A Powhiri is a traditional formal Maori welcome. It is a structured, negotiated process, which provides the means for establishing new and ongoing relationships between different parties. Participants in a Powhiri have defined roles. The hosts are referred to as the tangata whenua, whilst the guests are referred to as the manuhiri. Tangata whenua stand on one side of the paipai (the welcoming area), and you the manuhiri, stand on the other.
Prior to arriving, one to three male members of your party should be selected to act on behalf of your party. A Maori woman will lead the selected men, then the women of your group and the remaining males forward. It is important that this process be followed. Women are considered sacred to Maori, as women are associated with the spiritual realm, due to having the honour of giving birth.
A Maori warrior wielding a tiaha (Maori spear) will then challenge the selected men and the rest of your party. This process is known as a wero. The purpose of the wero is to see if you come as a friend or foe. The warrior will then place a leaf on the ground for one of your party to pick up. Picking up the leaf will signify that your party has come in friendship. The warrior will slap his leg and the haunting voice of the karanga will echo through the air.
The karanga provides a warning to guests that they are entering a new environment, which is sacred. A response (the Kaikaranga) will be chanted by the Maori woman (who led the selected men and your party) on behalf of the whole group. The chant by the kaikaranga focuses on acknowledging the place, the people, in particular the ancestors, those that are present and the purpose of the meeting.
Whilst the karanga and kaikaranga continue the kaikaranga will slowly move your party forward where you will be welcomed by the tangata whenua with a formal “welcome song”. The welcome song will be native to the Maori tribe you are visiting. Each tribe has their own unique welcome songs. At this point, you will move forward to the seating area with your selected speakers at the front, facing the tangata whenua.
Once everyone is seated, tangata whenua begin the whaikorero, the official welcome, acknowledgement of the attendees and the purpose for the visit. When a speaker has finished their whaikorero, the speech is always accompanied by a song. After the speakers from tangata whenua are completed, it is then time for a response to be heard from the manuhiri (your group). Remember the gentlemen that led your group at the beginning of the powhiri, well these are the men nominated to respond.
However do remember, each speech provided on behalf of the group must also be accompanied by a song. The song can be anything, even your country’s National anthem; what really matters is that you sing a song that is important to your party. I have been to a powhiri where the manuhiri were all Australians and they sang “Waltzing Matilda” after the speech.
When the last song is sung, your party, led by your speech makers will then move to greet tangata whenua. This is the last part of the powhiri process and is called the hongi. The hongi is where you shake hands, press noses and foreheads with the tangata whenua. This is also the opportunity to talk to tangata whenua.
These are the protocols and processes of the traditional Maori powhiri.