6. Dec, 2018

Notes on the Pōwhiri Process

The pōwhiri is probably the most important institution within tikanga Māori. It is within this ritual that elements from the begining of time through to today can be observed. The roles that each play in the ritual have been handed down from generation to generation with very little adaption or change thus it can be suggested that it is perhaps the last bastion of tikanga left in this world.

There are two types of rituals seen within the pōwhiri process, Pāeke and Tū atu, tū mai.  Each of them have their own rules as to how something must be done, and the processes of things that need to be followed. The following will look at Pāeke first, to provide some insight into the processes and roles that are encapsulated into this tikanga before we look at  Tū atu, Tū mai. 


Pāeke has been likened to the construction of a house. The people go about building their metaphorical house and making it strong enough to withstand any attacks from the outside world. The first speaker metaphorically lays down the foundations of the house, introducing the manuhiri to the various landmarks and other important details about the tangata whenua before the second and subsequent speakers build the walls and roof. The last speaker metaphorically inspects the house, plugging up any gaps and ensuring the building is caulked well before closing the door and sealing it against the weather so to speak.

It has been offered that this particular style of pōwhiri or ritual of encounter[1]is derived from the descendants of Tane, that the creation of the house is in memory of the stance that Tane took when the origins of the world of light were taking place[2]. It is also suggested by some that this analogy was actually the stance that Tane took when he fought against his brother Tawhirimatea when the arguments arose over the separation of their parents, Ranginui and Papatūānuku[3]. In either case, the symbolism of the building of the house and its standing against ‘all-comers’ is the common theme.

The tangata whenua are the first speakers. It is they who will lay down the correct or proper rituals to be followed in the encounter. They decide what the process will be and how it will be presented to the world. They speak enbloc, that is they speak one after the other until everything that needs to be said has been done. After that the opportunity to speak is then given to the Manuhiri to speak enbloc. When everything is completed then the whakanoa process is instituted to make everyone safe and secure.

In terms of Pāeke, there is a correct way of standing and a correct process of delivery within the encounter. The Tangata whenua can be looked upon as the tuakana and the manuhiri, teina within the relationship on display. The Tangata Whenua will hold the mātauranga of the land and its resources thus will have an intimate knowledge of their surroundings. Because they maintain control over the lands within their boundaries, it is their right, in fact their obligation to ensure that the manuhiri are kept safe by providing them with the guidelines of ettiquette and appropriate behaviour to follow.

Karanga – First voice heard on the Marae

Kaikaranga: This is usually a kuia of age, beyond the age of childbearing who is deemed to be closer to those who have gone beyond the vale, and is therefore more likely to be able to communicate with them in a better manner. Because a lot of the time, she knew the ‘old people’ that have passed on, there is a better chance that she will be listened to and they, ngā tūpuna, will behave in an appropriate manner. Her role is to open the path for the manuhiri to enter into the ritual of encounter. Her call and the reply from the kaikaranga of the manuhiri set the tone and the appropriateness of the encounter. The lifting of the tapu that lies upon the marae atea allows the people to come into the realm of Tūmatauenga in a manner that safe for all concerned. 

Ferris has offered the suggestion that the karanga is a spiritual call, that it invokes the spirits of the tūpuna whom have gone before to take notice and thus is reserved for those who have the support of the people to carry this role[4].

Whereas the Western thought is that the woman is unclean or noa thus breaks the tapu that lies there, the view from aronga māori is different. It is because of the intense tapu that the woman carries as of right, and her close connection to Papatūānuku, that she is able to lift the tapu and clear the pathway for her people to proceed. It makes the marae atea safe for the people to enter. If this is not done, there is a danger that the people could fall foul of the hidden dangers that lay beneath. The thoughts behind this are clearly evident when people do not have a kaikaranga. The panic that comes upon the people is an indication of the tapu at work. Intense nervousness, anxiety and other emotions can swell and everyone is in a state of angst. Once a kaikaranga is found though, and the first call goes out, the emotions begin to subside and people become more relaxed again.

The role of the kaikaranga is multi-faceted. It is her who is the first voice heard on the marae and it is her words that greet the manuhiri and allow them to enter onto the marae. When listened to, there is a lot of information that the kaikaranga has to provide as well. 

Maioha: When the maioha or kaikaranga on the tangata whenua side speaks she lets the manuhiri know who they are visiting and the area that they have decided to enter. She will address the dead as they journey with their living descendants, greeting them and providing comment on the thoughts of the tangata whenua regarding their passing. It is also her who will provide the manuhiri with an opportunity to speak about the reason for their arrival or visit.

Tiwaha: When the tiwaha or kaikaranga of the manuhiri speaks in reply, she lets the tangata whenua know who is actually coming onto their marae. In the majority of cases, the names of rōpū are used, although on rare ocassions it can be heard of special people amongst the manuhiri being pinpointed and announced to the tangata whenua so that everyone is pre-warned. She will also greet the dead of the tangata whenua again providing commentary on the thoughts of the manuhiri in regards to theirpassing. 

