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Tānenuiarangi, the wharenui at Waipapa marae, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

A wharenui (literally "big house") is a communal house of the Māori people of New Zealand, generally situated as the focal point of a marae. Wharenui are usually called meeting houses in New Zealand English.

Also called a whare rūnanga ("meeting house") or whare whakairo (literally "carved house"), the present style of wharenui originated in the early to middle nineteenth century. The houses are often carved inside and out with stylized images of the iwi's (or tribe's) ancestors, with the style used for the carvings varying from tribe to tribe. Modern meeting houses are built to regular building standards. Photographs of recent ancestors may be used as well as carvings. The houses always have names, sometimes the name of a famous ancestor or sometimes a figure from Māori mythology. Some meeting houses are built where many Māori are present, even though it is not the location of a tribe; typically, a college or school with many Māori students. While a meeting house is considered sacred, it is not a church or house of worship, but religious rituals may take place in front of or inside a meeting house. On most marae, no food may be taken into the meeting house.


The position of the maihi shown in red

The building often symbolises an ancestor of the wharenui's tribe. So different parts of the building refer to body parts of that ancestor:[1]

Other important components of the wharenui include:[1]

The marae ātea comprises an very important open space directly in front of the wharenui, and is used to welcome visitors onto the marae. It also serves as an area on which to debate issues.[2]


Meeting houses are the centre of any cultural, business, or any affair which is relevant to the iwi as a whole.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Māori Architecture - from fale to wharenui and beyond. North Shore: Penguin Group. 2009. pp. 52–53. ISBN 9780143011125. 
  2. ^ "marae ātea". maoridictionary.co.nz. Retrieved 2012-04-20. 

External links[edit]