By Rawiri Smith
Collaboration is important in New Zealand as a method of bringing communities together to work on complex problems. A useful collaborative model is the Powhiri, practiced by Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, for hundreds of years.
The formal welcome to an area in New Zealand is a Maori process known as the Powhiri. The Powhiri recognises the mana of all the participants. One of the most important values of the Maori people is manaaki, or caring for the mana of everyone. The Maori word mana means the importance associated with a person. The performance of a Powhiri acknowledges the importance of a person being welcomed to an area.
The deeper meaning behind the Powhiri process gives more meaning and indicates what should be occurring through the Powhiri. The ground that the welcome is performed across is known as the marae atea and is the most important ground to the people who consider these lands as their home. It is also seen as the realm of Tumatauenga, the god of war. It is the place of debate before going into the wharenui or the meeting house which is the realm of Rongo, the god of peace. Starting the first engagement with a debate doesn’t sound welcoming, but understanding the intricacies of the Powhiri shows how it enables all participants to understand each other.
Powhiri in its widest context means a welcome, but within the word is a greater understanding. The two root words are po or unknown and whiri or plaiting, so a powhiri is the weaving of unknowns. If there are suspected points of difference in the unknown, the marae atea is the place to clear the air. The first stage of the Powhiri can be a wero, or challenge, where a warrior comes out to the visitors with a weapon and a peace offering. In picking up the peace offering, the visitor is honour bound to engage with mana. In this space comes the first voice, the voice of a woman in karanga.
The karanga is the call of welcome, but again within the word is a deeper meaning. Ka can be understood as energy and ranga understood as weaving, so karanga is the weaving of energies. The kaikaranga (the woman performing the karanga) calls a welcome to the visitors and recognises their whakapapa or genealogy as she calls to the spiritual ancestor too. The sound of the karanga connects intensely and visitors feel their spirits touched through reference to the name of their iwi or tribe or the name of the hapu or sub tribes (which is how Maori identify themselves). These names are normally names of ancestors. In this light and spirit, the formal speeches are started.
Whaikorero is the name given to these type of speeches. The deeper meaning again gives a better understanding of how the mana of all participants can be protected, even in a debate. Whai is a search and korero is speech so whaikorero is a spoken search for bringing people together. The debate starts with each person establishing their position, but framed by acknowledging what might be the viewpoints of the others involved. Each speaker looks to how parts of the argument from the others can inform their own position. This involves real listening to what the others involved have to say. This collaborative debate acknowledges the mana of the others.
Each person uses parts of arguments made by others to inform their own position. This requires real listening and acknowledges the mana – the importance associated with a person – of the others.
Caring for the mana of people (manaaki) when they have similar positions to oneself is easy, whereas manaaki for people with differing, even conflicting, positions is harder.
This is further strengthened in the finishing of the process. While the finishing of the Powhiri is simple, the element of trust is strengthened. The waiata tautoko or supportive song summarises each speech in a concentrated theme. The koha or a donation is laid down by the visitors. Koha comes before any service is given and acknowledges the expenses the hosts will lay out. The hongi or the pressing of noses and the sharing of breath is the physical coming together where the very essence of life, the ha or breath, is shared. The guests then are taken to share some food as they come together. The Powhiri finishes and the visitors are ready to enter the realm of Rongo and further working together.
The Powhiri is a collaborative process that is built on the value of manaaki. When the process is used as a model for collaboration in a wider context, results can be transformative, because it involves real listening and caring for each other.
Bringing people together around an issue such as water through a Powhiri process can mean mana is recognised. Not only is the mana of the participants considered, but the mana of water and the mana of the issues related to water are considered too. When participants concentrate on the subject, water, with the attitude of caring for its mana, its potential to “weave” people is realized through a better quality of life.
Ko Maungarake taku maunga kaitiaki
My mountain guardian is Maungarake
Ko Ruamahanga taku awa oranga
My life giving river is the Ruamahanga
Ko Takitimu te waka o oku tohunga tawhito
The canoe of my ancient priests is Takitimu
Ko Ngati Kahungunu taku iwi
My tribe Ngati Kahungunu
Ko Ngati Kaiparuparu me Ngai Taneroa me Ngati Muretu oku hapu
My sub tribes are Ngati Kaiparuparu, Ngai Taneroa and Ngati Muretu
Ko Nukupewapewa taku tangata me kaiwhakaora
My person and liberator is Nukupewapewa
Ko Rangikaiwhiria Reiri raua ko Rangiuea Namana oku poupou
My grandfathers are Rangikaiwhiria Reiri and Rangiuea Namana
Ko Ida Ihaka Namana raua ko Hera Huaki oku nanny
My nannies are Ida Ihaka Namana and Hera Huaki
Ko Frances taku whaea
My mother is Frances
Ko Rawiri Smith taku ingoa
My name is Rawiri Smith
No Wairarapa ahau
I am from Wairarapa
Rawiri (Ra) Smith is an Environment Manager (Kaiwhakahaere Taiao) for Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa, an indigenous tribal authority in Wairarapa, New Zealand. As a proponent of indigenous models from New Zealand, he is a part of national initiatives (Our Land and Water National Science Challenge Collaboration Lab, Land and Water Forum), a part of political bodies at a regional level (Greater Wellington Regional Council’s subcommittee, Te Upoko Taiao, Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee), a part of district organisations (Masterton District Council, Sustainable Wairarapa, Te Hauora Runanga o Wairarapa), and a part of traditional Maori entities (Ngati Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa Tamakinui-A-Rua Treaty Trust, Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa, Hurunui-o-Rangi Marae Trust). Most of these organisations operate under collaborative ideals and seek to synthesise an indigenous knowledge base with other knowledge bases.
Ra Smith is a Vision Mātauranga researcher in The Collaboration Lab project funded by Our Land and Water National Science Challenge.