What is a marae?

Te Hono-ki-Rarotonga, Pakirikiri Marae,
Tokomaru Bay, Aotearoa (New Zealand)

Ruatepupuke Marae, Field Museum, Chicago

: John Terrell (top); Christoper J. Philipp (bottom)

For Pacific Islanders, a "marae," or "malae," is an open area in a village where public meetings are held.

For the Maori of New Zealand — the original Polynesian settlers of this modern island nation in the South Pacific — a marae can be likened to a ritual battlefield where the people of a village formally greet arriving communities and groups who are strangers to them.

When two communities thus meet one another on a New Zealand marae, they are figuratively standing on the ancient battleground of the Maori war god Tumatauenga.

However, instead of encountering one another with raised voices and weapons of war, each side brings to the encounter words, music, and song to express pride in the history and accomplishments of their community, and recognition of the similar standing and accomplishments of those facing them on the other side of the open field.