Te Whare Rūnanga is a beautifully carved meeting house designed in traditional Māori form and built from timber and other natural materials.
Te Whare Rūnanga was opened on 6 February 1940 and stands facing the Treaty House on the Upper Grounds. Together the two buildings symbolise the partnership between Māori and the British Crown on which the nation of Aotearoa New Zealand is founded. The meeting house reflects the Māori stories and carving styles of iwi, or tribes, from across New Zealand, and unites not only Māori and Pākehā, but all New Zealanders.
The concept for Te Whare Rūnanga was proposed as a Māori contribution to the centenary commemorations of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by Tau Henare, MP for Northern Māori 1914-1938, and Sir Āpirana Ngata, MP for Eastern Māori 1905-1943, then Minister of Māori Affairs. Carving of the house began at the home of Tau Henare in Motatau in 1934, and the house was opened on 6 February 1940 – 100 years after the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
In Māori culture, meeting houses are symbols of tribal prestige and are often named after, and seen as the embodiment of, a tribal ancestor. The structure itself is seen as an outstretched body, with the roof’s apex at the front of the house representing the ancestor’s head. The main ridge beam represents the backbone, the diagonal bargeboards which lead out from the roof are the arms and the lower ends of the bargeboards divide to represent fingers. Inside, the centre pole is seen as the heart, the rafters reflect the ancestor’s ribs, and the interior is the ancestor’s chest and stomach.
The building of Te Whare Rūnanga follows this traditional Māori carving form, but the building itself is not identified with any one ancestor. Rather, the ‘body’ of the building is designed to represent the unity of Māori throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. This is emphasised by the inclusion throughout the building of the many carving styles of iwi (tribes) from across the country, being brought together and showcased as a completely unique gallery of Māori art, as well as an example of Māori social and cultural life.
Visitors are welcomed to the meeting house every day as the perfect setting for Waitangi’s cultural performances.