When a teenage Te Ahu Rei was caught kissing at a powhiri, his grandaunt gave him a public dressing down.
Parihaka kuia Ena Okeroa didn’t take kindly to seeing her mokopuna showing such a lack of understanding of what was right and wrong.
A generation or more later, that dressing down is still vividly recalled by Mr Rei.
What he learned was that when you greet at a powhiri it’s with a hongi, not a kiss – regardless of whether you are male or female.
Mr Rei, Te Kaitakawaenga for Te Korowai o Ngaruahine, was called in to tautoko (support) the first visitors to Hawera’s new WITT campus building on Tuesday, and he took the rather unconventional step of giving his audience a quick tutorial in powhiri protocol.
“There will be no kissing when you go in to meet the tangata whenua - it’s hongi only,’’ he stressed.
Mr Rei told the same story in te reo soon after when it was his turn to speak, and even those with little knowledge of Maori knew from his hand actions what he was talking about. The retelling of the story about his own powhiri faux pas was met with laughter.
Ngati Ruanui kaumatua Sandy Parata joined in the spirit of learning later, proclaiming: “thank you for all the head-butts… we’ll get there.’’
Mr Rei said he would never forget his telling off.
“It was a big hui and she told me off in front of everyone. But she was so right, the hongi brings together the forehead and the nose, it is spiritual and physical, and the handshake with it is a sign of peace. It’s important we understand the sanctity of that action, the sacredness of it, compared to a kiss, and that’s why I continue to tell the story,’’ he said.
Picture: One way is the right way – Te Ahu Rei delivers his hongi message.