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  • Writer's pictureMark Revington

Embracing noho marae

At some point in your life, you may be lucky enough to stay overnight at a marae.

It can change your life or at least give you an inkling of whanaungatanga in a different setting.

Ōnuku marae
Ōnuku marae

A noho marae simply means staying overnight or for several nights at a marae. For Māori, sleeping on the marae is just a way of life, but the rest of us will probably only have the experience under a handful of circumstances. Like me, working at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu meant plenty of noho marae, or it might be for a sport or cultural trip.

Noho marae can be daunting at first, whether learning te reo or simply reconnecting. It means sleeping on a mattress and, if you are really lucky, some history, a story or two and a chance to learn the tikanga and kawa of the area. These will change markedly depending on the tribal territory. Most of my noho have been at Ngāi Tahu marae although one memorable night was with my reo Māori class at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and we went to Ara’s urban marae in Ōtautahi. That was different.

Airana Ngarewa listed some tips for surviving your first noho marae in an article for The Spinoff, among them the need to take earplugs, which caught my eye and made me laugh. Earplugs are a good night sleep’s best friend, he reckons. “I’ve never been to a noho where the whare did not shake in the nighttime.” He had some great tips, including the ear plugs –from teatoweltanga to cleaning. You should read the whole thing here.

It reminded me of one noho at Ōnuku where a colleague slept in his car because he didn’t want his night music to keep the whole whare awake. Our stay was characterised by the view, great food, manaakitanga and aroha nui of the tangata whenua. Some marae, like Ōnuku, actively welcome bookings. At other marae, it’s a different story.  

 Sometimes there will be a pōwhiri in which case, as the manuhiri, it is best to follow someone who knows what they are doing and try not to head butt anyone when it comes to the hongi (it’s an old joke but I can never resist it).

Know what to do and what to wear for a pōwhiri and appreciate the karanga. A typical pōwhiri which, in days gone by was to suss out the intentions of the manuhiri, will begin while you wait outside. Then comes the karanga to welcome the manuhiri followed by whaikōrero and waiata, then the koha followed by hongi and harirū and then kai.

A noho marae can be life changing, especially for those who are experiencing it for the first time. “The noho marae experience bridges the distance between our countries of origin and the languages that we speak at home, bringing us together like nothing else could,” says  Monica from Vermont, a former Study Abroad pupil. Even for those who are used to marae, te ao Māori can’t be taken for granted. Of course, some people will never stay overnight in a room of mixed gender. My best advice is to approach a noho with an open heart and an open mind and find your way through.


Nā Mark Revington




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