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Pōwhiri: Creating a meaningful virtual welcome

On December 1, APEC 2021 welcomed economy representatives with a pōwhiri, a symbolic welcome to New Zealand's virtual host year.  

A pōwhiri is a traditional Māori welcome ceremony where manhiri (visitors) are welcomed on to a host marae (meeting place) by the mana whenua (home people of the land). On December 1, 2020 APEC New Zealand, in partnership with mana whenua for the Wellington region, Te Atiawa, held a pōwhiri for New Zealand-based representatives of APEC economies.

The pōwhiri served as a symbolic welcome to all delegates to APEC 2021 and was filmed. Selected extracts of the ceremony will be shown as part of the virtual welcome to delegates at the Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting (ISOM).

In this way, the pōwhiri is a meaningful way to express manaakitanga (the process of showing respect, generosity and care) to delegates in person and virtually. It also highlights the importance of APEC 2021’s partnership with mana whenua, Te Atiawa, and New Zealand’s desire to advocate for indigenous inclusion within APEC’s work.

The pōwhiri explained:

The welcome involves two groups of people: 

Mana whenua

Te Atiawa are mana whenua for the Wellington region in New Zealand, and therefore mana whenua for the APEC 2021 pōwhiri. Mana whenua are the katiaki (guardians) of the land.


As visitors to the marae, APEC economy representatives are manuhiri. At the start of the pōwhiri, manu whenua and manuhiri are physically and spiritually separate. Through the pōwhiri process, manuhiri become one with mana whenua.

The key elements of pōwhiri:


In modern day, when prestigious visitors enter the marae, a wero (challenge) is performed. A taki (challenge item) is placed before visitors. If picked up peacefully by a member of the visiting party, this signals their intent of peace.


The karanga is a calling ceremony by women welcoming leaders of the world to Wellington and Te Atiawa’s ancestral marae. It acknowledges loved ones who have passed on, the land and those gathered. A Kaikaranga from the visitors’ side replies.

Haka pōwhiri

As visitors enter the Marae Ātea (forecourt), the host side will perform a haka pōwhiri. This is an inspirational and energetic welcome representing the hauling ashore of the visitors’ waka (canoe) and contains more words of welcome.


This is the formal passage of visitors onto the Marae Ātea. It is done in a slow and dignified manner, whilst karanga and haka pōwhiri are occurring. 


The hongi is the pressing of noses between tāngata whenua and visitors. During hongi, the breath of life (hau) is exchanged. This recalls when Tāne Mahuta (god of the forest) breathed life into the first woman, Hine-ahu-one.


Mana whenua give a speech welcoming visitors onto the Marae. It explains the landscape (whenua) and the origins of the people that come from it (mana whenua – Te Atiawa). After the hosts make two speeches, visitors will respond.


A waiata (song) follows each speech. They embellish the speaker’s points and remind us of connections already existing.


To close the welcoming ceremony, and then again to bless the food, the karakia occurs. This is a prayer to ensure good outcomes from the event.