Indigenous Māori Welcome Prem Rawat in Auckland, New Zealand
Traditional Ceremony Acknowledges Prem Rawat’s Message of Peace
In an event of significance for indigenous people in all parts of the world, Prem Rawat was recently welcomed to Aotearoa (New Zealand)in a dramatic ceremony on the marae of Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei.
The powhiri, or formal welcome, onto the marae—the centerof Māori tribal and cultural identity—has great significance in Aotearoa. The Māori community had long hoped for the opportunity to honor Prem Rawat in such a setting.
Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei are one of the main tribes based in New Zealand’s largest city, Tamaki Makaurau, commonly known as Auckland. Their occupation dates from the 17th century, and every descendent of this group can trace their whakapapa (genealogy) back to the leaders of that time.
Ngāti Whātua are the most urbanized tribe in New Zealand, given that New Zealand’s largest city was founded on their land and on their invitation in 1840. Over nearly two centuries nearly all of their land was lost, but in the past three decades they have re-emerged as an iwi (tribe), able to fully welcome a dignitary of Prem Rawat’s stature in the house of their ancestors.
For the occasion Prem Rawat wore a traditional korowai or cloak, hand woven by Ngāti Whātua weavers who were taught by the master weavers of Ngāti Maniapoto. It is to be worn by particularly honored guests on such special occasions.
At the gate of the marae Prem Rawat was met with the sound of the pukaea, a Māori war trumpet, followed by a wero—a dramatic challenge by a warrior in traditional dress—requiring guests to enter only if they are of good heart and peaceful intention. Concluding the wero, the warrior laid down a sprig of fresh greenery, and this was accepted on Prem Rawat’s behalf, signifying his willingness to become part of the life that sustains the people in that place. Then the haunting karanga, a call of welcome led by respected women of the tribe, was issued to bring the visiting party onto the marae ātea.
Moving across the marae ātea, or ceremonial courtyard, Prem Rawat and other guests were met at the entrance to the wharenui by over 100 people joining in a haka powhiri, a dramatic and energetic dance and chant. Unlike the warlike haka, for which New Zealand sports teams are renowned, the haka powhiri is a welcome, inviting the guests to come into the heart of the community and enter the wharenui.
The wharenui or “meeting house” is particularly significant in Māori culture as the embodiment of the cultural identity of the tribe. The interior walls have carved panels that embody significant ancestors, interspersed with woven panels representing hospitality, navigation and other aspects of traditional Māori life. The ancestors were openly acknowledged and honored in the speeches of welcome that took place. Honor was paid to the house, to Prem Rawat and his message of peace, and to other guests. Each speech was followed by a waiata—a traditional song.