No shoes are worn in the wharenui and what a person does or does not wear on their feet will tell you something about them. Like my daughter Mede, who opted for one pink and one striped ankle sock. That doesn’t necessarily tell me that she has a quirky nature (though that’s true too), it simply led me to suspect that she did not have a matching clean pair! However, like most mothers I am happy to concede I could be utterly wrong and the oddity was more quirk of fashion than character!
Men are funny too, they don’t give two hoots whether there are holes in theirs or not, it’s the ‘taking the shoes off at the door’ that’s the main thing, everything else is cosmetic. That and the fact that darning socks is no longer a nightly pass time among many women these days! My mother was a great sock darner, she shoved a small jar up inside my father’s socks and darned them with such precision that it was just a beautiful thing. I like the mens lump it or never mind my holey socks attitude, makes me chuckle.
“The next part of the powhiri involves the mihi and whaikorero, formal greetings exchanged between host and visitor. On a marae (tribal meeting place), kawa (tribal protocol) will determine the order in which greetings are delivered, that is, whether it be tu atu, tu mai, a speaker from the host’s side first, alternating with a speaker from the visitor’s side; or paeke, speaker after speaker from the host’s side before passing over to speakers on the visitor’s side. We followed the latter protocol.
In all marae within the tribal boundaries of Nga Puhi (of which Haranui is) the mihi are conducted by the men and usually delivered by kaumatua (elders). This phase is a very formal part of the powhiri. The hosts consider each visitor as sacred, according them all the rights that their position demands. As visitors, we were expected to act in a dignified manner. Maori accept the physical presence as representing ALL your ancestors. It is considered rude to show disinterest during these proceedings, walk in front of a speaker or talk over someone delivering their mihi.
There is a saying ‘Ko te whaikorero, te kai a te Rangatira – Oratory is the food of Chiefs’. Traditionally, Maori was an oral culture and, before literacy, Maori maintained knowledge through oratory and the spoken word. This required an incredible memory to enable details to be passed accurately from one generation to the next. Today, as it was in former times, the arts of whaikorero and mihi are greatly revered. A good speaker will have both visitors and hosts in the palm of his hand, laughing or crying.”
We were very fortunate at Haranui Marae to be embraced by kaumatua and kuia aware of our ‘newness’ to the ways of the old maori. They guided and prompted us throughout the powhiri and my previous experiences of feeling left in the dark or worse shown derision for not knowing the old ways on other marae, were at once diminished. I’ll always feel grateful to these elderly people for that simple kindness that they showed to us on this day.