Learn about the history, tikanga and kawa of the marae, and how being at a marae can benefit tamariki.

Ka haere au ki te marae, ā ka ako au.

Marae provide ‘a place to stand’, a tūrangawaewae for whānau, hapū and iwi. With many whānau moving away from their ancestral lands, urban marae are providing a local gathering place in many larger towns and cities. Whether papatipu (ancestral) or urban, marae offer tamariki a sense of their connection with their whanaunga and te ao Māori.

Pages 10 and 11 of Whakatipu booklet Te Māhuri 2 cover a lot of ideas in just a few words. Simply put, we see the many learning and development opportunities for tamariki everywhere on their marae.

Connecting positive experiences with a wider social group is perfect for tamariki to practice their growing social skills. Tikanga and kawa help them learn about the roles, groupings and responsibilities on the marae, and their place within them.

Although the information here is specifically about marae, the concepts also relate to other situations where families and groups gather together to strengthen their connectedness, cultural practices, language and social behaviours.

Through gatherings like these, tamariki learn about their family’s identity, values and responsibilities. They learn the appropriate way to behave at specific times or during certain rituals at whānau and community occasions. These experiences happen on the marae, but likewise in churches, temples, community centres and other cultural gathering places.

If whānau you’re supporting say that they’re not connected with their marae, or are not Māori, you can ask about their other social opportunities and adjust your conversations accordingly.

Discussing identity and belonging

You may wish to talk with whānau about some of the central questions that surround their identity and sense of belonging. These include:

  • Ko wai au? (Who am I?)
  • Whakapapa: Ranginui and Papatūānuku te whānau tuatahi? (Do I know about them?)
  • Tōku maunga, tōku awa, tōku waka, tōku iwi, tōku hapū, tōku whānau (Where do I belong?)
  • Who is this carved tīpuna?
  • Who are all these photos of?
  • Where do I fit in with them?

There is also more information in Whakapapa in the 19 to 24 months section.


Mokopuna are the descendants of many who have gone before them, and they are linked to their tĪpuna through whakapapa. This connection joins the past with the present and the future. If those links to ancestors or grandparents have been weakened or estranged for any reason, spending time on their marae can be a way to connect, build on and strengthen those relationships.

You might encourage whānau to reflect on the following questions about their tīpuna and whānau:

  • Who are my grandparents and other older relatives?
  • Who features in the old stories of my iwi?
    • How might I find out more about them?
    • Who could help?
    • How do I belong with them?
    • How are they part of my identity?
  • I recognise those who I see often, but who else are members of my extended family (whānau whānui)?

As te tamaiti gets older, there will be more learning from marae visits. They will meet whānau, see photos, hear stories and be treated as someone who belongs to this place.

Making these connections may be an extra challenge for caregivers who aren’t the child’s birth parents. It may be possible for the birth whānau to play a supporting role, and it is very worthwhile investigating this for the benefit of te tamaiti.

Learning through waiata and karakia

Waiata and karakia provide rich learning opportunities.

Strengthening memory

For both the singers and the listeners, repetition of songs strengthens the connections between neurons and influences learning. If we are soaked in te reo over time, it will be absorbed. We will remember the sounds, the words, the tunes and the way it makes us feel.

Learning waiata, rhymes, folk songs or hīmene (hymns) are keys to language learning at any age in te reo Māori or any language. Often new words not commonly used in everyday kōrero can be learned through their inclusion in waiata and karakia.

Maths and patterns

There is some disagreement over just how much music and maths learning are related. However, in music there is a beat, a rhythm, short notes, long notes, high notes, low notes, symbols and counting. All of these elements of pattern and timing are reflected in maths which shows that, at its simplest level, maths and music are related, and learning one can help with learning the other.

Rhythm and rhyme

There are so many benefits from hearing and participating in waiata and karakia, especially at the marae. Many voices singing together can create special healing, calming and stirring elements.

Repetition of words is how we learn language and words that sound alike make us pay attention to language.

Tikanga and kawa

Tikanga – rules

Kawa – customs

Differences and similarities

A young tamaiti is learning that there are rules everywhere. Some rules are the same from place to place, some are different. Some ways of doing things are the same at home as they are at the marae – for example, no sitting on tables and removing shoes before going indoors. But there will be other rules that differ – for example, where and when kai or drink can be consumed.

Tikanga and kawa can also vary from marae to marae. An inexperienced adult may feel uncomfortable with the unknown, but for tamariki during this stage, ‘finding out’ is just another part of the vast amount of learning they’re already doing.

