Pōwhiri or welcome ceremonies provide a special opportunity for visitors to experience Māori traditions in action.
A pōwhiri normally takes place on a marae, or Māori meeting grounds. The marae sits at the heart of any Māori community and is an important part of Māori culture.
Traditionally a pōwhiri begins at the entrance to the marae (Māori meeting house), a person from the marae will challenge the guests before allowing them to enter inside. The history behind this is to assess whether these strangers are friends or enemies. They may carry a taiaha (spear-like weapon) and will lay down a token - often a small branch - for the visitors to pick up to show they come in peace.
An older woman from the host side will perform a karanga (call) to the manuhiri (visitors). This is the visitors' signal to start moving on to the marae grounds. A woman from among the visitors will respond with her own call. Visitors walk onto the marae as a group, slowly and silently with the women in front of the men. They will pause along the way to remember their ancestors who have passed on. Usually, someone from the host side will join any international visitors to guide them through the process.
Once on the marae grounds and either in front of or inside the main ancestral house, the visitors and hosts take their seats facing each other. Now speeches are made, usually by the older men of the two groups. A song is sung following each speaker to support his address. After the speeches, the visitors present a koha (gift) to their hosts.
To finalise formal proceedings, visitors and hosts greet each other with a hongi – the ceremonial touching of noses. After the pōwhiri, kai (food) will be shared, in keeping with the Māori tradition of manaakitanga or hospitality.