises to be played out upon it. Each marae also has whakapapa connections to the tangata whenua, that is, those people who are recognised as being the kaitiaki of the whenua, the ahi kā.

The Marae is a complex that has a very specific protocol and whakapapa. As noted above, they were and are established on whenua that belongs to the local peoples, and are representative of the mana they hold upon the land. Many have a wharepuni, a kāuta of some type, and in more modern times, a dining room attached for the hosting and accommodating of manuhiri. 

They were established by whānau and hapū to create a centre for the activities of these groups, and those who were a part of these groupings, maintained the links of the people to each other. Those who were not of the bloodlines of the eponymous tūpuna were treated as tauiwi or strangers, who had no rights except those provided temporarily by the tangata whenua to them.

The house, often called a wharenui, represents a tupuna that is associated with the people of the land, and provides a connection for the people to both the land and said tupuna. Within the house are the artefacts, pictures and other traditional knowledge systems of the whānau and hapū such as photos, carvings and other things. These artefacts provide a continuous connection again to the eponymous peoples of the land.

A marae proper (described more fully below) is often surrounded or embedded within a larger area of land, often also confusingly termed a ‘marae’. This area may consist of open space, related by ownership to the marae itself, or to houses and property belonging to local people, or a combination of both.

The marae proper is essentially a collection of buildings, each with a specialist function, with an open space laid out in front of the principal buildings and defined by a boundary around the whole. The buildings may consist of any combination of the following:

A Whare tipuna (ancestral house, house of ancestors) may also be known as a Whare whakairo (carved house) if it is carved, Whare puni (sleeping house), Whare hui (meeting house) or Whare nui (great house). This is the most important building on the marae and is usually, although not always, the largest whare. The house itself often represents an eponymous ancestor, although in some instances a more abstract definition may apply; within Ngāti Apa the latter often can be found. As the house is representative of ancestors or at the least may contain architectural references to such it may be generally referred to as a Whare tipuna or House of ancestors. Within our iwi rohe, the majority of houses, because they are often be used for hosting visitors (manuhiri), usually accompanied by at least some local people (tangata whenua) overnight it is a Whare puni, Whare runanga or Whare hui. Although the smallest whare are only the size of a large garage, the largest are great halls, dozens of metres on a side and capable of holding hundreds of people.

Wharepuni are wāhi tapu and one of the prohibitions on their use is no foodstuffs allowed, thus the introduction of the building below (the whare kai) into the scheme of the modern marae.

Whare kai

Nearby the Wharepuni is usually a Whare kai (Food house, Dining hall). The Whare kai normally consists of both a kitchen area and a dining hall, the former where food is prepared and the latter where this is served to guests. The largest Whare kai can comfortably seat hundreds at a time and have kitchens commensurate to providing for the same numbers. In general, these buildings are more like a European hall than a traditional meeting house, with trestle tables and stackable/movable chairs that can be cleared away when not in use. Whare kai are a fairly recent addition to marae buildings, dating in general to the 1930s, before which, feasts and meals may have been eaten outside or in tents.

In the past as cooking was noa, or non-tapu, food preparation took place in specific areas, sometimes under cover, in which case the building was referred to as a Kāuta (cook house).

Whare paku

This is an attached or detached ablution block, providing toilets and wash-rooms and in many cases shower facilities. Usually plain but functional, these are facilities designed to cater for the numbers of visitors that a marae may reasonably expect and thus may be large or small, simple or relatively elaborate.


Many marae have covered areas, small, roofed but open fronted which exist for the use of visitors and which are set to the side but facing towards the front of the principal whare. These are paepae, or speaking places, which are designed to ensure that some of the manuhiri, usually the most important speakers, can stand or sit, while sheltered after they have been welcomed onto marae but before entering the Whare.

Other subsidiary buildings

As well, the marae proper may incorporate other buildings, storage sheds, separate kitchens, offices, training and educational facilities and so on.

