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What’s a pōwhiri and how Elder Uchtdorf was greeted by the Māori welcome ceremony in New Zealand

Apostle finds connection between elements of Māori ceremony and aspects of the gospel.

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Kimo Decaires leads Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and others into George R. Biesinger Hall during a pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony) in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


What’s a pōwhiri and how Elder Uchtdorf was greeted by the Māori welcome ceremony in New Zealand

Apostle finds connection between elements of Māori ceremony and aspects of the gospel.

merlin_2944468.jpg

Kimo Decaires leads Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and others into George R. Biesinger Hall during a pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony) in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

HAMILTON, New Zealand — It’s not every day that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is greeted with a pōwhiri, a traditional Māori welcome ceremony.

But that is what local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from in and around Hamilton and the Waikato region did as Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf arrived to both minister to Latter-day Saints there and to rededicate the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.

“The pōwhiri is a traditional ceremony to welcome guests to a marae or local meeting grounds,” said Kimo Decaires, a short time before Elder Uchtdorf’s arrival Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the old Church College of New Zealand grounds near the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.

He added: “Nowadays, the pōwhiri is done out of respect for the guests who are coming.”

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Kimo Decaires lays down a ceremonial fern for Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, during a pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony) at George R. Biesinger Hall in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

At the pōwhiri, Elder Uchtdorf was considered a waewae-tapu (newcomer) and a manuhiri tuārangi (visitor from afar).

Part of the traditional pōwhiri process requires the upmost respect being shown for high-level guests, and “it’s done through a wero — a challenge — which is what I’ll do,” said Kimo Decaires.

“Traditionally, it was done to determine the intent of the visitors coming into the area.”

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, holds a ceremonial fern branch, which is a symbol of peace, during a pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony,) at George R. Biesinger Hall in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Here’s a quick synopsis of Wednesday’s pōwhiri, with additional key Māori terms:

The pōwhiri begins as the manuhiri reach the waharoa (entrance) of the marae.

The wero begins, used to determine the intent of the manuhiri. A taki (dart), baton or other object may be laid down, or sometimes a small fern branch is used.

The object is then picked up as a demonstration of peace by the premier guest. Elder Uchtdorf picked up a fern branch on behalf of the manuhiri, which also included the Pacific Area presidency — Elder K. Brett Nattress, Elder Peter F. Meurs and Elder Taniela B. Wakolo — and their wives.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, picks up a ceremonial fern branch as a symbol of peace during a pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony) at George R. Biesinger Hall in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The manuhiri are then welcomed by a kaikaranga (woman caller) who performs a karanga (a sacred call of protection) acknowledging the arrival of manuhiri and who they are. Inviting them to approach, the karanga acknowledges and welcomes their deceased loved ones and includes the kaupapa (purpose) of the visit. The manuhiri then return the karanga and are finally welcomed into the wharenui (carved meetinghouse).

For the pōwhiri in Hamilton, the day’s wharenui was the restored historic George R. Biesinger Hall — built by labor missionaries and named for the leader of the Church’s construction that built the temple in the 1950s and other buildings throughout the South Pacific.

The tangata whenua or haukāinga (home people), are positioned inside the wharenui with men sitting along the front row and women behind.

The haukāinga initiate the whaikōrero (formal speeches), each of which is followed by a waiata (song or chant), with the manuhiri following the same kawa (protocols) of speech and song.

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Alberta Harmer and Te Puea Corbett-Searancke perform with Te Roopuu o Tuhikaramea during a pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony) for Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, at George R. Biesinger Hall in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

For Wednesday’s pōwhiri, the kawa for speeches was ‘tu mai tu atu’ (one for one), so after the opening speech from the haukāinga, attendees were blessed with a message of response from Elder Uchtdorf on behalf of the manuhiri, followed by the visitors singing “I Am a Child of God.”

A koha (gift or contribution) is usually offered by the manuhiri but was not expected on this occasion, however an apostolic blessing of peace given by Elder Uchtdorf upon all those in attendance and their families was a more than adequate offering to the earnest listeners.

Takirimaiteata kaumatua (elder) of the Ngāti Māhanga hapu (tribe), also a representative of the kingitanga (king movement), spoke on behalf of the haukāinga, The proceedings were concluded with a hariru (shaking of hands) in lieu of the hongi (traditional pressing of noses).

