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Pepeha: Connecting with Identity and Land

June 7, 2023

Pepeha is an important and increasingly common form of introduction in Aotearoa New Zealand. While it is easy to think of it just as an introduction, Pepeha is an essential aspect of Māori culture, as it is a way of acknowledging and honouring one's connection to the land and their ancestors. The pepeha is also a way of establishing one's turangawaewae, a Māori concept that refers to a place where a person feels a sense of belonging, where their identity is anchored, and where they can stand and defend their rights. 


Pepeha is typically used as a form of introduction and is often used at the beginning of a formal meeting or ceremony. It is also used when meeting someone for the first time or when introducing oneself in a formal or informal setting. Your Waitangi Treaty Grounds tour guide might introduce themselves with a pepeha, using it to not only introduce their name, but also acknowledging their ancestors, the land they come from, and their place in the world. It is a way of establishing a connection with the people one is meeting and creating a sense of community.

The pepeha consists of several elements, including the iwi, or tribe, the hapu, or sub-tribe, the maunga, or mountain, the awa, or river, and the marae, or meeting place. Each element of the pepeha is significant and represents an aspect of a person's connection to the land and their ancestors. In Māori culture, the land is considered sacred and is seen as a source of identity and belonging. The iwi and hapu represent a person's tribal affiliation, while the maunga and awa represent the physical features of the land that are significant to their tribal identity. The marae represents the meeting place where the person's ancestors gathered and where their cultural traditions and values are still practiced.  

The use of te reo Māori, the Māori language, in the pepeha is an essential aspect of the custom. The Māori language is a taonga, or treasure,and is an integral part of Māori culture. The use of te reo Māori in the pepeha is a way of honouring and preserving the language and ensuring that it continues to be passed down to future generations.

There isn’t complete consensus on the use of pepeha for non-Māori. While some Māori advocate for its use as a way of celebrating Te Ao Māori, the Māori world which includes te reo Māori along with respect for Māori customs and protocols, others are uncomfortable with tauiwi (non-Māori) claiming mountains and rivers. Because of this, there are suggested pepeha structure that acknowledge your heritage and where you live currently, as well as ones that acknowledge the traditional landmarks but do not denote ownership.

Learning and reciting a pepeha can be a transformative experience. For those who are disconnected from their cultural roots, it can be a way of finding a sense of belonging and purpose. It can also be a way of connecting with others who share a similar cultural background. There are now excellent online tools to help you craft your own pepeha, and knowing the te reo Māori names for locations is a benefit! You’ll learn more about the concept of turangawaewae on a journey through Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, a must-do experience in the Bay of Islands.