Journals from Waikato-New Zealand Fall 09
2009-10-18 My Visit to the Marae
8 Sept. 2009
The Maori Experience: Our trip to the Marae
For my Maori class, we took a trip to the Marae. Originally, marae was used to describe the space or courtyard in front the of the whare tipuna, the ancestral house, and is a meeting place for visitors and the tangata whenua, or Maori (literally people of the land). In present-day Aotearoa, the term marae is generally used to describe the area of multiple buildings and the land surrounding it. Marae traditionally belong to either a whnau (family), hap (sub-tribe) or iwi (tribe) group. It is built on their land and they are responsible to look after the marae. The buildings include a whare tipuna (ancestral house), a wharekai (eating house), and a wharepaku (wash house). Some complexes have a whare karakia (churches), and housing buildings as well as sporting grounds.
The whare tipuna (ancestral house) is the main house on the marae and may also be known as the wharenui (big house), the whare rnanga (council house), the wharepuni (sleeping house), the wharehui (meeting house), or the whare whakairo (carved house). It is usually named in honor of an ancestor from the peoples hap (sub-tribe). The house is not only named in honor of the ancestor, but is also built as the body of that ancestor. Each detail of the house is a representation of a body part. For example, the apex of the house represents the face of the ancestor and the maihi (long boards at the top of the house which form the roof) are his/her arms stretched out in welcome. The ancestor even has fingers represented by the raparapa (little carvings) at the end of the maihi. The door is the mouth of the ancestor and the window, the eyes. It is through the window that ancestors can enter the wharenui. Inside the house, the thuhu (pole that runs through the length of the house in the roof) is the backbone and the many rafters represent ribs which connect the thuhu to the poupou (the rafters). The three main posts in the house, the pou th, the pou tokomanawa, and the pou tuarongo, have deep representation of the connection between Rangi-nui (the Sky Father) and Papa-t-nuku (the Earth Mother).
The inside of the wharenui is very decorative, but every decoration has a purpose and specific meaning. In the wharenui we visited, the poupou (wall carvings) were three-dimensional figures, no wall carvings. Usually poupou are figures representing ancestors of the kin group of the marae. Kwhaiwhai (: Decorative paintings) are found on the heke, or rafters of the building painted in red, white and blacks. On the walls between the poupou, there was red, white and black, weaved decoration called tukutuku. These panels represent symbols like monsters teeth, flounders, ascending steps and many other things.
The marae is a very important place for Mori people as well as other Pacific peoples. It is where significant events are held, including weddings, birthday celebrations, meetings, religious services, conferences, funerals and others. Marae is not just a term found only in Aotearoa, but throughout the Pacific and Polynesian cultures. Outside of New Zealand, the marae is a pyramid structure with stone steps and is used for religious ceremonies. This differs from the idea that Mori hold; the marae is the center of cultural activities, not just religious ritual. Though there is a slight difference in the use of the marae around the Pacific, the marae is still a place of ancestry and is important to all Pacific peoples.
It was quite the experience being able to enter the wharenui and be on the marae. It is something that is supposed to be treasured and is very ceremonial. Mori tradition is very hospitable to visitors under good circumstances, which in pre-European times was sometimes hard to determine. To establish the purpose for a visit, a powhiri is preformed. The powhiri is a welcome ceremony that usually takes place outside the marae. Manuhiri (visitors) do not enter the marae unless they are asked to by the tangata whenua. To begin, two or three women of the tangata whenua will call out and a woman from the manuhiri (visitors) will respond to their calls as the manuhiri move towards the marae. This is called the karanga. When the manuhiri are just in front of the marae, the karanga will cease and there will be a time to remember the dead. Then the manuhiri will be seated, men in the first two row and women in the back rows. This comes from the need to make sure women and children were protected if something went wrong during a powhiri.
Next is the whaikrero, which is similar to the karanga but also different. The karanga is a series of drawn-together sentences about where the visitors are from and why they are there etc. The whaikrero is more detailed than the karanga and expands on what has already been said in the karanga. Usually it begins with a warning call. Then acknowledgements are made to the marae, the whare tipuna, the mate and the actual purpose of the hui (meeting). The visitors must have a speaker to respond to each of the tangata whenua speakers. Following the end of the last speech, a gift is given from the manuhiri to the tangata whenua, usually of money to cover the costs of the meeting. In the past, the gifts would have consisted of foods, weapons, woven cloths and other items.
Last but not least is the hongi, or the exchange of breath between two people. It is simply the pressing of noses, with eyes closed and usually a handshake or embrace of arms of some sort. The manuhiri speakers will lead their group to the tangata whenua for handshakes and hongi to close the ceremony. To complete the ritual, the two groups will then share kai (dinner, food). A prayer may be said before eating has begun, and then the two groups of people will come together and eat. At the end of the meal, depending on the religion of the tangata whenua, a karakia (prayer) may be held. After the karakia, the mihimihi will be held. It is a series of informal speeches starting with the tangata whenua and moving around the house toward the speaker in the opposite corner. These speeches are drawn from inspiration of the carvings and artwork in the walls and are much less formal than those during the powhiri. At the end of the gathering, poroporoaki (farewell speeches) will take place to send the manuhiri farewell. The manuhiri begin with giving thanks to the tangata whenua for their hospitality and provision during the hui which is recognized by a speaker from the tangata whenua. These speeches of thanks are usually done on the last night or meal of the manuhiris visit.
In all, it is a very intricate process. The visit to the marae and the powhiri were exciting things to be a part of, not just a bystander. It is something I will never be able to experience anywhere else in the world. I learned a lot through this visit as well, because it is very hard to explain the presence that is within each person as the powhiri is performed. I gained great respect for Maori tradition and culture as a result of this visit.