mattresses, pillows, a blanket and earplugs against a backgroun of tukutuku panels
Image: Tina Tiller

ĀteaMay 29, 2023

Ten tips for your first noho marae

mattresses, pillows, a blanket and earplugs against a backgroun of tukutuku panels
Image: Tina Tiller

The prospect of your first marae stay can be daunting, but go in armed with Airena Ngarewa’s top tips and you’ll come out feeling like a pro.

Noho marae are a fundamental part of many Māori haerenga, whether you are preparing for the stage, learning the reo or simply trying to connect or reconnect. They involve a one or more night stay at a marae. Noho offer a chance to immerse yourself in the unique mita, history, tikanga and kawa of the area, aspects of te ao Māori that can differ substantially from tribal territory to tribal territory. While par for the course for those raised steeped in their tuakiritanga, the noho marae can be quite daunting for first-timers, Māori and tauiwi alike.  

While custom and tradition vary, here are my top 10 tips for first-timers.

Don’t wait until you’re under the waharoa

By the time you are standing under the gateway, it is too late for Q+A with Jack Tame – the karanga could start at any time. Make sure you know well in advance what your role in the pōwhiri is, whether it will take place inside or outside, where you should stand, where you should sit and who you will hongi and harirū, when and in what order. While there may be a hui before the do-ey where these things are hashed out, there isn’t always.

Go with more than just your forehead

It is tradition to bring some kind of koha when visiting a marae; it is an expression of gratitude to the haukāinga who are hosting you and your rōpū. Koha can be cash, taonga or a freshly baked loaf of rēwana bread. The papakāinga will not have paywave so come prepared and bring along whatever you can afford. As with all gifts, it is the thought that counts. A word of warning: while your tūpuna may have brought livestock to the pōwhiri, in more contemporary times it is generally frowned upon. That said, I know a few uncles and aunties from the bush who would love nothing more than a pig to carve up, so again, ask those questions beforehand and do your research.  

Hongi is not Māori for headbutt

Hongi is a pressing of the noses, not a butting of the foreheads. We are Māori not nanekoti. Go in slow and make sure your pōtae is out of the way. 

a group of Māori children hongi each other outside their school
The tamariki showing how it’s done (Photo: Amy Toensing/Getty Images)

Kawea te kawa o te haukāinga

Every marae, even neighbouring marae, have their own individual customs and traditions. The mana of these places are in the haukāinga, this is how they earned the title of mana whenua. While undoubtedly your own traditions are beautiful, pack a big bucket of open-mindedness in your waka and leave your own tikanga right where you found them, on your own kāinga. 

Grab a tea towel and get stuck in

All those dishes from all that delicious kai you ate are going to need to be done and it is your hands that are going to need to do them. Dishes at the marae are not like dishes at your mum’s house though, it is a finely tuned machine. There are rinsers, washers, scrubbers, stackers and sometimes dedicated machinery. Find your place on the factory floor and karawhiua. As an added bonus, if the nannies happen to be in the kitchen, and that is their natural habitat, then you may be in for a heck of a storytime. Every Māori knows the whakataukī: nobody knows more than the nannies. 

Earplugs are a good night sleep’s best friend

I’ve never been to a noho where the whare did not shake in the nighttime. Nine times out of 10, this is not Rūaumoko shifting inside his mother’s belly but uncle (or uncle and his 20 closest cousins) sucking in air in their sleep with all the force of a cordless Dyson vacuum cleaner. Undoubtedly another uri of Tāwhiri Mātea. If you are keen on a good night’s sleep bring a pair of earplugs. Yes, I know, your tūpuna never used earplugs. However,  your tūpuna never used Colgate either and I and nine out of 10 dentists recommend you use that too. 

You, at the noho, if you don’t bring earplugs (Illustration: Getty Images)

There is no room for a rooster in the wharenui

You are not Tama-nui-te-rā; you’re rising does not mean everybody else has to. Rise less less like the rooster and more like Māui Tikitiki-a-Taranga. There is no way Māui would’ve been able to sneak onto his older brother’s boat to fish up the North Island if he announced his waking up with a kauhau on how his toothbrush always disappears inside his bag. Nō reira, be like Māui.

There is no sleeping in on the marae

Noho are a crash course in tribal living. When work needs to be done it is your back and shoulders that will need to do it. If you didn’t sleep well the first night, do not panic, wipe the sleep from your eyes and get up anyway. You’ll almost certainly sleep better the second night. Exhaustion is an incredible sedative. 

Leave the whare even more spotless than you found it

What’s cooler than cool? Ice cold! What’s cleaner than clean? All whare, including the wharepaku, after manuhiri have stayed on a marae. This is your final koha to the haukāinga, a big spring clean before you thank those who have hosted you and part ways. What better means to cement yourself in the memory of the haukāinga than a toilet bowl that literally glistens?

Leave your weariness at the waharoa

Noho can be incredibly taxing. The days are long and more often than not, your sleep is short. As amazing as these experiences are, they aren’t always easy on the body. Nevertheless, the best advice I was ever given about noho is as above. Return to your own whare in high spirits. It is your whānau at home who allowed you the space and time to have this experience, so just as you repaid your hosts with gratitude and kindness, repay your own whānau in the same currency.  Who knows… They may even let you go to the next one. 

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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