The pōwhiri or pōhiri is a central part of Māori protocol and is a formal Māori welcome to an area where the hosts (tangata whenua) wish to formally greet a group of visitors (manuhiri). It is a ceremony of welcome involving speeches, singing and hongi (pressing of noses).

Powhiri - two concepts for a spiritual journey

The word pōwhiri encapsulates two concepts that are important to Māori.

Po can be translated as a venture into ‘the unknown’ or a new experience, while whiri is derived from whiriwhiri meaning the act or experience of exchanging information and knowledge.

The pōwhiri then signifies two groups coming together, negotiating the terms of their engagement and finishing with guests joining their hosts as one. It is a journey where Gods, heaven and earth are acknowledged, ancestors are remembered and kinship ties are reinforced. It is also when intentions are ascertained, issues are debated and lobbying is carried out.

While pōwhiri may vary according to the occasion and the tribal area, Māori language still guides the pōwhiri.

Powhiri Steps

Basic pōwhiri include the following steps:

  1. Karanga is a unique form of female oratory in which women bring a range of imagery and cultural expression to the first calls of welcome (and response) in the pōwhiri. For the pōwhiri, the kai karanga (female caller) usually stands to the side and slightly to the front of the tangata whenua. After the manuhiri and tangata whenua are seated prepared to listen to the whaikorero.
  2. Whaikorero or formal speech making follows the karanga. Some of the best Māori language orations are given during pōwhiri when skilled speakers craft the language into a series of verbal images. The protocols for whaikōrero during pōwhiri are determined by the kawa (practices) of the marae or local tribe if the pōwhiri is not held on a marae.
  3. Waiata or a song is sung after each whaikōrero by the group the orator represents. It is common to hear traditional waiata during pōwhiri.

  4. Koha – a gift, generally an envelope of money, is laid on the ground by the last speaker for the manuhiri (visitors). A local kuia (female elder) may karanga as an expression of thanks. A male from the tangata whenua will pick up the koha.
  5. Hongi – the pressing of noses signifies the joining together of tangata whenua and manuhiri. Tangata whenua invite the manuhiri to come forward to shake hands (hariru) and hongi. The ceremonial tapu (sacred separation) is lifted when tangata whenua and manuhiri make physical contact through hongi or hariru.
  6. Hākari – a meal is then shared. This usually signifies the end of the pōwhiri.