 The haukāinga then presented Elder Uchtdorf with a koha of a small pendant known as a toki pounamu under the direction and waerea (incantation) of kaumatua Takirimaiteata. This small greenstone adze was correctly identified by Elder Uchtdorf as being a symbol of strength during his words of thanks to the haukāinga for the gift.

Both manuhiri and haukāinga then join together to kaitahi (share a meal). The luncheon for this occasion was done in the restored Kai Hall, built by the local labor missionaries as a dining area for those camping nearby while constructing the temple and Church college buildings. During the meal, guests were favoured with a bracket of beautiful waiata known as whakangahau (entertainment), performed by Te Roopu o Tuhikaramea consisting entirely of local Latter-day Saints.

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Te Roopuu o Tuhikaramea performs during a lunch with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in Kai Hall in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

A koha (gift or contribution) is usually offered by the manuhiri but was not expected on this occasion, however an apostolic blessing of peace given by Elder Uchtdorf upon all those in attendance and their families was a more than adequate offering to the earnest listeners.

Takirimaiteata kaumatua (elder) of the Ngāti Māhanga hapu (tribe), also a representative of the kingitanga (king movement), spoke on behalf of the haukāinga, The proceedings were concluded with a hariru (shaking of hands) in lieu of the hongi (traditional pressing of noses).

The haukāinga then presented Elder Uchtdorf with a koha of a small pendant known as a toki pounamu under the direction and waerea (incantation) of kaumatua Takirimaiteata. This small greenstone adze was correctly identified by Elder Uchtdorf as being a symbol of strength during his words of thanks to the haukāinga for the gift.

Both manuhiri and haukāinga then join together to kaitahi (share a meal). The luncheon for this occasion was done in the restored Kai Hall, built by the local labor missionaries as a dining area for those camping nearby while constructing the temple and Church college buildings. During the meal, guests were favoured with a bracket of beautiful waiata known as whakangahau (entertainment), performed by Te Roopu o Tuhikaramea consisting entirely of local Latter-day Saints.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, greets members of Te Roopuu o Tuhikaramea after they performed during a pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony) at George R. Biesinger Hall in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

In his message representing the manuhiri at the pōwhiri, Elder Uchtdorf likened many elements of the ceremony to aspects of the gospel.

He first recalled having witnessed a similar Māori welcome years before when he and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, visited the Polynesian Culture Center in Laie, Hawaii. And he acknowledged Sister Uchtdorf’s absence in Hamilton, having remained home in Salt Lake City while recuperating from recent eye surgery.

He spoke of how he saw the wero as not being an act or war, but rather as an act of peace, adding his observation of heaven and earth meeting together through both the earthly and spiritual components of the pōwhiri process which brings two groups of people together as one. In parallel he commented on the house of the Lord’s, soon to be rededicated, as truly being the one place where heaven and earth intersect.

“Thank you so much for this wonderful and peaceful way,” he said of the ceremony, adding that “your gestures, voices and words are ones of power — they show strength.”

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, tours the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Mentioning that one of his assignments this week in New Zealand is to rededicate the Hamilton temple on Sunday, Oct. 16, Elder Uchtdorf celebrated “the return of the house of the Lord, which is a symbol of peace that can give us strength and connection with others. It will be dedicated to the Prince of Peace, who gives strength to all of us.”

Noting the difference in languages, Elder Uchtdorf said he looks forward to the time when the earth will once again be “of one language” (Genesis 11:1).

“I will speak Māori, or maybe you will speak German, or we’ll all be speaking English,” he quipped.

“But the language of the heart is always understood. And I have felt that language from you today.”

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, joins in singing a song while touring the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Following the pōwhiri ceremony, Elder Uchtdorf also toured the nearby Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center, part of the Church’s complex of buildings, offices and services in the shadow of the temple and on the old Church college grounds.

He began this current ministry assignment in Australia last weekend before arriving in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 10. He visited the New Zealand Missionary Training Center and stopped at the construction site of the Auckland New Zealand Temple, which is adjacent to the MTC.

Later this week in Hamilton and prior to presiding at Sunday’s temple rededication, Elder Uchtdorf will continue his ministering efforts, including a meeting with missionaries of the New Zealand Hamilton Mission, a lunch gathering with some of the area’s long-time members and an evening youth devotional.

NOTE: This article has been amended with additional and clarifying descriptions of and terms from the Māori pōwhiri, as provided by representatives of the Ngāti Māhanga hapu.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, signs a guest book while touring the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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A guest book signed by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is pictured in the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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