Karakia are Māori incantations and prayers, used to invoke spiritual guidance and protection. They are generally used to increase the spiritual goodwill of a gathering, so as to increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome. They are also considered a formal greeting when beginning a ceremony.
According to legend, there was a curse on the Waiapu River which was lifted when George Gage (Hori Keeti) performed karakia. In Māori religion, karakia are used to ritually cleanse the homes of the deceased after a burial.
The missionary Richard Taylor gives a 19th-century view of the traditional role and scope of karakia:
The word karakia, which we use for prayer, formerly meant a spell, charm, or incantation [...] [Maori] have spells suited for all circumstances – to conquer enemies, catch fish, trap rats, and snare birds, to make their kumara grow, and even to bind the obstinate will of woman; to find anything lost; to discover a stray dog; a concealed enemy; in fact, for all their wants. These karakias are extremely numerous [...]
With the nineteenth-century introduction of Christianity to New Zealand, Māori adopted (or wrote new) karakia to acknowledge the new faith. Modern karakia tend to contain a blend of Christian and traditional influence, and their poetic language may make literal translations into English not always possible. In modern Māori society, performances of karakia frequently open important meetings and ceremonies, both within a Māori context (such as tribal hui, tangi, or the inauguration of new marae), and in a wider New Zealand setting in which both Māori and Pākehā participate (such as the beginning of public meetings or at the departure of official delegations for overseas).
- "Karakia", Otago University website. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
- Taylor, Richard (1855). Te Ika a Maui ; or, New Zealand and its inhabitants: illustrating the origin, manners, customs, mythology, religion, rites, songs, proverbs, fables, and language of the natives : together with the geology, natural history, productions, and climate of the country; its state as regards Christianity; sketches of the principal chiels, and their present position. London: Wertheim and Macintosh. p. 72. Retrieved 2 September 2013.