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Background to ancestral marae

Tirohia tēnei whārangi i te reo Māori

The marae is the anchor stone of tribal identity, tying every Māori to their wider communities of origin, genealogically connecting the past to the future and journeying us back into a deep Pacific history of common ancestral origins over 3,000 years old.

Professor Paul Tapsell

Marae are a cluster of buildings and spaces, usually incorporating a wharenui (meeting house), a marae ātea (an open space in front of the wharenui), a kitchen and dining area, and an amenities block. It may include other spaces such as an urupā (cemetery). Marae can be tribal-based (ancestral marae), or non-kin based (urban / community marae). Visiting marae is central to involvement and participation in Māori culture and is an important element of tikanga Māori (Māori customs and practices).

Ancestral marae, of which there are over 800 in Aotearoa New Zealand, belong to particular iwi (tribe), hapū (sub tribe) or whānau (family) and are located in the historical rohe (tribal region) of the group (Tapsell, nd). Māori connect to ancestral marae through whakapapa (genealogy) – it is where their parents, grandparents, or ancestors are from and accordingly they may have more than one ancestral marae. For many Māori, their ancestral marae is their tūrangawaewae (their place to stand and belong).

Important tribal events, such as hui (meetings), celebrations, and tangihanga (funerals), are held on the ancestral marae. Through visiting their ancestral marae and taking part in these events people connect to and reaffirm their tribal and Māori identities, and their culture more generally. Connecting to one's ancestral marae is also considered an important part of Māori cultural well-being.

Traditionally Māori life was centred on the marae. Urbanisation from the mid-20th century resulted in most Māori no longer living in their traditional tribal area near their marae. Because of this there is a sense that many Māori are becoming increasingly disconnected from their iwi, hapū, and marae and thus from Māori culture and traditions in general (Meredith, 2012).

Te Kupenga and ancestral marae

The statistics in this report are based on the total population of New Zealanders who identified with Māori ethnicity and/or Māori descent and are aged 15 years and over. 

We asked respondents about their ancestral marae:

  • if they knew theirs
  • if they had ever been to any of their ancestral marae
  • if they had done so in the last 12 months (ie the 12 months before the survey)
  • how often they had been in that 12 months
  • whether they would have liked to have gone or gone more often.

Information about visiting ancestral marae (ever and in the last 12 months) includes all Māori adults (those who knew their ancestral marae and those who didn’t).

Information about how often people went to their ancestral marae includes those that had been to any of their ancestral marae in the last 12 months.

Information about those wanting to go to their ancestral marae more often includes only the 371,000 Māori adults who said they knew their ancestral marae. 

See appendix 1 for more information on Te Kupenga.

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