The appeal of New Zealand as a destination for students will be instantly apparent to many you – its world-class national parks, dynamic Māori culture, and rich sporting and outdoor activity ethos makes it one of the best outdoor classrooms in the world with activities that will delight many different demographics and cohorts. The country is also a leader in social justice and environmental issues making it an interesting and safe destination for students with a wide range of interests.
The indigenous people of New Zealand, the Māoris, settled in the country almost 800 years ago. They travelled by way of wooden canoes from their mythical Polynesian homeland Hawaiki (More likely they came from the south pacific islands of Polynesia and Melanesia). Through several centuries of isolation, these Maori settlers developed their own distinctive culture, whose language, mythology, crafts and performing arts evolved independently from those of other Polynesian cultures.
Today some 770,000 people of a total population of 5,000,000 in New Zealand identify themselves as being Maori. This rich and enduring Māori culture is entwined into most facets of the country’s society and can be observed in its artistic culture, social practices and importantly, in the education curriculum where learning Māori (language) is now more common.
A mandatory inclusion for any of our student trips to New Zealand is a visit to a Maori Marae, a very recognizable icon of New Zealand cultural, these meeting houses are a focal point of all Maori communities throughout New Zealand past and present.
Māori people see their marae as their place to stand and belong. Marae are commonly used for meetings, celebrations, educational workshops, funerals and other important tribal events. The most important building within the marae is the carved meeting house (wharenui). The meeting house resembles the human body in structure and usually represents a particular ancestor of the tribe that built it.
Marae life is very communal – everyone sleeps in the same room (usually the main meeting house) on mattresses lined against the walls. All who stay will eat together in the dining room, help with chores, and spend time together learning, discussing and debating tribal matters. The notion of the nuclear family was non-existent, and Māori customs constituted a more communal lifestyle. The Māori philosophy, and by extension the marae, is firmly rooted in the notion of interdependence.
A visitor who has never set foot on a marae is known as waewae tapu or sacred feet. They must first take part in a formal welcoming ceremony, called a pōwhiri, to remove the sacredness and become one people with those of the marae.
A highlight of a student visit to a Marare is partaking in a ‘hangi’- a meal or feast slow-cooked underground using hot rocks and wrapped in leaves. These feasts are sometimes followed by Maori song and dances including the famous haka (posture dance) that can be taught on-site for those brave enough to try!
A visit to a marae is a must for any school group visiting New Zealand. The time spent here will surely give students a culturally rich and authentic immersive Maori experience.
For further information about our educational tours to New Zealand, including marae visits, marae renovation projects and cultural programs, please check our website to view 4 sample itineraries.
Haerenga haumaru (safe travels)