Visiting a Marae 101

The Marae is the heart to the Maori communities. It is important to them because Maori believe that a marae is their “turangawaewae” (Source Maori Dictionary: place where one has rights of residence and belonging through kinship and whakapapa/genealogy)

However, the function of the marae has changed since the arrival of the Europeans. Now, the marae is used more like a meeting/gathering place. A visit to a marae is great for anyone who wished to learn more about the Maori culture and the people.

The marae as mentioned is a meeting place and it is used to celebrate special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, reunions and even a place for the wake where friends and families can pray and to mourn.

The marae and any guest of the marae is cared for by the tangata whenua (Source Maori Dictionary: local people, hosts, indigenous people of the land – people born of the whenua). They are the local people who will decide on the kawa, what/when a gathering/meeting can be held and individual’s duty on the marae.

When you are visiting  marae, everyone are often well-cared for and welcomed. As a guest, you are basically like part of a big family. You can make yourself useful by offering your help to the tangata whenua whether in helping out dishes to greeting other guests. As a guest, you are most often allowed to any part of the marae.

Children are allowed to go and play anywhere on the marae except during the pōwhiri (Source Maori Dictionary: invitation, rituals of encounter, welcome ceremony on a marae)

The pōwhiri is done by a kaumātua (Source Maori Dictionary: adult, elder, elderly man, elderly woman, old man).  Kaumātua are usually the experts of the maori traditions such as whaikōrero (Source Maori Dictionary: oratory, oration, formal speech-making ), whakapapa (Source Maori Dictionary:  genealogy, genealogical table, lineage, descent), waiata (Source Maori Dictionary:  song, chant, psalm) and karanga (Source Maori Dictionary: formal call, ceremonial call).

The Kaumātua will lead the marae at the pōwhiri, welcome the guests, making sure the kawa is followed and setting an example to the young.

Huihuinga Ki Waho (Gathering together outside the marae)

Before entering the marae, manuhiri (guests) are to gather outside the gate. The speakers for the manuhiri are chosen and the koha (Source Maori Dictionary: gift, present, offering, donation, contribution) are collected.

To my understanding, koha is stem from the tradition where a guest will bear gift when they come visiting especially food in the olden days. But, in a contemporary koha giving, money is often given as a gift.

This is followed by the moving into the marae area. This is often done silently and the group should stay close together when moving forward. However, I was informed that in certain areas of New Zealand, the men usually more in the front most, followed by the women and then, the children. But, in certain areas, kuia (Source Maori Dictionary: elderly woman, grandmother, female elder) will lead the manuhiri.

Te Wero (The Challenge)

The wero is a challenge at a pōwhiri. The wero is done traditionally to see if the guests have come in peace or for war.

But, in the contemporary marae visiting, it is done as a part of a ceremonial challenge. It is always done by a man and before the karanga (Source Maori Dictionary: formal call, ceremonial call – a ceremonial call of welcome to visitors onto a marae, or equivalent venue, at the start of a pōwhiri) is made by the woman.

The challenge can be done by 1 challenger or more. The challenger/s will make fierce faces, noises and swings his taiaha (Source Maori Dictionary: a long weapon of hard wood with one end carved and often decorated with dogs’ hair). This serves as a warning to guests that the warrior/s of the tangata whenua are strong and are ready to take on any challenges to defend themselves.

The challenge dart is then placed in front of the manuhiri where the male member of the manuhiri will pick it up and show the tangata whenua that they have come in peace.

When the challenge is done, a woman from the marae will perform the Te Karanga (the welcoming call). These involves the exchange of greetings, paying tribute to the dead (especially those who have most recently died), and referring to the reason that has brought the two groups together. It has an important function in building connections between the tangata whenua and manuhiri, and setting the agenda for the gathering.

A selected person will/might return the karanga on behalf of the manuhiri.

There is no restriction on how long the exchange lasts nor on the number of women who participate. The exchange generally lasts until the visitors have stopped momentarily in respect in front of the meeting house. After standing in silence for a short time (in respect of the dead), a final karanga is sometimes offered by a host kuia (female elder) to indicate that the visitors should take their seats.(Source: Korero Maori)

When the powhiri is done, this is followed by the greetings and speeches. The final speech is always done by the tangata whenua. Once the speeches ended, the mahuhiri can move forward to perform shake hands (hariru) and pressing noses together (hongi). Now you can greet your host/s by saying ” Kia Ora” or “Tena Koe”.

Related article: Ngā Mihi / Greetings 

You are then welcome to explore the marae. And, these are most often followed by a kai (Source Maori Dictionary: food, meal) which are also the essential part of the visit for the tangata whenua to show their hospitality to the manuhiri.



Sleep over during a marae visit

When visiting a marae, make sure you understand the kawa (Source Maori Dictionary: marae protocol – customs of the marae) as it does varies from any of the other marae that you might have been. Each marae is unique and different from the other.

To prepare yourself for your visit. It might be good if you bring

  • blankets/sleeping bags
  • pyjamas & change of clothes
  • towel
  • toiletries
  • socks/indoor shoes
  • raincoat/sun hat

Mattresses, sheets and pillows are usually prepared by the marae but you can find this out before your visit.


  • Don’t jump on the mattresses
  • Don’t sit on the pillows (The head is considered tapu (Source Maori Dictionary: sacred, prohibited, restricted, set apart, forbidden, under atua protection) and it is bad manner to sit on a pillow where you rest your head)
  • Don’t walk over people who might be lying down
  • Don’t shout


I hope you have got a wee bit of information from my blog for your next visit to the Marae! Hopefully, it had been helpful.


p/s: I’m also new at the these and had been reading up about its procedure and if any of you out there thinks that I might have gave any wrong information, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below so that I can correct any misinformation.


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