The area, usually grassed, occasionally concreted, in front of the main house is kept generally clear and is known as the marae atea, or more fully, Te Maraenui o Tūmatauenga – roughly: the great space that belongs to Tūmatauenga. Tūmatauenga is the Atua of Mankind and Conflict, and the open space is traditionally reserved unto him and is the eponymous feature for the marae complex as we know it today. This area is tapu and the scene of the traditional welcoming onto marae – the pōwhiri.

The fence marks the boundary of the tapu that exists on a marae and care should be taken in crossing this threshold, at least in the domain of our cultural values. This boundary is not merely physical and temporal but has a spiritual nature bound into the tradition and beliefs of many of our people.

The Urban Marae

Simply, urban marae are marae that have been constituted fairly recently in urban areas. They are really a modern response to growing numbers of urbanised peoples.

The variety and form of hui do not generally vary within urban marae, and indeed the full range of ritual may be found at urban marae; it is for such reasons that they were created in the first instance. What differs is that the sense of community, the tikanga and the essence of the marae must all be centred in different ways and forms. A consensus must be found as to what tikanga is used, often favouring the tikanga of the local iwi, within which a city’s boundaries might lie. A number of examples exist such as Te Puea, in Mangere, which holds the tikanga and kawa of Tainui; and the Te Mahurehure Community Centre in Point Chevalier, Auckland; here they follow the tikanga and kawa of Ngāti Whātua. The sense of community, rather than hapū based and linked through whakapapa (genealogy, but familial ties and links as well) is the bond found in these institutions.

Tūrangawaewae – what is it?

A tūrangawaewae literally translates to “A place to stand”, and although many of them take on the façade of a marae, the tikanga and kawa can be very different. What differs is that the sense of community, the tikanga and the essence of the marae must all be centred in different ways and forms. A consensus must be found as to what tikanga is used, often, but not always favouring the tikanga of the local iwi, within which a city’s boundaries might lie. Again, it is often a sense of community, rather than hapū based and linked through whakapapa (genealogy, but familial ties and links as well) that creates a more collegial form of community spirit, by belonging to a university, religious organisation or simply by being accepted into the complex and claiming it as a personal tūrangawaewae. This is a word –tūrangawaewae – with several, quite specific meanings, but here used in the sense of one of its more literal meanings – a place to stand – somewhere for someone to place personal roots. Lastly, the essence of the marae is clearly modified if there is no urupā and the ancestors take some semblance of the generic. A Whare whakairo, linked tightly to a bonded inter-familial group has a clearly different notion to one that has been formed with a fairly transient tangata whenua as its basis.

A tūrangawaewae has more freedom to act in ways that are of benefit to the people who become kaitiaki of the complex. In many cases, the tikanga and kawa is more fluid, adjusting to whomever has control of the paepae or the complex at the time. An example of this can be found at Maraeroa Marae in Porirua. Because it is a complex with a multitude of different peoples, both iwi of Aotearoa and beyond, and although it is sited within the rohe potae of Ngāti Toarangatira, it has a standing tikanga whereby those who are on the paepae or running the hui dictate what the kawa and tikanga will be for that particular event.

He Ahuru Mōwai?

An Ahuru Mōwai is literally a ‘sheltering place’ or place where people can gather where there is no specific tikanga or kawa that guides the interactions of the people within it. In traditional times, the ahuru mowai was a temporary structure, built to accommodate people for a specific time, and once that time was over, it was dismantled and either destroyed, due to the tapu nature of the people associated with it, or tossed aside to await newcomers who would reassemble it again. 

The traditional marae is essentially the result of the pa and the kāinga observed by various people on first contact with our people. Gone is the need for protection from enemies and thus most marae are now situated not on craggy rocks and steep hillsides but rather take the form of buildings set on flat ground. The multiple palisades of older days have also been replaced, usually with a low wall acting as a defining boundary separating the precincts of the marae proper from the surrounding area.

Whare nui

© M.Paki 2016