You might have noticed the use of karakia in public meetings keeps making headlines recently.

It started in Kaipara late last year, when the area’s new mayor, Craig Jepson, stopped Māori Ward councillor Pera Paniora from doing a karakia before a council meeting in November. 

Jepson also objected to Pere Huriwai-Seger, a member of the public, standing up and doing a karakia at another council meeting in February. 

Further south, Otago Regional councillor Kevin Malcolm walked out of a meeting mid-karakia this month, saying “it was just a tick box exercise to try and get favour’’.

But karakia is so much more than a tick box exercise.

So, what is karakia?

Tikanga and mātauranga Māori ethicist Dr Karaitiana Taiuru describes karakia in two ways.

Firstly, as a prayer as its literal translation, and secondly, as a ceremony of acknowledgment to the environment that you are in, which is usually its purpose at a meeting.

“There are some karakia which would be restricted to certain people, but in general anyone can start a karakia,” Taiuru says.

He says when he was younger there used to be a rule that if you did the karakia to open a space then only that person would be allowed to close the space with a karakia. 

“Back in the old days, if there was a koro (grandad) to open the meeting with a karakia, he could close it up with a karakia whenever he felt like it.”

When is karakia used?

These days karakia is often used to bless food and open meetings. 

By saying karakia, it can remove any restrictions and clear any bad wairua (spirits) or negativity and open a space of calmness and positivity. 

For example, when taking fish from the ocean you'll do a karakia to Tangaroa (God of the ocean) for providing you with kai. 

Karakia is also used to close meetings to leave what's been said in that space and clear the air for the rest of the day and for personal well-being.

Taiuru says some people also use karakia to revitalise their emotions and mental wellbeing. 

“Some people do karakia to their ancestors, seeking guidance.”

So, why does the use of karakia upset some people?

Is it because some people think it’s religious? Is it because it's being said in te reo Māori?

“I guess just from my personal experiences, I mean, a lot of non-Māori, particularly Pākehā, don't want to hear the Māori language being spoken,” Taiuru says.

He says he's also met Pākehā who think Māori speak their language to talk about people or humiliate them.

Taiuru says the use of karakia may be against people’s own personal beliefs or their own religious beliefs - or it could be “purely racism”.

But he says it’s vital that people are allowed to do karakia.

“First of all, because the Māori language is an official language of New Zealand, [and] the Supreme Court has already ruled that Tikanga Māori is our common law. 

“We have the right to do karakia.”

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