How I got adopted to a Marae

Do you know these moments, where you find yourself in a situation and you wonder how you got there? It seems so right, so in line with what you want in your life, and yet no way could you have planned it exactly like this.

That is what I thought when I sat in Owheao Marae* in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, for a ceremony where five of us non-Māori women where “adopted” to a Māori community. This was probably the first time such thing ever happened, we were told. So how did I get there?

From an early age I was intrigued by indigenous cultures. When I came to New Zealand, I was naturally interested in the Māori culture. Eventually, I joined a beginners’ Māori language course last year. When the course ended, we lacked the prospect of continuing. A fellow language student organised a teacher and asked for people to commit to a privately funded course for one term. I was unsure. I found many reasons to doubt that it made sense. And I did it. I joined the group.

What was to follow was a unique access to the Māori culture through the language, as well as the stories of the language and the land, and our field trips to culturally important sites. In the Māori tradition, people refer to themselves not only through their name, but also through their environment – their mountain, their river, the ship on which their ancestors arrived, their water (ocean or lake), their tribe, their sub-tribe, their Marae, their ancestors, etc. All this is presented in a formal introduction of oneself in the so-called “Pepeha”. Our new teacher heard us stumble around with our Pepehas, most of us referring to airplanes as the “air ships” on which we or our ancestors arrived, and none of us was really able to name our “Marae”, our community of belonging. Without further ado, our teacher offered us to use his Marae as ours, if we wanted to be “adopted” in such way.

It so happened that Owheao Marae is committed to uplift the “mana wahine”, the power of women. The vision is to find new ways into the future behind women, as they are the ones that give birth to future generations. In his tribe, he told us, women used to have a powerful position, which got lost over time. Now it is time to empower women again, in order to create a sustainable future for the people and the land. 

I strongly resonate with this vision. We need the feminine in this world in general, and we need empowered women. So, sitting in the meeting house for our “adoption” ceremony was truly magical for me.

Do you recall moments of disbelief around how you got into something that truly feels in line with you? How did you get there?

I have since been involved with the Marae and am happy to share some of the stories in the future. Stay tuned!

*A marae (meeting grounds) is the focal point of Māori communities in New Zealand. It is a complex of buildings and grounds that belongs to a particular tribe, sub-tribe, or family. Māori people see their marae as tūrangawaewae – their place to stand and belong. (Source: https://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/marae-maori-meeting-grounds/) This post’s photo depicts how we learn about the structure and significance of a marae in our language class.

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