Keeping this marae "warm"

Why is it important for us to keep this wharenui warm?  Because the idea of a marae may be Aotearoa's (New Zealand’s) greatest gift to the world.

In America, churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, auditoriums, lecture halls, and even street corners are all similarly places of assembly.  Yet unlike a marae, these are also places of inequality.  With rare exception, notably Quaker meetings, when people assemble in America, some must play the role of leaders (ministers, professors, chief executive officers, and the like); others must be willing to serve as followers (variously identified as students, parishioners, audiences, and so forth).  Similarly, sports fields and arenas, too, are gathering places where people may start off as equals but must end up as winners or losers.  And by extension, so also do the fans attending a game end up once it is over feeling one way or the other.  As winners or losers.

A gathering of people on a marae in New Zealand, however, is different from such encounters of inequality in America and other lands.

On a Maori marae, strangers arrive as people who are “different but equal.”  And they end up becoming—once they have been formally greeted on the marae—as “one but different.”

Thus gatherings on a marae are seen not just as encounters between individuals, but as encounters between communities.  Specifically, two communities.  One is the community of the marae and meeting house hosting the gathering.   In New Zealand, these people are called tangata whenua, “people of the land.”  Those who are, in contrast, foreign to the marae are seen as the complement to tangata whenua.  They are called manuhiri, “visitors.”

What is key is that formal welcomes to a marae are seen as a way of converting manuhiri into tangata whenua—at least for the duration of their stay on the marae—a way of turning strangers into family.

Formal preparation of Ruatepupuke II in 1986 for renovation

The actual renovation work was done by Tokomaru Bay and The Field Museum in 1992-1993 (© 1986, The Field Museum)

Shoes removed before entering Ruatepupuke, 2007

It is customary in most wharenui (meeting houses) in Aotearoa to remove one's shoes before going inside (© 2007, Robert and Charlene Shaw)