In most areas the karanga will begin the pōwhiri process and will be given once. It will not be given again until the pōwhiri for the rōpū is complete. This changes in certain areas of the North. There it is common for a karanga to be performed to manuhiri that arrive at the gate, regardless of the time or who is speaking at the time. When this happens, everything is put on hold until the manuhiri have entered and taken their seats. Whomever is speaking at the time, tangata whenua or manuhiri, will mihi to the newcomers before continuing with their own speech.


This is the area of speechmaking, and is a fine art in itself. There are some very good speakers who can enthral the people, entertaining them whilst at the same time putting forward arguments and/or points of discussion from whence the hui can pull threads of ideas to develop. There are others who, due to the lack of experience or some other reason, are boring and often completely miss the reason for whaikōrero. Whatever level they are at though, there is one thing they must keep in mind is that they need to “Whai i te korero”, follow that which has been previously said. This is especially important so that the discussion does not get disjointed and people lose sight of the reason for the hui. 

In the following illustration there are three speakers used. They are used to illustrate the roles of the people and some of their responsibilities as outlined in ngā tikanga tuku iho.

  1. First speaker – usually the weakest speaker of the rōpū 
  2. Second speaker – the whakapapa expert
  3. Third speaker – the rangatira of the hapū and/or best speaker

The Opening speaker: This speaker is an important one. It is he that opens the hui and lets everyone know exactly what the tikanga or kawa is that is going to be followed for the hui. They lay down a simple introduction to the area, usually through the recitation of a pepeha and or landmarks that are within the boundaries of the hapu or iwi. They provide an overviewof the kaupapa of the hui and extend greetings to the manuhiri. On ocassion they may make note of specific people or rōpū within the manuhiri but they do not go into things too much; this is usually left to those who follow.

It is interesting to note that in former times, this person was the potiki or of lesser rank than those of the rest of the paepae. It was looked upon as he being expendable if something of the nature of battle was going to take place. In this situation it was he who would stand to fight first, delaying the attacking party enough for the rest to get away. This is a role that is not often seen today due to the extreme lack of people who are either qualified to stand on the paepae or people who will actually do the job for their hapū.

The Second speaker: He has a heavy load and probably the most important one. It is he who will attempt to bindall of the participants together and create an atmosphere of kotahitanga. It is his role to provide whakapapa connections so that the listening manuhiri can find a tupuna in common to themselves and they can show some sort of connection to the tangata whenua. Often times, it is this person who will carry the knowledge beyond the norms, ie two or three generations, and it is he who will be asked about any connections that may lay hidden within the manuhiri. It is also he who will bear the brunt of any attack should he state something wrong within the whakapapa or miss out a connection. Overall a heavy and often thankless role.

As with the first speaker, his role was to step in to the fray if the first ‘defender’ was knocked down too quickly to ensure the safety of the rangatira.

The Third speaker: He is usually the rangatira of the hapū, representing the mana whenua. His role is to ‘wrap up’the speeches and the various kaupapa that has been laid down. In regards to Paeke, his role is also to strengthen the arguments that have been put forward by the tangata whenua, leaving no gaps and ensuring that the bindings are strong. As he is the ‘mauri o te marae’, it is his responsibility to ensure that the mana of the people is maintained and upheld, regardless of the situation; and being the last speaker, he has the final say on the matter in regards to the tangata whenua

His position is also an interesting one. His sitting position is usually the closest to the house, when the pōwhiri is outside or he is seated closest to the end of the house, away from the door. This was because again in former times, there was a danger that attacking iwi or hapū could kidnap or kill the rangatira of the people more easily if they were isolated from their people. 

Once the last speaker for the Tangata Whenua has completed everything he wants to say to the manuhiri and his waiata is finished, he then hands the right to speak over to the manuhiri for them to participate in the proceedings.

The manuhiri follow the same structure as previously mentioned, speaking enbloc until all that needs to be said is laid down and in the open. When they have finished, the last speaker will indicate that they have finished in the usual way, by the laying down of a koha to the manuhiri.[5]

Te Whakanoa: Once the ritual of encounter has taken place, the process of whakanoa needs to take place. This removes any vestiges of tapu from the manuhiri and tangata whenua and allows them to freely interact with each other. The manuhiri will hongi and hariru or shake hands with the tangata whenua, the action creating a bond of kotahitanga amongst the people gathered. In some areas the tangata whenua call the manuhiri across, crossing in front of the house and greeting the Rangaitra of the hapū first. Other areas have the manuhiri greet the kuia and women first before crossing over to meet and greet the men on the Paepae, the first speaker first and so on. From there they move into a meal to remove all traces of the ‘them and us’, and all become one.

