Unique to the Māori cultural experience is the marae, a communal and sacred meeting ground that provides everything from eating and sleeping space to religious and educational facilities.
In pre-colonial times, the marae was central to everyday life in Aotearoa (New Zealand). It was where tribal societies gathered to eat and sleep, all under the same roof. The notion of the nuclear family was non-existent, and Māori tikanga (lore) constituted a more communal lifestyle. While Western ideologies of the nuclear family emphasise independence, the Māori philosophy, and by extension the marae, is firmly rooted in the notion of interdependence.
The marae also provides a means of staying connected to spiritual ancestors. You will notice that each marae across the country is named after an ancestor of a tribal area. As such, the distinct architecture of the whare tipuna (ancestral house) is designed to embody the likeness of this ancestor.
At the front of the meeting house is the kōruru, carved to represent the face of the ancestor. The two long beams trailing down are the maihi and represent the arms, at the ends of which are the raparapa or fingers of the ancestor. Supporting the beams are the amo, or legs, holding up the entirety of the building. Finally, standing aloft at the top of the marae is the tekoteko, or statue, which represents the ancestor in all their revered likeness.
Yet, the exterior design of the marae is incomparable to its interior. Inside, tukutuku, or weaved panels and carvings, trace the entire history of the tribe and their ancestors through Māori symbology. Running along the roof is the tāhuhu, or spine of the ancestor, which holds together the whare tīpuna. Standing at the centre of the whare tīpuna is the poutokomanawa. This beam not only holds up the entire structure but represents the heart of the ancestor. By extension, it is also the heart of the tribe and the community and serves as a reminder that without a unified heartbeat there can be no community. For most marae around Aōtearoa, it is for these reasons they do not allow shoes to be worn in the whare tīpuna. It represents the body of the ancestors, and to wear shoes while entering their likeness would be to trample on their mana and mauri.
The arrival of Christianity in the 19th century began the abandonment and destruction of these thriving cultural centres. With the urban migration of Māori to the cities in the 1960s, Māori no longer live primarily on marae. Yet, while communal living has dwindled, the marae still play a significant role in modern Māori society, as with the Tongan mala’e and Samoan māla’e. Marae are still used for a multitude of cultural rituals, including birthdays and weddings, yet the most significant ritual is the tangihanga (funeral rite). For most New Zealand Māori, they will return to their marae for at least two days of grieving. During this time, the hosting tribe will have to look after thousands who have travelled to pay their respects. The visitors will be fed and provided with shelter and rest facilities. By the third day, it is left to the marae to bury the individual and ensure that all necessary protocols and rituals have been followed. Therefore, while marae are no longer the thriving hubs of yesteryear, they are still a vital element in preserving the cultural vitality of the Māori.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.