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Maori Powhiri Process

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2185
  • Category: Gender

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The powhiri process is known as the welcome process in inviting its manuhiri (visitors) into the marae (a gathering place of Maori). Throughout the ceremony, depending on the iwi, the ceremony goes through many processes. Each of the process bears an important meaning from determining the cause of visitation to remembering the dead; these processes are performed with great importance in the marae. These processes, though bearing the same name, vary for different gatherings. In the literature review, we will be looking into the difference of karanga, whaikorero and haka in terms of ceremonies or presenters of the ceremony. Karanga

In the context of ceremonial gatherings, karanga is usually performed by the tangata whenua to signal an invitation to the manuhiri. One or more women beginning with the tangata whenua usually perform the kai karanga followed by a respond by one or more manuhiri women. During this ceremony, Salmond (2004: 117) describes the process of the karanga as “an elderly local woman would be standing in the porch of the carved meeting house and begins a high wailing call of welcome (karanga) followed by a party of woman performing an action chant of powhiri.” Throughout the process, women are seen to be keening, sobbing and wailing as the karanga makes acknowledgement to the dead (Salmond 2004). King (1975) sees that the karanga invites the spirit of the deceased to return to its people along with its visitors coming into the marae to pay their respects.

However in a context of tangihanga, the process slightly differs from the ceremonial process. Karanga is also made to invite visitors but it is not done always. As seen in the book written by Mead and Mead (2003: 99), in some iwi karanga is not performed in tangihanga; visitors just follow behind the coffin and gather around the burial hole. When karanga is perfomed, an older women of the settlement would be perform a wailing of Haeremai (Oppenheim: 1973: 48) as soon as the visitors were sighted. The context of the karanga remains to be calling out in remembrance of the dead. Usually the wailing and sobbing in a tangi is loud and long (Salmond 2004). This could be due to the fact that death is so intimate and real. The Maori people believes that the spirit of the dead roams around for a specific period of one year before taking its role as guarding the children through ritual action (Shoko 2007). Whaikorero

Whaikorero is normally known as a formal speech, on nearly all marae that the tangata whenua usually speak both first and last (Hiwi and Tauroa 1986: 60). In a powhiri, Whaikorero usually begins with a whakaaraara, a tauparapara before making acknowledgements to the marae and whare tipuna, the mate and eventually taking into the purpose of visitation (Higgins and Moorfield 2004). The structure of whaikorero might deviate among iwi and most significantly, the permission for a woman to whaikorero.

Looking at the position in a marae during the whaikorero, manuhiri is usually placed at the left while the tangata whenua will be standing at the other side and separated by the tapu space (Mead and Mead: 2003). Before the purpose of the visitation is determined, Durie (1999) illustrates that a space exist in between the tangata whenua and manuhiri, both in terms of physical arrangements and tapu. The arrangement on the marae creates distance between the host and its guest (Mahuta 1974:16). Although through wero the intention of visitors have been determined to be peaceful before inviting them into the marae, the space between the visitors will still exist until the initial purpose have been settled. Whaikorero traditionally served as an important purpose of judging the intentions of the visiting party through the speeches, without presuming the outcome was to be friendly (Durie 1999).

Through these speeches the intention of the visitors would be determined and doubts will be clarified through these speeches. The purpose of the visitation prior European colonization, was primarily for expressing opinion; presenting topics for discussion; and enabling decision-making regarding all matters affecting living arrangements and work, including decisions concerning daily, monthly and annual activities critical to the safekeeping of the people (Rewi 2004). The speaker during a whaikorero are normally highly skilled or is seen to have great mana and young speakers are usually only allowed to speak with the permission of the older speakers. This is usually due to the ability of an experience speaker to remove the tapu of manuhiri is greater as compared to younger speakers.

Although in most iwi only men are allowed to whaikorero, some tribes such as Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu allow women to whaikorero on the behalf of the iwi. The right of women to whaikorero in a marae atea still remains unclear as of today. The initial separation of gender practices was to protect its women and also seen as the power of Tumatuenga in the marae site (Ferro 2003). However, woman of today argue that preventing woman from performing whaikorero is sexist and with today’s gender equality, women should be allowed to perform whaikorero. Prime Minister Helen Clark was shed to tears when veteran protester Titewhai Harawira blocked her from speaking on Te Tii Marae (Bidois 2000). Women nowadays are still challenged with their rights to be able to speak as many Pakeha man, with and without knowledge of Maori culture and language, are increasingly speaking on marae (Bulbeck 1998). Given such authority for Pakeha men to speak on marae, many challenge the rights of Maori women to whaikorero. Recently, a woman named Josie Bullock filed a claim against its previous employer, the Department of Corrections with the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) for “sexual discrimination” when she was prevented from speaking and sitting in the place reserved for whaikorero. Her reason for doing so was to protest the sexist treatment of women by Māori during the ceremony. By exclusion of women from the front rank of seats was, in her estimation, a value judgment and therefore sexist.