Change of Order

In one particular area, there is found a slight difference in the way Paeke is performed, that area is the Whanganui district. In this particular area, everything is followed the same way except when a tangihanga is being held on the Marae. In this case the manuhiri are the first set of speakers rather than the tangata whenua. This is because it is deemed by the tangata whenua that the tūpāpaku is the reason that people have come to the marae, the tūpāpaku is the caller rather than the living, thus the manuhiri need to address them first before the tangata whenua speak. It is only good manners.

In another area, the North of Aotearoa, there is also another change of order. When the karanga is given by the Tangata Whenua, the manuhiri reply then enter the house, the whare tupuna. They proceed up to the tuarongo of the house or back wall where the photos of various tūpuna are hanging, waiting a short amount of time to mihi and poroporoaki to those who have gone before moving from the right hand side and moving around the room perfoming a hongi and hariru to each before finally moving to the centre of the house where the manuhiri papepae will be situated. 

Another point of note about the North is that often times the speakers for the tangata whenua will not be seated together. On numerous ocassions, it will be found that they are seated around the manuhiri so that those who you see on or around the taumata[6]are not always the speakers but each knows their role and place in the order.

A meal is always had after the pōwhiri process regardless of the order.

In Taranaki, it is appropriate to enter the house and hongi and hariru going from right to left around the house before moving to the paepae. This is because of a tikanga they hold that the house is covered by Rongo, thus is a place of peace and should be treated as such. The hongi and the hariru are signs of peace, thus should be shared with all men. It is also appropriate as the manuhiri are just that, guests in their house and to treat them any differently would be an insult.

One variation that has been noticed by the writer is the holding back of one speaker by the tangata whenua until the manuhiri have completed. The mauri o te kōrerois then returned to them and this last speaker ‘wraps everything up’. It seems to be a new variation, and for the people who follow it, it assists them in maintaining the mana of the land and upholding their tino rangatiratanga. When encountered for the first time, it can be unsettling, but it has been suggested[7]that it gives the tangata whenua an opportunity to reply to any controversial statements made by the manuhiri before they leave the realm of Tūmatauenga – the marae atea - and retire to Rongo – the house.

The Laying of koha

The laying of koha is often a controversial thing, although it need not be. There are some iwi who declare the koha and state from whom each contribution comes from so it can be recorded in the hearts and minds of the tangata whenua, whilst for others, koha should not be laid down on the marae atea unless the manuhiri are asking that a body which is to follow can be accommodated on siad marae. At the end of the day, each marae will have their own protocols on the dealing of koha, and it is incumbant on the manuhiri to find out what it is so no offense is taken by the tangata whenua.

[The following are from personal observation only, through experiences gained and may only be indicative of the marae and people I have been involved with.]

In Taranaki, it is often considered a tono if you lay koha down on the marae atea., usually for a tūpāpaku. Instead, the more appropriate way is to hand the koha to the first person you meet as you enter into the house as you shake hands. It can be done very discretely so that there is no fanfare.

In Ngapuhi, the same whakaaro is often found. When the koha goes down they will often ask about the tūpāpaku that is coming, this being a gentle reminder of where you are and perhaps too a small admonishment for not ensuring that the tikanga of the marae is known.

Waiata Tautoko

[This particular section of the pōwhiri has become routine now. You are more likely to hear songs from another worldview rather than our own, a sad state of affairs].

The waiata tautoko is exactly that, it is a waiata that supports the kōrero of the speaker and should be in line with what has been spoken about in the speech. Often today, a hymn is used rather than a waiata tawhito or mōteatea. Although it is often thought that there should be a waiata after every speech, on occassion there will be times when it is deemed necessary to leave the words of the speaker hanging and/or there is no waiata in the repetoire of the rōpū that could do a better job. One kaumatua has spoken of a time when he was put into the situation of speaking and his kuia ignored his standing waiting for the waiata tautoko. When he looked around to her, the question was given “e tatari ana koe mō te aha?’ followed quickly by the statement “tau ki raro!”[8]When asked about these statements at a later date, the kuia replied “Pai noa iho te kore waiata i te waiata take kore”[9]. The explanation provided was that it is okay not to have a waiata after the speech, especially if the only one you have is not appropriate for the kaupapa. 

Iwi that follow Paeke (a sample only)

Ngāti Apahapaitaketake                     Ngāti Awa                                                                                          

Te Aitanga a Mahaki                           Ngāti Ranginui                                                                         

Ngāti Kahungunu                                Ngāti Ruanui 

Te Rarawa                                          Muaupoko

Ngā Rauru kītahi                                Te Aupouri 

Te Ati Awa                                          Rangitāne

Ngāi Tai                                              Taranaki

Ngāi Tuhoe                                          Ngāti Porou 

Ngāti Whātua                                      Te Whanau a Apanui 

Kai Tahi                                               Te Whakatōhea 

Te Atihaunui a Paparangi                      Nga Ruahinerangi

Ngā Puhi nui tonu                                Ngāti Manawa[10]

Tū atu, tū mai

The kawa Tū atu, tū mai is where each speaker from both parties alternate between the two parties and the tangata whenua have the last say. This kawa is said to be derived from Tūmatauenga, the atua of mankind, who stood against his brothers and ensured that the world was a safer place for all of us.

