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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 a meeting house 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 building often symbolises an ancestor of the wharenui's tribe. So different parts of the building refer to body parts of that ancestor.
The koruru at the point of the gable on the front of the wharenui can represent the ancestor's head. The maihi are the diagonal bargeboards and signify arms, the ends of the maihi are called raparapa, meaning "fingers". The tāhuhu (ridge beam) represents the backbone, the heke or rafters signify ribs. Internally, the poutokomanawa is the central column and can be interpreted as the heart.
Other important components of the wharenui are the amo, the vertical supports that hold up the ends of the maihi. The poupou, or wall carving underneath the verandah. The kūwaha or front door, along with the pare or door lintel. The paepae is the horizontal element on the ground at the front of the wharenui, and acts as the threshold of the building.
Meeting houses are the centre of any cultural, business, or any affair which is relevant to the iwi as a whole.
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