Looking back at the purpose of whaikorero
Whaikorero, or the performance of Māori oratory during powhiri is intricate and difficult to perform. Māori oratory is based on traditional knowledge, as required to remove the tapu of manuhiri to make them one with the tangata whenua. Traditionally only the experts in the art of whaikorero would stand to speak to the manuhiri. The purpose of the mihi (the greeting) is to acknowledge and weave together the past, present and future, by acknowledging the creator, guardians, the hunga mate (the dead), the hunga ora (the living) and laying down the take or kaupapa (the reason) for the powhiri or event that is about to take place (Hook 2009). The role of the speakers in a whaikorero, as reflected in the above statement, is important as they bear the responsibility of removing the tapu of the visitors. From my opinion, the importance still lies on the mana and qualification of the speaker instead of the gender of the speaker. Furthermore, the energy used during the speech giving is important and stringent qualifications are needed. An experienced orator is expected to have the ability to incorporate appropriate whakatauki, pepeha and kupu whakaari (Higgins and Moorfield 2004). Hence, by solely looking at the gender one could not tell the ability of the person to whaikorero and in most instances, men are seen to have more energy and power to perform a decent whaikorero. Haka

When asked to describe haka, most people relate it to a war dance; while some picture the haka “Ka Mate!” performed by the All Blacks and other sports team. Haka has seen to have evolved from a humble tradition of Maori in powhiri, to a well-known culture and is frequently used as a symbolism in publicizing Maori culture.

In pre-European colonization days, Maori were constantly involving themselves in inter-tribal wars and visitors were naturally expected to be enemies (Gardiner 2007). Through the Haka, Maori restricted many of its visitors in taking part and being in the native land. In the records of Cook’s first encounter with the Maori people at 1769, the native Maori performed a war dance upon seeing the arrival of the small boat of Cook. It was recorded by Beaglehole (1955:169) that Cook and his men will “call’d to them in the George Island Language, but they answered us by flourishing their weapons over their heads and dancing as we supposed the war dance…” In the writings of Andersen (1934:307) the haka did not only have the intention to intimidate the enemy but also helped the performer worked up to the proper tone to enhance the excitement.

Much has changed since the arrival of the Pakeha society and the alteration of haka is one of the ways that reflects the change in the Maori society (Gardiner 2007). There are many haka performed today with a common theme but the difference between the haka is hard to distinct.

Haka peruperu, as described by generations, to be the ‘true’ war dance as it is usually perform immediately before the war, intervals of the war and after a successful war (McLea 1996: 47). As the name explains, peru extends from the word “anger”, the performers demonstrate anger through its physical expressions, gestures and positions in order to demoralize its enemy. Awatere (1975) describes in the article that the true war dance in performed through conditioning of to looking ugly, furious to roll the fiery eye, to glare the light of battle therein, to snort, to fart the thunder of the war-god upon the enemy to carry the peru of Tuumatauenga. All these demanded lots of anger and energy and it was unlikely to see a woman performing in a haka peruperu as woman are hardly sent to war and haka peruperu was only performed in front of the war enemies.

Haka powhiri was once often performed on formal occasions but has slowly faded away in today’s powhiri due to the lack of expertise in today’s Maori society. In contrast of haka peruperu, a haka powhiri is less tension and there is an atmosphere of celebration and enjoyment (Maufort and Connell 2007: 207). Haka is usually perform at the end of the of the powhiri, where the tapu among the manuhiri has been removed and this creates a friendly environment and in some powhiri, “cooks” of the hui would perform a powhiri as a symbolism to invite its guest for into the whare kai (Maufort and Connell 2007: 207). In most haka powhiri, men would perform but in some instances, women of some iwi would take part in the haka such as the Ngati Porou and Te Whanau-a-Apanui. Particularly in Ngati Porou, the women will be the fore performer and men would only enter to conclude the ceremony with a haka taparahi (Karetu 1993); which contrasts greatly with the performer of haka peruperu.

Haka, regardless of being of its meaning of frightening its enemy or entertaining its visitors, varies in its action and intention. Today, haka is defined as part of the Maori dance and is seen today with a less strained atmosphere and mostly without weapons. Conclusion

After looking into the many processes of powhiri and contrasting them with different ceremonies and performers, we could see that much effort has been placed in retaining the origins of this process. Through many ways such as books publishing, incorporating Maori dances into today’s society; many Maori descendants are determined to preserve the roots and traditions of its unique culture. To keep the passion of these gradually declining population, much more effort should be looked into bringing the culture alive.


Mahuta, Robert Te Kotahi, 1974. Whaikarero: A Study of Formal Maori Speech. Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Auckland.

Mead, H.M. and S.M. Mead, 2003. Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori Values. Wellington: Huia Publishers.

Ferro, Katherine, 2003. Gender and Power in the Pacific: Women’s Strategies in a World of Change. Vienna: Oesterreichisch Suedpazifische Gesellschaft.

Bidois, Vanessa, 2000. Maori still split over gag on PM. The New Zealand Herald. Accessed 6 October, 2012 from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=109176

Bulbeck, Chilla, 1998. Re-orienting Western Feminisms: Women’s Diversity in a Postcolonial World. United Kingdom: The Press Syndicate of The University of Cambridge.

Higgins R. and J.C. Moorfield, 2004. Ki te Whaiao: An Introduction to Maori Culture and Society. Auckland: Pearson Education.

Gardiner, Wira, 2007. Haka: A living tradition. Auckland: Hachette Livre NZ Ltd.

Karetu, Timoti, 1993. Haka! The dance of a noble people. Auckland: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd.

Maufort, M. and D.O. Donnell, 2007. Performing Aotearoa: New Zealand Theatre and Drama in an Age of Transition. Brussels: P.I.E. Peter Lang S.A.

Awatere, Lt Col Arapeta, 1975. The Journal of the Polynesian Society. 84(4): 57-75.

Shoko, Tabona, 2007. Karanga Indigenous Religion in Zimbabwe: Health and
Well-Being. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Salmond, Anne, 2004. Hui: A study of Maori Ceremonial Gatherings. Auckland: A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd.

Mclean, Mervyn, 1996. Maori Music. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

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