The pōwhiri is a formal welcome ceremony used to greet a party of visitors. Traditionally this is held on the courtyard of a Māori village (marae) or inside a meeting house (wharenui). However this ceremony can be in any formal environment where hosts are welcoming visitors.
Elements of the ceremony
Although the pōwhiri process can vary from tribe to tribe, the key elements are:
- a challenge (wero);
- an introductory call (karanga);
- speeches (whaikōrero);
- songs (waiata);
- personal greetings (hongi);
- a blessing (karakia);
- and shared food (kai).
The wero is a challenge (with weapons) to the visitors to determine whether they come as friends or not. The lead Māori warrior will confront the visitor party and if convinced their intentions are good, he will place a peace offering before the visitors.
By picking up the peace offering the visitors indicate that they come as friends.
As the visitors approach the greeting venue, a karanga or call will begin. This loud call by women, carries over distances and establishes who the visitors are, what they come for, and recognises those who have left for the spirit world.
The visitor party will be led into the venue.
The whaikōrero or speeches begin by paying respect to the:
- sky and earth - everything terrestrial and celestial;
- location, place, venue - its relevance and its boundaries;
- buildings, their significance all they contain and all they represent; and
- people - those who have gone to the spirit world, and those here today.
The later part of the speech is traditionally specific to the topics that are relevant to the gathering and contain the key themes of what the meeting is about.
The waiata or songs are an essential part of the greeting process and follow each of the whaikōrero (speeches). The songs are used to reinforce key messages of the speaker for the audience and show the unity of the people with what has been said.
The waiata also serve to mark the end of one speech and create a space for the next speaker.
The hongi is a personal greeting (like a handshake), where noses of hosts and visitors are pressed together. The hongi represents a sharing of breath and creates a union of people - spiritual and physical - that joins the visitors 'as one' with the hosts.
The karakia or blessing can be held at any time during a pōwhiri, to bless the ceremony and everyone at it.
The sharing of kai or food is a foundation of all gathering. Eating together signals the conclusion of all formalities and enables visitors and hosts to mingle as one.
The web of links and connections within and across the universe and between people are at the heart of Māori society.