3. Apr, 2017

Turangawaewae vs Marae

There have been a few questions posed about what the difference is between these two things, so it was thought that I put a few words together to assist and provide some insight into these bastions of our society as an aid for people who would like to know. 

A marae, at its simplest, might be referred to as a collection of separated, functional buildings on an area of reserved land, usually deemed to be sacral to some extent. Marae have an ancient history both in New Zealand Maori culture, but really originating at least in part, in the older cultures from which our Maori culture was eventually derived, from other, earlier settled, Pacific Islands. 

Beyond the historical forms of the marae are the other aspects that delineate what a marae really is. It is not simply a group of buildings at all, although this is a common non-tangata whenua understanding of its position. A marae is a tapu or sacred space, and within or nearby that space are buildings whose form, function and meaning have only come to their present conjunction in (written) historic times. What makes the marae is the combination of the people and the ritual that is involved on a marae, the marae space and lastly, the physical buildings. The buildings, particularly carved houses, have additional meaning that they lend to the thread of the story of the people. They themselves represent the whakapapa of the marae, and specifically of the hapū who inhabit that marae. They do this by direct representation, but also by analogy and by spiritual means something that is often overlooked by people outside the culture. Our tūpuna are deemed to exist within the very fabric of the building and have a renewed or continuing existence that is instilled through ritual and belief.

The marae has been described under many different guises, but it is generally agreed that they were and are the focal point of iwi and hapū cultural and communal activities. It is a place that encapsulates and enables life crises to be played out upon it. Each marae also has whakapapa connections to the tangata whenua, that is, those people who are recognised as being the kaitiaki of the whenua, the ahi kā.

The Marae is a complex that has a very specific protocol and whakapapa. As noted above, they were and are established on whenua that belongs to the local peoples, and are representative of the mana they hold upon the land. Many have a wharepuni, a kāuta of some type, and in more modern times, a dining room attached for the hosting and accommodating of manuhiri. 

They were established by whānau and hapū to create a centre for the activities of these groups, and those who were a part of these groupings, maintained the links of the people to each other. Those who were not of the bloodlines of the eponymous tūpuna were treated as tauiwi or strangers, who had no rights except those provided temporarily by the tangata whenua to them.

The house, often called a wharenui, represents a tupuna that is associated with the people of the land, and provides a connection for the people to both the land and said tupuna. Within the house are the artefacts, pictures and other traditional knowledge systems of the whānau and hapū such as photos, carvings and other things. These artefacts provide a continuous connection again to the eponymous peoples of the land.

The traditional marae

The traditional marae is essentially the result of the pa and the kāinga observed by various people on first contact with our people. Gone is the need for protection from enemies and thus most marae are now situated not on craggy rocks and steep hillsides but rather take the form of buildings set on flat ground. The multiple palisades of older days have also been replaced, usually with a low wall acting as a defining boundary separating the precincts of the marae proper from the surrounding area.

A marae proper (described more fully below) is often surrounded or embedded within a larger area of land, often also confusingly termed a ‘marae’. This area may consist of open space, related by ownership to the marae itself, or to houses and property belonging to local people, or a combination of both.

The marae proper is essentially a collection of buildings, each with a specialist function, with an open space laid out in front of the principal buildings and defined by a boundary around the whole. The buildings may consist of any combination of the following:

Whare nui

A Whare tipuna (ancestral house, house of ancestors) may also be known as a Whare whakairo (carved house) if it is carved, Whare puni (sleeping house), Whare hui (meeting house) or Whare nui (great house). This is the most important building on the marae and is usually, although not always, the largest whare. The house itself often represents an eponymous ancestor, although in some instances a more abstract definition may apply; within Ngāti Apa the latter often can be found. As the house is representative of ancestors or at the least may contain architectural references to such it may be generally referred to as a Whare tipuna or House of ancestors. Within our iwi rohe, the majority of houses, because they are often be used for hosting visitors (manuhiri), usually accompanied by at least some local people (tangata whenua) overnight it is a Whare puni, Whare runanga or Whare hui. Although the smallest whare are only the size of a large garage, the largest are great halls, dozens of metres on a side and capable of holding hundreds of people.

Wharepuni are wāhi tapu and one of the prohibitions on their use is no foodstuffs allowed, thus the introduction of the building below (the whare kai) into the scheme of the modern marae.

Whare kai

Nearby the Wharepuni is usually a Whare kai (Food house, Dining hall). The Whare kai normally consists of both a kitchen area and a dining hall, the former where food is prepared and the latter where this is served to guests. The largest Whare kai can comfortably seat hundreds at a time and have kitchens commensurate to providing for the same numbers. In general, these buildings are more like a European hall than a traditional meeting house, with trestle tables and stackable/movable chairs that can be cleared away when not in use. Whare kai are a fairly recent addition to marae buildings, dating in general to the 1930s, before which, feasts and meals may have been eaten outside or in tents.

