1. May, 2017

Koha - a contribution

He maramara kōrero: Koha

The following note emerged from discussions held during a series of wānanga held at our marae. The writer was asked to put together some advice around a number of subjects, advice that could assist us in building our understanding of some of the tikanga and kawa that prevails within our society, and within our particular circumstances as we find them on our marae. This note is but one contribution to the learning for our whānau.


When the word ‘koha’ is heard, seen or otherwise encountered, there seem to be many pictures seem to spring to mind. For some of us, it is that $10.00 or $20.00 that we put into an envelope when we go to a marae or other gathering place, whilst to others of us it is the time and effort we put towards a kaupapa. All of these things have merit and can be included in the heading, but for this particular note, I am going to focus on one particular aspect and one particular kaupapa – tangihanga and koha.

Our Marae?

For many of us, the marae is that place where we take our tūpāpaku back to so they can be buried with their tūpuna. We take them there because we hold the belief that it is our right to do so, it is our marae, our tūrangawaewae, and we have been told that nobody can stop us! Sadly this is not the case and in fact, like many things regarding our tikanga and kawa, it is a mistaken belief created by white anthropologists that has been repeated so often that it has gained validity and a ‘sense’ of truth.

The marae is a place that requires commitment and participation to succeed, it is not a holiday camp where we can just wander in and out as we like, and it is not somewhere that will always be there, regardless of time and space. The marae is also a place where mata kānohi or the “seen face” is paramount. It is through being seen and participating in the life ways of the marae, that rights and privileges are given, upheld and maintained. It is also through these things that honour and respect are given, from the people who remain to keep the ahi kā or home fires burning. Birthright only gives you a chance to participate, active support through the koha of resources, financially and physically, gives you a voice.

Professor Whatarangi Winiata once wrote in his report to the Commission on Social Policy (1988) that the marae is our principal home; that it should be well serviced and maintained, and thoroughly respected. Part of what he was referring to in regards to maintenance is the paepae and the kāuta, which are the front and the back. These two places are of utmost importance to our tikanga and kawa but are often sorely lacking due to the fact that they are thankless roles. Whānau travel to the marae to uphold these roles, often taking days out of their jobs and homes; they arrive to kitchens that have a lack of resources because others have ‘borrowed’ some of the resources and haven’t quite returned them yet, and they have hungry manuhiri who expect to have healthy, nutritious 5 star meals set in front of them, all for minimum or no cost to themselves – i.e. the aforementioned $10.00 or $20.00. And they expect this to carry on for the duration of the tangihanga and often beyond! There is no organization in the world that can sustain such attitudes. The majority of the funds that are received during tangihanga barely cover the costs of the food consumed, even when it is a small one, and often times, it is through the manaakitanga and generosity of the ahi kā (read skills of the people within the kāuta) and marae community that there is enough to go around!

Koha as a reflection

Koha should reflect our expectations, and it should also reflect the mana that we, both individually and collectively, carry with us. If we are going to stay for but a brief time, i.e. a cup of tea and/or a bite to eat then leave, our koha will be less substantial than it would be if we were to remain. But it should also be reflective again of our mana and err on the side of generosity. If the situation is that we are going to stay, we need to think about what that may entail for all parties. Why are we staying? Are we there to provide support for the ‘front’ or the ‘back’? If so, all well and good, our koha can take that into consideration, still keeping in mind that our mana and honour is at stake both in how we perform and what we provide. If we are not helping out, then why are we staying? Is it to decorate the whare with our presence? Is it to warm a seat and await the next call from the kāuta? If so, then we need to reflect this in our koha … remember that even food needs to be prepared and cooked before it is set out on the table.

“Koha has strings”

One great thing to remember about koha is that it has strings attached. What this means is that it is a bilateral agreement between the donors and the receivers. For many of our marae, when koha is received, the amounts and whom they are from are recorded in books so that at a later time, the koha can be returned, with interest, back to the donors. Even the work that people provide both in the kāuta and on the paepae are reciprocated, and again, it is mana at stake. When things are not given the chance to be reciprocated, when the balance in ‘the ledger’ shows up ‘in the red’ so to speak, there is a need to balance the books and in fact a need to gain the upper hand so that mana is restored and everything is on an even keel again.

So next time you go to a marae or some such other gathering, think about your koha, think about what you are going to contribute and what it may be saying to those of the mana whenua in regards to how you see them, and how you are acknowledging their mana, and also how they may also see you, and yours, in the light of your contributions towards the kaupapa that has called you all together.

Ngā mihi ake ki a tātou katoa