Roles and responsibilities

There are different jobs and responsibilities for everyone around the marae. Everyone can contribute in some way. Tamariki will need guidance, but it’s important for them that they know they too have responsibilities at the marae.

References to tikanga and kawa appear throughout articles on this website, depending on each topic. For instance, you can read more in Koha, Naming Ceremonies and Pepeha.

When talking with whānau about tikanga and kawa, keep in mind the ‘Six principles of effective discipline – ngā tohu whānau’, especially:

For example, consider this whakatauki:

Te anga karaka, te anga kōura, kei kitea te marae

The shells of the karaka berry and the shells of the crayfish should not be seen from the marae

The Woodward Māori website explains that ‘although this [whakatauki] clearly has a hygienic undertone, it also refers to discipline. A tribe or war party who disregards organisation and has no concern for where they leave their rubbish and gear reflects poor leadership and discipline, thus becoming easy prey for a more regimented force.’

Karanga me whaikōrero – protocols and processes

Karanga is known as the ‘first voice’ heard from the marae when manuhiri (visitors) arrive. This call will be answered by kaikaranga on the visiting side.

Karanga is said to arouse the spirits of those who have passed on, as the high-pitched call reaches beyond the limits of the physical world and into the spirit realm. In the 0–6 months section of this website, karanga is mentioned in relation to the welcoming of a newborn pēpi.

Whaikōrero (formal speech making) is mainly performed by males on the marae, although there are some marae (Te Tai Rāwhiti and Kahungunu in particular) where females can and have spoken on the marae ātea.

Whaikōrero commonly follow a pattern. It may begin with a chant, followed by acknowledgements to those passed on, the wharenui and Papatūānuku. Then there is usually a mihi to the living and a kōrero about the kaupapa of the gathering, concluding with a waiata. Usually a female will stand to lead this waiata. Females will also acknowledge any koha that has been laid down for the hau kāinga.

Tamariki learn when to pay attention and listen, when to move, how to walk, when to bow their heads, when to join in, when to wait for karakia, how food is served and when it’s right to eat. Mostly they will learn all of this by being surrounded by role models. They’ll watch and learn.

He tangata takahi manuhiri, he marae puehu

A person who mistreats his guest has a dusty marae

This whakatauki tells us that someone who disregards his visitors will soon find they have no visitors at all. This accentuates the importance of manaakitanga, or hospitality, within Māori society and culture. (Woodward Māori website)

Te reo Māori and public speaking

Whaikōrero – formal speech making and Māori oratory – have a significant role in te ao Māori, which is an oral culture. Kaikōrero, kaikaranga and waiata are constants on the marae, and are always an opportunity for tamariki to hear and participate in te reo Māori.

They may understand very little, but the rhythm, the mita of the reo, is there for them to experience.

There’s other information in articles on this website about the value for tamariki in learning more than one language and about developing communication skills. This all relates to ngā tohu whānau principle ‘te kōrero me te whakarongo — talking and listening’.

Belonging – mana whenua

Apart from the enjoyment tamariki can experience through being together on the marae with their whanaunga, the cross-generational connections are invaluable for them. Where else can tamariki have such a rich experience?

Opportunities at the marae to eat, sleep, wash, play, learn and work together as a group with kaumātua, pakeke, rangatahi, other tamariki and pēpi are great opportunities for their overall development.

Tuakana-teina relationships with older and younger children have a role in guiding tamariki and their learning at the marae, again helping build a growing sense of belonging for them to this place and these people.

In Āhuru Mōwai  (page 23, ‘Mana whenua’) it explains, ‘Children experience positive links from the home environment of whānau, and those links are affirmed and extended within the wider world.

‘Nurturing children within the knowledge of their everyday connections takes this symbolism to a practical level. This entails learning about home and whānau links — the beginnings and whakapapa – and geographical connections such as maunga, awa, marae through related stories and song.’

Refer to the recommended reading ‘Tuakana/teina’ for information on family relationships and some links through to other sites for more information.

‘Tangata ako ana i te whare, te tūranga ki te marae, tau ana.’

‘A person who is taught at home will stand collected on the marae.’

This proverb tells us that ‘a child who is given proper values at home and cherished within his family, will not only behave well amongst the family but also within society and throughout his life.’

Other resources

Thinking about parenting | Tākai

Haututū | Tākai


Although filmed in 1984, this video still conveys simple, straightforward information about visiting a marae:

The beginner’s guide to visiting the marae | NZ Onscreen(external link)