pōwhiri, a Māori welcoming

I am having a hard time believing I have now been in New Zealand for about a month. My time here already feels like it is flying by too fast and I don’t know how to slow it down. There is too much I want to do, see, and accomplish.

I have been thinking a lot about the pōwhiri, a Māori welcoming, we had the opportunity to experience twice in our Fulbright orientation, and I had previously experienced when I attended the Early Childhood Art Conference on the Victoria University campus. Three times I participated in this beautiful ceremony of Māori welcoming. It has made such an imprint because of what it involves and the ritual it upholds. It is such a physical, emotional, and literal seeing and valuing of the other. What if we all welcomed visitors or new people to our land in such a humanistic way?!

The ceremony begins with a woman crying out to the unknown visitors, she calls us to the marae. As we get closer to the house, marae, in some ceremonies you have the men enter the house first, taking off shoes before entering, or we sit outside. Men sit in the front rows, in case of danger, they protect the knowledge and future that women hold inside of them. The chief or leader from the home side speaks in Māori and the home group sings a song.

After the leader on the visitors side replies sharing where he comes from, who he is, who we are as a group, and thanking for the welcome. We also reply singing a song. The ceremony is about learning if those coming to visit are friend or foe. We end with a hongi, a traditional Māori greeting, where you touch noses sharing the breath of life. It was explained to us that when introducing yourself in New Zealand folks say where they are from, as it connects you to your past your history and they will try and connect with you through where you are from. Place being of importance in the culture.

For instance take the marae, it is a communal place and the focal point of the Māori community. Te reo Māori is spoken and culture is preserved in the house of the community. It is a house that shares the story of the people and place where it sits. The way it is built and designed is to represent a person with open arms welcoming you inside. The roof beams represent the bones of a person, the people inside are the heart of the place. There are carvings of ancestors that tell the stories of the people. Photos of those that have passed and held significance for the marae hang on the walls. You are connected to the past and in the living presence while inside a marae. Children come and learn, the iwi (tribe) share meals, and the community have a space place inside the walls.

As Fulbrighters we had the joy of staying the night at the Waiwhetū Marae. We shared the marae with each other and the iwi, community leaders. We learned about the Treaty of Waitangi and its continued importance to New Zealand both from a Māori and Pākehā, white New Zealander, perspectives. We asked questions and soaked up answers about Māori culture. We ate together, learned to row canoe together, and shared snores together. We became our own whānau, extended Fulbright family.

My Teacher Whānau in New Zealand

Two of the pōwhiris I attended where on the university campus. It is a marae built to represent all the iwis of New Zealand so that Māori students coming from all over New Zealand have a place to feel welcome. Its name Te Herenga Waka Marae means the mooring place of canoes as students are hitching themselves to this marae while they study and are away from home.

I want to leave you with a word that has been on my mind since our pōwhiris: mana. It is a powerful word which emphasizes your humanity, your essence, or your lack. Our guide for the sleepover in the Waiwhetū Marae was Martiu. He spoke a lot about mana, and also how Trump was a ‘mana eater.’ Take that for what you will. Below I found this great passage on mana.

It doesn’t matter how you look at it, mana underpins everything.

But mana has many faces. It could be the power and authority you’re given because it’s known that you can prove your point. It could be the charisma, the aura that you have. The respect you conjure up. But the Maori equation used to decide how much mana you have differs from that of the Pakeha.

You may be a rubbish man from Monday to Friday, but the cook at the local marae during all the weekend hui, feeding hundreds of people at a time. As cook you are upholding the very mana of the marae in exactly the same way as the more obvious marae speakers who greet the visitors out the front.

There’s no mana in flash words and no kai. The fact you have little mana in the Pakeha world as a rubbish man is of no bearing.
From the other side in, you could be a businessman who drives a Mercedes, lives on Mortgage Ave and has a lot of Pakeha mana. Yet when you go back to your marae you’re the dishwasher and rubbish man. Your Merc is parked out the back with the Zephyrs and Hoidens.

In Maori terms, your mana comes down to how well you care for your family, subtribe, tribe and canoe. Ultimately, other people.

The meaning of mana,
Written by Chris Winitana

This all fits so well with my view and pursuit of restorative practices. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education defines restorative practices as “a relational approach to school life grounded in beliefs about equality, dignity, mana and the potential of all people.” This is something very rooted in Māori and New Zealand culture. I know I came to the right place to dig deeper into what restorative practices can look likes in schools.

All of my opinions are my own in this blog.

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