Story: Māori feasts and ceremonial eating – hākari

Page 3. 19th-century hākari

All images & media in this story

Hākari (feasts) became huge affairs in the 1800s. European spectators recorded the food items and the numbers of people present, as well as the ritual of dividing the food between hapū and iwi.

Dividing the food

At hākari a chief would divide up the food. Piles would be set up and a chief would go along and note that a particular pile was for a particular hapū or iwi.

An example was given by missionary Richard Taylor:

When the guests arrive they are received with a loud welcome, and afterwards a person, who acts as the master of the ceremonies, having a rod in his hand, marches slowly along the line of food, which is generally placed in the marae, or chief court of the pa, and then names the tribe for which each division is intended, striking it with his rod. This being done, the chief of that party receiving the food, sub-divides it amongst his followers. The food is then carried off to their respective homes.1

Hākari herald

When a chief intended to give a feast, he sent a member of his family as a herald to summon those for whom it was intended. As this messenger passed through each village, he sang, ‘Uea uea i te pou o tou whare, kia wiriwiri, kia tutangatanga wakairi kapua naku, ki runga moeahu taku kira ka tongia e te anu matao e taku e – nau mai e waha i taku tua he karere taua, he karere wainga.’2

Quantities of food

Hākari inevitably involved great quantities of food. One feast at Matamata in 1837 was held by Te Waharoa for tribes from Tauranga. A commentator wrote:

They have collected for the feast, six large albatrosses, nineteen calabashes of shark oil, several tons of fish, principally young sharks, which are esteemed by the natives as a great delicacy, upwards of twenty thousand dried eels, a great quantity of hogs, and baskets of potatoes almost without number.3

Hākari stages

Traditionally food was set out in huge stacks or placed on whata (stages). From the mid-1800s food was presented on large hākari stages – huge pyramid- or cone-shaped structures. Hākari stages could be up to 30 metres high, and one was up to 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) long.


A kaihaukai was a traditional feast in which a tribe from one area met with a tribe from another and exchanged foods which were specific to their region. Teone (Hōne) Taare Tīkao gave an example:

The people would send word of a proposed kaihaukai some weeks beforehand. The people from Kaiapoi might go to Rapaki carrying tuna (eel), kiore (rat), kauru (cabbage tree), kuri (dog), aruhe (fernroot), kumera [sic] (sweet potato) and so on, while the home people would prepare pipi or kuku (shellfish), shark, maraki (dried fish), and other sea products as a return gift. The food was not eaten at the time but was exchanged, and some of the Rapaki people would assist the Kaiapoians to carry the Kaiapoi share to that place to feast on. The stuff taken to Rapaki would be stored there until the carriers returned, and then would be enjoyed by all. In two or three years time Rapaki would carry food to a kaihaukai at Kaiapoi and bring back inland food in exchange.4


The poukai are a series of hui held mainly in Waikato. They were started by King Tāwhiao in 1885 after his return from England, as a harvest festival and a way to provide for the needy. The first poukai was at Whatiwhatihoe marae, Pirongia. The next was at Pārāwera marae, Te Awamutu. In the 2000s poukai were held on a circuit of nearly 30 Kīngitanga-affiliated marae both inside and outside Waikato.

  1. Richard Taylor, Te Ika a Māui, or, New Zealand and its inhabitants: illustrating the origin, manners, customs, mythology, religion, rites, songs, proverbs, fables, and language of the natives; together with the geology, natural history, productions, and climate of the country, its state as regards Christianity: sketches of the principal chiefs, and their present position. Wellington: Reed, 1974 (originally published 1855), p. 169. Back
  2. Te Ika a Māui, p. 170. Back
  3. Quoted in ‘1842, William Wade, A journey in the North Island of New Zealand’, p. 120, (last accessed 6 May 2013). Back
  4. Teone Taare Tikao, Tikao talks: ka taoka tapu o te ao kohatu: treasures from the ancient world of the Maori. Auckland: Penguin, 1990, p. 130. Back
How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Māori feasts and ceremonial eating – hākari - 19th-century hākari', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2022)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 Sep 2013