The Pā, commonly referred to today as ‘marae’, is the centre of Māori tribal society and wellbeing. A marae is the traditional meeting place of a tribe. It is where people come to talk, sing and dance, pray, host guests, wed and weep for their dead. A marae without people is a heart without a beat. This particular pā named Rotowhio was built as part of a plan to upgrade Te Whakarewarewa thermal reserve in the 1960's.
While it was intended as a ‘model pā’, over time it has become as operational as any other Māori marae in New Zealand. People from all over the world are welcomed each day onto the sacred grounds of Rotowhio. Once they have taken part in the pōwhiri (welcoming ceremony) they become intricately linked with this place forever.
Guests are traditionally first welcomed at the main entrance of the marae, to ensure they come in peace. Directly ahead is the wharenui (sacred meeting house). The wharenui is the archive of a tribe, recording priceless history through its carvings and weaved panels. The building commenced in 1967 and was completed in 1981, built by the tutors and students of Te Puia’s carving school.
To the left of the main wharenui is a smaller carved meeting house called Te Whare Wānanga a Hatupatu. Whare Wānanga are traditional places of learning where history, stories and whakapapa (genealogical links) are passed on. Whare Wānanga, built in 1901, was part of the Christchurch Exhibition developed for the Royal visit in 1906.
One of the most intricate structures within the pā is the pātaka, a small but richly carved storehouse used to safeguard the heirlooms and treasures of chiefs. The pātaka was also built for the Christchurch Exhibition in 1906.