Powhiri - A Friendly Greeting.
A Maori challenge
The powhiri is a ceremony of welcome extended to visitors by Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Here we invite you to follow the sequence of a powhiri, which we hope you will experience as part of your visit to our country.
The traditions and protocol of the powhiri provide an insight into the unique and spiritual world of the Maori, which is as important today as in the past. The various elements of the powhiri serve to ward off evil spirits and unite both visitor and host in an environment of friendship and peace.
With alertness, a warrior appears from the host people. He is followed by two others who are skilled in the world of Tumatauenga, the Maori god of war and man.
They focus on the visitors, then challenge their intentions. This is done by assuming fierce, striking stances and making exaggerated contortions of the face. For Westerners, the natural reaction to a surprisingly fearful situation such as this is to either smile or laugh. In Maori tradition, laughing at a warrior is one of the worst insults you can give him, and even though the gesture is ceremonial, Maoris take such an insult very seriously. If you find yourself involved in one of these ceremonies, do not smile at this gesture, and above all, do not laugh.
Slowly, with eyes fixed on the visitors, they lay down the rautapu, a sacred leaf or carved effigy, at the visiting leader's feet.
To pick up the rautapu means you come in peace. Keep your eyes on the warrior who placed it as you pick it up. This ensures your intentions. When you nod and acknowledge that you comfortably received it, the challenge part of the ceremony is over. You are now a welcomed guest. You are now allowed to approach in safety, a process involving "karanga".
A Karanga refers to the ceremonial call of welcome performed only by the women of the tribe. To the Maori, only the female can clear a spiritual pathway between the host and visitor.
The call also clears a spiritual pathway for the ancestors of both visitor and host to meet and partake in the ceremonial uniqueness of the powhiri. A visitor fortunate enough to be present during a formal powhiri will hear the lamenting call of three women in unison. This custom follows that of the local tribe, Nga Puhi, and is reserved for special occasions.
The spine tingling, lament like chant of the karanga soars into the heavens, often provoking tears and an emotive response from the audience. The call of the women acknowledges the ancestral spirits of the visitors before them. The women acknowledge who you are and why you have come, and invite you to stop and shed tears for those who have passed on.
It is said that the depth of this call represents the bottomless source of ancestral tears, otherwise known as puna roimata.
The start of the karanga indicates to a visitor that they are free to approach their hosts across the marae atea (sacred space directly in front of the meeting house).
The meeting house provides a place for the leaders to speak to one another, for everyone to meet and become friends, to join together in song and feasting.
This presentation features images of the people of Waitangi, a small settlement in the Bay of Islands (on the east coast of the Northland peninsula of New Zealand), renowned for its historical significance, scenic beauty and great fishing.
For a full presentation and explanation of the Powhiri, and to hear the recordings of the songs, click here