It is generally a place of worship to pray to gods and ancestors. Prayers, invocations, offerings or sacrifices were practiced there. Marae are also a reflection of a hierarchical society.
Polynesians life is punctuated by many ceremonial occasions on the marae. Each event had its own ritual, there were some for purifications, for the abundance of fish for fishermen... etc. Marae were a way of bringing the population together and making them more supportive of the inhabitants of a place but also of the nature around them.
The different uses of marae:
Religious: for priests, or people who want to implore the gods
Social: indicating a social position (for fishermen, healers, breeders, craftsmen, farmers, etc.), the older a marae is, the higher his social rank will rise.
Politics: the "ari'i" (king, chief) are the only ones who can access it because only their marae can allow him to express his "mana" (power)
Land (family): belonging to a family, the marae were therefore linked to private property and also served as property deeds.
Public marae can also be classified into categories:
which is a collection site for Polynesian peoples
generally associated with an "ari'i
" (king, chief)
dedicated to a specific region of an island (town, valley...)
is considered as the place where it is possible to communicate with the gods. It is also in a way their home from a Man's point of view. These places were therefore considered as "tapu
" (forbidden) for the general public only the great ari'i
could access them and they too were considered sacred because they were in contact with the gods. For example, a woman was not allowed to step on a marae
or it would be soiled. Or a great ari'i could not set foot anywhere else because otherwise this place became sacred and no longer belonged to a person but to the ari'i
This explains in large part the importance of mana
in Polynesia, once this concept was sacred and belonged only to the greatest. Nowadays the concept of mana to evolve because it belongs to all Polynesia.
The population was divided into several classes:
Huiari'i: are the classes of high society:
The Ari'i nui or Ari'i rahi: Are chiefs, kings legitimate by their genealogy that goes back to the gods.
The Ari'i or Ari'i maro'ura: Are the direct family of the Ari'i nui and are inferior to him, their rights are limited to the borders of their land.
To'of?: He is the youngest of an ari'i's children and is deprived of the title of ari'i and must manage the family estates.
Mata'eina'a: the population (who did not have a "mana" (power)
The Ra'atira: small nobility, small chief, are managing the affairs of the big "ari'i" (chief)
The Manahune: it is the rest of the people with a profession (fishermen, craftsmen, breeders, healers, farmers... etc)
The teuteu: are the servants of the ari'i and ra'atira
The titi: are the prisoners of war
Priests are generally from the ari'i lineages and are the only ones who can appease the wrath of the gods, bring blessings and cast spells that can lead to death.
A special population:
The Arioi were a class of their own, a bit like a sect but very popular and appreciated by society because they were artists: actors, dancers, storytellers, master of ceremonies and held ancestral knowledge.
They had their own social ranks (8 in all), we could know their social rank by looking at the tattoos on their bodies. The more the tattoos covered their bodies, the higher their rank, the tattoos went from the feet to the head.
In this caste men and women were equal, a woman could also be part of the highest ranks.