In pre-European times, Maori lived in a hunter-gatherer society, living on the provisions they could glean from the sea and forests. Unlike other Pacific islands, New Zealand had no large land mammals. The Otautahi (Christchurch) area in those times was a low-lying swampy area, a rich hunting ground for eels, inanga (whitebait), fish, native pigeons and swamp birds such as the pukeko and weka. The ti trees which grew in the area had edible shoots, and many other plants could be used for food and medicinal purposes. Kiwi and other feathers were useful in providing clothing, along with native flax which was abundant in this marshy area.
Maori lived in family groups in small villages (kaika) like Ko Tane, except in times of war, when they would retreat to a fortified Pa for safety. They were a warlike people, frequently clashing over territory and food supply, but tribes would also meet to discuss important matters, to grieve for the dead, or to celebrate.
Over time protocols were developed so groups of people felt safe meeting with one another. The Powhiri is designed to bring groups together in safety both physically and spiritually; a ritual of great beauty, it begins with a challenge from a fit, skilful warrior. You will experience the power of the powhiri on your visit to Ko Tane.
Modern Maori meet on the marae for the same reasons today as in the past – to grieve, to celebrate, to negotiate. Meetings begin with prayer and powhiri between the manuhiri (visitors) and tanga te whenua (people of the land).