The Marae - the beating heart of Māori culture
A place of gathering that brings families, communities and tribes together, the marae is fundamental to Māori life and stands as the beating heart of our culture.
The marae is made up of a number of buildings and the wharenui (main meeting house) is the centre of it all, hosting discussion, mourning and celebration.
Intricate carvings across the marae tell the stories of the tribe to be preserved for future generations. Before the arrival of Europeans, Māori had no written language, so carving, weaving and performance were used to perpetuate history. These carving throughout the marae provide the tribe with sense of identity.
Outside the wharenui, you’ll find a carved figure at the top of the framework – this is known as the tekoteko. The barge boards on the side of the gable are the maihi which represent the ancestor’s arms. The lower ends of the maihi are the ancestor’s fingers (raparapa) and the upright boards underneath the maihi are the amo (legs). The porch of the wharenui is the roro (brain); you’ll find carvings of warriors placed here to protect this important part of the body.
Once you’re inside the wharenui it is said you are in the realm of Rongomātāne, the god of peace. The inside area represents the poho (bosom) of the ancestor. The tāhuhu is the ridgepole of the house which symbolises the backbone; attached to the tāhuhu are the heke (ribs) which are usually decorated with kōwhaiwhai (painted scroll designs).
When visiting a marae a ceremonial Māori welcome known as the pōwhiri is performed, and is designed to unite the visitors with the people of the marae through a series of rituals of encounter. The ceremony begins with a warrior performing the wero (challenge); then the karanga is performed which are ceremonial welcome calls from women on both sides. Formal speeches follow which are spoken by male orators and a traditional hongi (pressing of noses) is conducted with the visitors. The pōwhiri is concluded when a hākari (feast) is shared between the host and the visitors.