This kawa begins like the kawa of Pāeke with the first speaker being from the tangata whenua. Like Pāeke he also opens the hui and lets everyone know exactly what the tikanga or kawa is that is going to be followed for the hui. He may also lay down a simple introduction to the area, usually through the recitation of a pepeha and or landmarks that are within the boundaries of the hapu or iwi. They provide an overview of the kaupapa of the hui and extend greetings to the manuhiri. On ocassion they may make note of specific people or rōpū within the manuhiri but they do not go into things too much; this is usually left to those who follow. Once he is finished speaking a waiata may be performed then the right of reply is then handed over to a member of the manuhiri. At the end of each speech and waiata the right will alternate between the two groups until the end speaker, who will be from the tangata whenua side will close the proceedings.

The first speaker from the manuhiri will greet the landmarks of the tangata whenua and greet the marae, buildings and other significant places within the rohe. This provides the manuhiri an opportunity to acknowledge the mana of the tangata whenua and at the same time provide an inkling of what they have done in preparation for the journey. 

Again the first speaker is usually the weaker of the rōpū and will be seated at the end of the line, furthest away from the gateway of the marae. 

One significant thing that is found in the kōrero of each rōpū, whether they be utilising Pāeke or Tū atu, tū mai, is the mihi. It is considered very bad ettiquete for the Tangata Whenua to mihi to their own house or marae. This is the role of the first speaker of the Manuhiri and should be left to them. Often times today, this can be heard from learners, people who have been thrust into the position at the last moment perhaps due to the dearth of speakers, but it should still be avoided at all costs.

A significant thing about Tū atu, tū mai, is that the last speaker of either side should not stand until it is his time to speak; this is particularly true on the tangata whenua side. This includes the standing to sing waiata tautoko and other things. This is because it is a sign that the talking is over and it is time to wrap things up. The last speaker, being the mauri of the marae, remains sitting until it is time for the return of the mauri back to the tangata whenua. Then and only then is it appropriate for him to stand, and with that standing, the mana and the reputation of the marae and the tangata whenua is returned to them for closing.

Iwi that follow Tū atu, Tū mai (a sample only)

  1. Tuwharetoa
  2. All of the Te Arawa Confederation iwi
  3. The majority of  Tainui Confederation Iwi. 


This is a variant that can be found among the iwi of today and is only practiced within the areas that use tū atu, tū mai. This kawa is often seen when the manuhiri have more speakers than the tangata whenua. In this case, the tangata whenua will open the kōrero in the usual way.  On ocassion the speaking will follow the normal format, that is prescribed for tū atu, tū mai until the second to last speaker. Once this person has finished he may pass the mauri or the rakau over to the manuhiri who will then continue to speak until all have had the opportunity to say what they have to say. Again once the koha is laid down, the mauri is returned to the final speaker on the tangata whenua side to complete the proceedings. The hand over is usually prefixed with a comment like: 

            “tū, tū mai koutou! A te mutunga o te kōrero, ka hoki mai te mauri ki konei’

            ‘Stand all of you! When finished, return the mauri back where it belongs”

It must be remembered that it is only through the good graces of the tangata whenua that this change takes place. In former times, it was considered bad manners to put more speakers on the paepae than the tangata whenua, the object being that perhaps the manuhiri had come to lower the mana of the tangata whenua, to shame them. In this case, if percieved so, this was tantamount to a declaration of war. Today, it is less likely to occur but care should be taken.  


The preceding note is but a few comments on the various kawa that can be found within the ritual of pōwhiri. Each iwi and hapū will have their own way of expressing this practice, but it is up to the manuhiri to ensure that a) they are aware of the variations that can be found; and b) that they are prepared to move with these changes. I hope this contribution will assist all on their journey through.

Ngā mihi 

[1]Salmon, A. (1976) pg. 115

[2]Rewi, P (2005) pg.215

[3]Rewi, P (2005) pg. 215

[4]Ferris, R. (2000) pg 4

[5]In some areas, this is done at another time. Explanations will follow further on in this note.

[6]In the North, the paepaeis referred to as the taumata.

[7]Samuels, H (1999) 

[8]Nicholson, I.N. (2009)

[9]Nicholson, I.N. (2009)

[10]Sometimes this iwi changes the kawa of their pōwhiri. See Rewi, P (2005) pg 227 for further details