In the past as cooking was noa, or non-tapu, food preparation took place in specific areas, sometimes under cover, in which case the building was referred to as a Kāuta (cook house).

Whare paku

This is an attached or detached ablution block, providing toilets and wash-rooms and in many cases shower facilities. Usually plain but functional, these are facilities designed to cater for the numbers of visitors that a marae may reasonably expect and thus may be large or small, simple or relatively elaborate.


Many marae have covered areas, small, roofed but open fronted which exist for the use of visitors and which are set to the side but facing towards the front of the principal whare. These are paepae, or speaking places, which are designed to ensure that some of the manuhiri, usually the most important speakers, can stand or sit, while sheltered after they have been welcomed onto marae but before entering the Whare.

Other subsidiary buildings

As well, the marae proper may incorporate other buildings, storage sheds, separate kitchens, offices, training and educational facilities and so on.

The area, usually grassed, occasionally concreted, in front of the main house is kept generally clear and is known as the marae atea, or more fully, Te Maraenui o Tūmatauenga – roughly: the great space that belongs to Tūmatauenga. Tūmatauenga is the Atua of Mankind and Conflict, and the open space is traditionally reserved unto him and is the eponymous feature for the marae complex as we know it today. This area is tapu and the scene of the traditional welcoming onto marae – the pōwhiri.

The fence marks the boundary of the tapu that exists on a marae and care should be taken in crossing this threshold, at least in the domain of our cultural values. This boundary is not merely physical and temporal but has a spiritual nature bound into the tradition and beliefs of many of our people.

The Urban Marae

Simply, urban marae are marae that have been constituted fairly recently in urban areas. They are really a modern response to growing numbers of urbanised peoples.

The variety and form of hui do not generally vary within urban marae, and indeed the full range of ritual may be found at urban marae; it is for such reasons that they were created in the first instance. What differs is that the sense of community, the tikanga and the essence of the marae must all be centred in different ways and forms. A consensus must be found as to what tikanga is used, often favouring the tikanga of the local iwi, within which a city’s boundaries might lie. A number of examples exist such as Te Puea, in Mangere, which holds the tikanga and kawa of Tainui; and the Te Mahurehure Community Centre in Point Chevalier, Auckland; here they follow the tikanga and kawa of Ngāti Whātua. The sense of community, rather than hapū based and linked through whakapapa (genealogy, but familial ties and links as well) is the bond found in these institutions.

Tūrangawaewae – what is it?

A tūrangawaewae literally translates to “A place to stand”, and although many of them take on the façade of a marae, the tikanga and kawa can be very different. What differs is that the sense of community, the tikanga and the essence of the marae must all be centred in different ways and forms. A consensus must be found as to what tikanga is used, often, but not always favouring the tikanga of the local iwi, within which a city’s boundaries might lie. Again, it is often a sense of community, rather than hapū based and linked through whakapapa (genealogy, but familial ties and links as well) that creates a more collegial form of community spirit, by belonging to a university, religious organisation or simply by being accepted into the complex and claiming it as a personal tūrangawaewae. This is a word –tūrangawaewae – with several, quite specific meanings, but here used in the sense of one of its more literal meanings – a place to stand – somewhere for someone to place personal roots. Lastly, the essence of the marae is clearly modified if there is no urupā and the ancestors take some semblance of the generic. A Whare whakairo, linked tightly to a bonded inter-familial group has a clearly different notion to one that has been formed with a fairly transient tangata whenua as its basis.

A tūrangawaewae has more freedom to act in ways that are of benefit to the people who become kaitiaki of the complex. In many cases, the tikanga and kawa is more fluid, adjusting to whomever has control of the paepae or the complex at the time. An example of this can be found at Maraeroa Marae in Porirua. Because it is a complex with a multitude of different peoples, both iwi of Aotearoa and beyond, and although it is sited within the rohe potae of Ngāti Toarangatira, it has a standing tikanga whereby those who are on the paepae or running the hui dictate what the kawa and tikanga will be for that particular event.

He Ahuru Mōwai?

An Ahuru Mōwai is literally a ‘sheltering place’ or place where people can gather where there is no specific tikanga or kawa that guides the interactions of the people within it. In traditional times, the ahuru mowai was a temporary structure, built to accommodate people for a specific time, and once that time was over, it was dismantled and either destroyed, due to the tapu nature of the people associated with it, or tossed aside to await newcomers who would reassemble it again. 


Kāinga - Home

What we have done


© M.Paki 2016