The marae is where a community bound by ancestral ties comes together to celebrate, grieve and discuss issues – no matter how far away from each other they normally live.
Each marae is on communally held land. It generally has a wharenui (meeting house), a wharekai (dining room with attached kitchen) and an ablution block.
It may have a constitution or charter containing details of its management and running.
The marae trustees
Every marae has trustees, elected by the people who belong to that marae. The trustees must be formally approved by the Māori Land Court, and their roles are governed by regulations.
The trustees have the ultimate responsibility for all marae matters. However, the wider community keeps the marae going, and there may be a separate marae committee responsible for its everyday running.
Preparing for tangihanga and other events
A person who dies is brought back to their ancestral marae. At what may be very short notice the hau kāinga (the people who live nearby and keep the marae going) must prepare for the arrival of the whānau pani (the bereaved). Their tasks include cleaning, organising bed linen and buying groceries. The kitchen team prepares food for the whānau pani for the duration of the tangihanga.
The marae community
Marae upkeep is expensive. There are bills for insurance, electricity, phone, maintenance and repairs, as well as accountancy fees, catering expenses and more.
The trustees occasionally call for working bees to get through essential maintenance tasks.
To help meet expenses, a marae generally charges a per-day fee for hui and meetings. Most marae do not charge for tangihanga, but the whānau gives a koha (donation). Nonetheless, there is often still a shortfall. Extra fundraising activities may include raffles, galas, dinners and classes.
Because of the costs involved some marae have fallen into disrepair. However, many thrive – thanks to the hard work of community volunteers.