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From the flax roots up

Posted February 10, 2018

A Māori perspective of hospitality provides rich insights into the welcoming heart of God and how we can welcome others.

Throughout the generations, iwi Maori have had a long history of offering hospitality to others, to strangers, and to visitors from afar. In the Victorian era, some of these visitors came with very clear intentions to Christianise, to colonise and, in their view, to 'civilise' our people.

Empire-building was in contrast to the thoughts and practices of the Maori world. Instead, the indigenous priority was relationship-building and authority that came from the flax roots up. Over the past two centuries, the wider church has continued to give Maori the message that most of our cultural expressions are either inferior or evil.

This pressure to assimilate and adopt a perceived ‘superior’ western version of Christianity has meant the loss of connection and cultural identity for many indigenous peoples. However, by taking historical and cultural contexts more seriously, The Salvation Army is becoming a more welcoming place for Maori—not only as those overwhelmingly over-represented in accessing our social services. Increasingly, Maori are becoming partners at every level and in all expressions of this movement.

By acknowledging the seeds that God had already sown into the Maori world pre-colonisation, the gospel can be more effectively presented within indigenous communities. Re-reading the Scriptures through Maori eyes allows an indigenous
Christian perspective on hospitality that is a faithful reflection of Io Matua (God the Father), Io Tama (God the Son) and Io Wairua Tapu (God the Holy Spirit).

Manaaki: Hospitality

One of the foundational principles of behaviour in te ao Maori (the Maori world) is manaaki—the practice of giving hospitality to others. It involves support and protection as well as showing respect, generosity and care for others. Engaging with others using a manaaki approach ensures care for the whole person or group including the spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual dimensions.

Displaying manaakitanga elevates the status of all, building unity through humility and the act of giving. Therefore, recognising and uplifting the mana (the uniqueness) of another person is beneficial for both the host and the visitor.

When reading the Bible with an acute Maori awareness of the obligations of manaakitanga, it is easy to identify a whole range of stories and situations in which the mana of another was acknowledged. Jesus often shared the importance of hospitality and mana-enhancing behaviour. The stories of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37), the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25: 31-46) and washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:3-5) demonstrated the incredible value of caring for people and improving the situation of another. Jesus also presents us with the challenge of being both host and guest—the challenge of welcoming and being welcomed.

In hearing each of these stories and scenarios in Scripture, Maori minds and hearts will always connect back to their own cultural protocols as they provide a point of reference. Some of these protocols are quite capable of communicating what Atua/God is like. While culture should not attempt to constrain or put God in an indigenous-shaped box, it can provide perspective to a community of people who already bear God’s image.

Powhiri: Welcoming ceremony

The powhiri process is an elaborate ritual of encounter that demonstrates in several ways the value of manaakitanga—hospitality. In each stage of the powhiri there are signs of our Creator’s presence in this culture.

Paying close attention to each step can reveal new notions of God’s hospitality extended towards us The powhiri points us towards the generous heart of God in a way that could allow the Salvation Army in Aotearoa to move forward into far more significant relational and missional experiences if we pay attention.

  • The Karanga/the call—actively calling people closer and into a safe space: A woman will give a special call to the visitors, and a woman from the visiting group will call in response. Every note that goes out between the groups, back and forth, can be pictured as the weaving together of a spiritual rope. The voices symbolise the strength and determination to pull the waka/canoe in from the water, pulling the people closer together.
  • Whaikorero/speeches of welcome—protecting the thingsand the people that are vulnerable and treasured, seeking common Once both groups are together and seated, a male elder from the hosting group will stand. The front row of each group will generally be males. They represent the strength of warriors protecting the most important treasures—women and children. The speakers will weave together the whakapapa (historical or genealogical connections) that exist between the groups, showing the shared history they have and signalling the future they will have together. Both the host group and visiting group will be given the opportunity to speak. The speeches will always be followed with
    a song that affirms what has already been spoken out.
  • Koha/gift—recognising the gifts that we all carry, individually and collectively: the purpose of the gift is to acknowledge the mana of the host and how highly you esteem them. Picking up the koha is also a sign that the hosts want to be in relationship with the visitor.
  • Hongi /sharing the breath of life—allowing ourselves to get right into each other’s space, sharing the sacred breath, life, ideas, decisions, collective histories and potential futures: The practice of hongi is connected to a creation story in which the Creator breathed life into the human’s nostrils. This is the reason Maori exclaim ‘Tihei mauri ora!—the breath of life!
  • Kai/food—making space at all our tables, providing sustenance in an honouring way regardless of how much time it takes: The final and critical part of the welcoming process involves taking time to sit and eat together, honouring the relationship that has been developed.

He wero: A challenge

Manaakitanga does not allow for empire-building. Nor does manaakitanga colonise others or expect assimilation so that visitors aspire to become like the hosts. The heart of manaaki is to bless, protect, nurture and improve the position of the other.  It is manaakitanga/hospitality that underpins relationship-building.

Maori will continue to show the Army how successfully it has demonstrated manaakitanga. It will not be measured by the number of food parcels or Maori clients in programmes. It will be shown through improved relationships, and
inclusion of Maori thought and action.

For Hana Seddon’s full paper Manaaki: An Indigenous Christian Perspective of Hospitality contact