Employers who are committed to maximising the potential of the relationship between their organisation and Māori need to know about Māori cultural practices.

This document is not a comprehensive guide to the complexities and subtleties of Māori culture, particularly as practices vary on different marae. Some broad guidelines follow. Speak with Māori staff, contact a trainer or obtain literature with a view to deepening your understanding of practices and protocol.

Two books with good explanations of Māori protocol and customs are:

  • Tikanga Māori : Living by Māori Values by Hirini Moko Mead. Published by: Huia Publishers. 2003. ISBN: 1-877283-88-6
  • Te Marae: A Guide to Customs and Protocol by Hiwi & Pat Tauroa. Published by: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd. 2003. ISBN 0-7900-0055-5

Commonly encountered cultural practices include:


Karakia are ritual prayers or incantations which place an occasion, venue and people under tapu (holiness, sacredness) and address the spiritual requirements of a meeting.

The cup of tea and refreshments at the end of an occasion signifies that tapu has been lifted and everyone and everything is noa (normal, ordinary) again.

Whilst it is important that you honour special occasions with a karakia (such as at a whānau interview, or when you have a Māori delegation) it is equally important to complete with a cup of tea and refreshments. If you are concerned about your time you can do this quickly; however, it is critical that the symbolism of the refreshments and hospitality is respected.


A pōwhiri is a welcome ceremony to mark a special occasion. It is a Māori cultural practice that contains deeply revered and sacred values. Decisions relating to powhiri protocol rest with individual marae. Generally speaking, if you have been invited as a guest to a pōwhiri on a marae then you would follow procedures set by your marae hosts.

If you are organising a pōwhiri in your own office you can be involved in developing the format. A pōwhiri can take 30 - 40 minutes or many hours depending on the occasion. Not all pōwhiri are long, "hair raising ritual encounters" as Prof. Hirini Moko Mead points out. Many are "low-key and friendly affairs".5

Many workplaces provide a pōwhiri to welcome new Māori  employees. Whakatau are less formal greeting ceremonies, and vary from iwi to iwi, group to group. In general, the format would include an initial greeting by a kaumatua, hongi, waiata, a reply from the visitors, refreshments and closing prayer.

Speakers on the paepae tapu (a sacred orator's bench) embody the sacredness or tapu of the ceremony, and therefore usually sit apart from the rest of their group. This might be in front of the rest of their group, or in a separate area.


Hui simply means a gathering or assembly of people who come together for a particular purpose. Protocols for conducting hui are often determined by local iwi and marae custom.

Hui can take place in a number of venues including small seminar rooms and large meeting houses. A hui usually has a very specific purpose often called a kaupapa.

Some hui are formal debating forums to air all points of view in order to reach decisions through consensus. These hui take time and skilful facilitation. There are many other kinds of hui, some of which are simply family gatherings. Sometimes hui (or wānanga) have a training and information focus.


A tangi is a type of funeral service and is a time for mourning and for farewelling someone who has died. It is an occasion for supporting the family of the deceased through a process of grieving.

A tangi generally lasts up to three days. People will often travel long distances to attend a tangi. The tangi system relies on people contributing their time and support. Māori employees may feel a strong commitment to "show their face" and support tangi with their presence, often in the "back room" washing dishes, preparing food and caring for visitors.

If you want to attend a tangi try and do so with Māori colleagues. If you do not know anyone else attending, wait until another group arrives at the tangi and move in with them. Follow their lead; for example, sit on the same side as the group you entered with and watch how they express with the tūpapaku (body).

Add your koha to the group you are entering with. Note that some marae stop receiving mourners at sundown. It is common practice to offer a koha, usually in the form of money, to the family or marae.

If you have visited the urupa (burial ground) be sure to sprinkle water over your hands as you leave. There will usually be bottles of water by the gate.


You may be required to hongi at a formal event. The tangata whenua (local Māori) will form one line and manuhiri (visitors) another line. You will be invited forward by the taumata (paepae/speakers) to hongi. Grasp the other person's hand, as with a handshake, lean forward and gently press noses and foreheads together; forehead to forehead, nose to nose, breath to breath.

The hongi enables you to share the mauri (life force) of the event. Both parties, tangata whenua and manuhiri, are symbolically joined together as one. Often a hongi may be followed by shaking of the hands. Some, but not everyone, may also kiss women on the cheek. Follow the example of those Māori ahead of you.


A mihi is a greeting. It takes place at the beginning of a gathering or meeting after the more formal powhiri. Mihi are generally in Māori language. The purpose of mihi is to establish links with other people present. Greetings given in Māori often include the words "Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa" which means "Greetings, greetings to you all".

Mihi can involve individuals standing to introduce themselves by sharing their whakapapa (genealogy, ancestral ties) and other relevant information. Culturally, it is important for Māori to know and be able to share their whakapapa - to know one's whakapapa is to know one's identity. Mihi can vary in length depending on the reason for the gathering, how well the individuals know each other and their links to one another.

During a mihi, a person will usually identify specific geographical features associated with their tribal area including maunga (mountain), awa (river), moana (sea). They may also identify waka (ancestral canoe), hapū (sub-tribe), iwi (tribe), marae, and sometimes an ancestor. This information is considered more important than the individual's own name.

If you are not familiar with giving a mihi a Māori staff member could assist, or visit Te Taura Whiri's website for a list of translators. (See "Where to next")


Speeches are almost always followed by a waiata (song).

Often the group will decide prior to the occasion what waiata they will sing to support their speaker(s). It is ideal if you are able to learn this prior to the event. If you have not learned a waiata it is recommended that you stand up to support your speaker even though you may not sing. Stand slightly behind the speaker.

It can ease anxiety if your workplace knows at least one waiata. A number of waiata are appropriate for almost any occasion, for example:

Te Aroha
Te Aroha (love)
Te Whakapono (faith)
Te Rangimarie (peace)
Tatou tatou e (be amongst us all)

E hara i te mea
E hara i te mea (it is not a new thing)
No naianei te aroha (now that is love)
No nga tupuna (comes from the ancestors)
Tuku iho, tuku iho (handed down through the passages of time)

Marae customs

Each marae has its own customs. However, the following list will minimise your chances of causing any offence. As a general rule of thumb, follow the actions of more knowledgeable visitors.

  • Prior to the formal welcome, do not walk on the area in front of the meeting house. Walk around the sides if you need to.
  • No alcohol is permitted on the marae area (each marae decides whether alcohol is permitted at functions).
  • No food is to be eaten inside the meeting house; some marae do not permit water, others are more flexible about this. Do not smoke inside. Switch off mobile phones.
  • Usually those who are from the marae (the tangata whenua) sit on the righthand side, and visitors (the manuhiri) sit on the left-hand side.
  • Take your shoes off before entering the meeting house (if you have an all-day meeting in winter take warm socks!).
  • Do not sit on pillows.
  • If someone is lying down do not step
  • over them. Walk around them instead.
  • If you arrive when someone is speaking, it is best to wait and enter quietly when they have finished.
  • In the whare kai (the eating house) do not sit on tables. This goes for any situation, whether in a Māori home, marae or elsewhere. Do not smoke inside a whare kai. Do not pass food over someone's head. Do not place items that you use on your head, for example a hat or a comb, on the tables.

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