British & Irish Lions receive powerful Māori welcome to New Zealand

New Zealand turns on Māori culture, British heritage and a shared sporting passion as the British & Irish Lions are officially welcomed.

Three powerful national icons – Māori culture, British heritage and rugby – were to the fore as the British & Irish Lions were officially welcomed to New Zealand at Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Faced with 400 Māori warriors – representing several iwi (tribes) – British & Irish Lions Captain Sam Warburton led his team out for a traditional Māori pōwhiri (welcome ceremony) on the historic site recognised as the birthplace of the nation of New Zealand.

To download audio and video footage click here.

The team experienced and responded to three separate challenges from the warriors in three locations on the Treaty Grounds - a welcome of a scale and spectacle never before witnessed on this significant site.

Players were called onto the national marae (meeting place) during the pōwhiri on Sunday morning (NZT) – the morning after the first match of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series 2017 against the Provincial Barbarians XV, in nearby Whangarei. 

Thousands of locals, Lions fans and visiting dignitaries gathered on the shores of the Bay of Islands to watch the Māori cultural performers throw down their challenge to the visitors before ushering them into "their place".

For Waitangi Treaty Grounds Cultural Manager Mori Rapana, it was “a unique event for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and New Zealand. To get such a large group of warriors together to officially welcome an international sports team is truly special."

During the welcome the British & Irish Lions received three ceremonial challenges. The first was a private challenge beside the water where two traditional Māori waka (carved canoes) were moored on the beach.  

After the first challenge, the British and Irish Lions made their way to the top of the Treaty Grounds where the warriors were ready for the second challenge. The third and final challenge was in front of Te Whare Rūnanga (the House of Assembly), a carved meeting house before moving inside for the ceremonial speeches. 

The British & Irish Lions began their 10-match campaign to claim the DHL New Zealand Lions Series in Whangarei on Saturday night (3 June). The six-week series finishes in Auckland on 8 July. 

This weekend’s opening match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians kicked off a much-anticipated Series that will also see the Lions side play three Test matches against the All Blacks, the Māori All Blacks and, for the first time, against all five New Zealand Super Rugby teams.

About Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is New Zealand’s premier historic site where in 1840 New Zealand’s most significant document was signed by the British Crown and Māori Chiefs: the Treaty of Waitangi. Today the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, part of the 1000-acre gifted site, are referred to as the birthplace of New Zealand.

The grounds include one of New Zealand's oldest and most visited historic homes, Treaty House which was built for the first British resident, James Busby, and his family. The house was restored in 1933. 

The Museum of Waitangi – formally named Te Kōngahu – sits on the historic site and was opened on Waitangi Day 2016 (6 February - New Zealand’s national day celebration) by the Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

Translations of Māori terms

Pōwhiri: A Māori welcoming ceremony involving speeches, dancing, singing and hongi.

Wero: Literally means ‘to cast a spear´ and the purpose of the wero is to find out whether the visitors come in peace. The wero is always issued by a male leader, who should be the best in weapons. The taki is the name given to the challenge dart, which is placed before the group. 

Waiata: Waiata or songs and chants are an important part of Māori culture. The words and expressions preserve the wisdom and knowledge of ancestors. There are many forms of waiata used for different purposes. Waiata are often performed at the end of whaikōrero (speeches) to support what has been said. They can also be sung to remove tapu (restrictions) or to engage, entertain, calm, or comfort the listener.