Breadcrumb navigation

What is a pōwhiri? Understanding the traditional Māori welcome

Published: 22 January 2018
Te Tai Tonga Kapa Haka performing at Waitangi Day Family Celebrations (2017). Photo Credit: Raymond Sagapolutele

Waitangi Day is fast approaching, so it’s the perfect time to learn more about Māori culture and refresh your te reo Māori. Today we look at an important part of Māori culture – the pōwhiri, a ritual of encounter.

A pōwhiri usually begins with manuhiri (guests) gathering outside the meeting grounds. An older woman from the host side performs a karanga (call) to the manuhiri. This is when the visitors start moving on to the marae. A woman from among the visitors will send a call of response and acknowledgement. The visitors walk onto the marae as a group, slowly and silently with the women in front of the men. They pause along the way to remember their ancestors who have passed on.

Once on the marae grounds, the guests and hosts sit down facing each other. When they are all seated, speeches are made and a song is sung following each speaker to support their address. Customarily, the final speaker for the visitors will present a koha (gift) to their hosts.

To finish the ceremony, visitors and hosts greet each other with a hongi (the ceremonial touching of noses). After the pōwhiri, kai (food) is shared, in keeping with the Māori tradition of manaakitanga (hospitality).

Where to experience a pōwhiri

Come along to Waitangi ki Manukau for a special opportunity to experience a pōwhiri at 9am, Tuesday 6 February in Hayman Park, Manukau. You’re invited to join the manuhiri group, which will gather before being welcomed onto the park. Then join in the fun and stay for the day – enjoy the live music, tasty kai and learn about the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi through interactive, family-friendly activities. 

You can also learn more about Māori culture and the history of the Treaty of Waitangi at other Waitangi Day events supported by Auckland Council, including Waitangi @ Waititi and Waitangi Day 2018 at Okahu Bay.