The Māori people are a tribal people made up of 79 traditional tribes spread across the New Zealand. The Marae, a sacred place of gathering, is the place of greatest mana, of the highest spirituality, the place which increases the dignity of the person and the place where Māori customs reach their ultimate expression.
He aha te mea nui? What is the greatest thing?
He tangata! It's the people, He tangata!
He tangata! It's the people, He tangata! It's the people.
The Marae, or meeting place, is the turanga-waewae of Māori. It is the basis of traditional Māori community life. It is their "home". It is at the Marae that official events take place: celebrations, weddings, baptisms, tribal meetings, funerals. People can also be called there for "hui".
Literally "hui" means to come together, to come together. Unlike other meetings, the “hui” usually takes place according to Māori protocol. If the “hui” concerns a dispute between two parties, each presents its arguments so that a consensual arrangement can finally be reached. Otherwise, a new “hui” will be called later.
The “tangata whenua” are responsible for the local Marae. They make decisions about the marae; if guests are expected, for example, they take care of the organization. They are the ones who define everyone's roles in the Marae, and ensure that visitors are well received.
Young people are asked to participate in the work in the Marae. The elders of the Marae have authority and are respected. The Kaumatua (old people) are the Elders of the Marae. Their role is to teach young people the Māori traditions: “whaikorero” (speeches), “whakapapa” (genealogy) or “waiata” (song). The Kaumatua also participate in welcoming visitors.
Waiata (singing) is very important in Māori life. Over the centuries, waiata has recorded the history, legends and particular events in people's lives. A person who has the floor can lead to a song at some point in their speech. Some waiata, however, can only be sung on certain occasions, such as a "tangi" (funeral song) for example.
A European, or "Pakeha", can only enter a Marae with the permission of the Elders, and he must show due respect while in the marae complex. If a group of visitors comes to the Marae, a special ceremony takes place. This ceremony is called "te wero" and is always led by a man. Wero means "to throw a spear".
The "wero" is always led by a male person. After the haka, a challenge item is placed on the ground by one of the Marae's men. Visitors should wait at the entrance to the marae until they have a chance to show that they have come with peaceful intentions.
The "wero" can be driven by a high-ranking woman, a queen, for example, but the "taki" (the spear of challenge) must be picked up by a man in her party. This is the traditional way of determining whether visitors to the Marae have come in peace or with hostile intentions.
When the "manuhiri" visitors advance in the Marae, they should all stay together, and walk slowly and respectfully. The women of the Marae take part in the welcome call, the “Te karanga”:
“Approach, visitors from afar! Welcome ! Welcome! (Haere may, Haere May). Bring with you the spirits of your dead, may they be greeted. Let them be mourned. Climb to our Marae, climb to the sacred Marae of our people. Welcome ! Welcome ! (Haere May, Haere May)”
For the Māori, generosity and hospitality are of the utmost importance.
Usually, visitors to the Māori will stop for a minute or two to remember those who have died, before entering further into the Marae. When visitors are inside the Marae, greetings begin.
The Māori practice a traditional welcome called “powhiri”, which consists of a “hongi”. The "hongi", a welcoming ritual of touching someone else's nose with the tip of your nose in greeting, is the mixture of the breath of two people, which represents unity. Often it is practiced three times in a row: the first contact to greet the person, the second in recognition of the ancestors, the last pressure of the nose and forehead to honor life in this world.
After the greetings, the speeches begin. The one who speaks moves forward and backward while speaking. Most of the speeches are followed by chants (waiata) by the women.
Adjacent to the Marae, erected on a separate area, is the Marae-Atea, usually facing the main entrance to the Marae. This is where the Whare is located.
We can talk about whare in many different ways: whare tipuna or whare tupuna (the ancestral house), whare whakairo (the carved house), whare nui (the big house), whare hui (the meeting house), whare moe or whare puni (the house where one sleeps) or whare runanga (the council house).
The whare is almost always located, as in the past, between the marae and the entrance gate. The whare is used for funerals, religious gatherings or to receive guests. No member of the local tribal community lives permanently in the whare. With rare exceptions, the whare almost always bears the name of an ancestor.
The whare represents in principle, symbolically, the chief and his ancestors. Outside, on the facade of the whare, at the very top, is the tekoteko, a sculpted figure, placed on the roof and at the entrance to the whare. The tekoteko represents the head of the ancestor.
The “maihi”, or carved part of the tekoteko hanging from the whare, shows the ancestor's arms, open as if to welcome visitors. The beam in the center of the whare, which runs through it end to end, represents the ancestor's spine.
And we chose a particularly strong piece of wood, because when the spine is strong, the whole body is strong. The carved rafters found inside the whare represent the ancestor's ribs. The silhouettes carved along the interior walls of the whare represent the ancestors of the people of the local marae, as well as those of other tribes.
Outside the whare one can see smaller and larger sculptures of Koruru. The sticking out tongue is a provocation towards the enemy, (just as it is a gesture of defiance during the haka, the war dance). The eyes of the koruru, in shiny paua shell (the New Zealand abalone shell), represent the Ruru, the Māori name for the small native owl of New Zealand.