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This week, we feature Powhiri, a ritual ceremony of welcome extended to visitors by the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. The word powhiri encapsulates two important concepts to Maori. The word po can be translated as a venture into the "unknown" or a new experience, while whiri is derived from the term whiriwhiri, meaning the act or experience of exchanging information and knowledge.

Traditionally, the process served to discover whether the visiting party was friend or foe, and so its origins lay partly in military necessity. As the ceremony progressed, and after friendly intent was established, it became a formal welcoming of guests by the hosts.

The ceremony begins with the karanga, the high-pitched voices of women from both sides, calling to each other to exchange information to begin to establish intent and the purpose of the visit. It is said that the callers between them weave a mat laid upon the earth, binding the two sides together, and protecting them from the men who will compete with each other (verbally, and perhaps physically).

A wero, or challenge, is then performed by a warrior (or group of them) advancing on the visitors to look them over and further establish intent. The hosts will perform a haka, during which the visitors are symbolically drawn forward. The chants often use the symbolism of hauling a whaka (a canoe) onto the shore.

Next is the mihi, or exchange of greetings by the orators from both sides. Oratory is much prized. An expert will display his knowledge of whakapapa- a tribe's genealogy, mythology, and history. Note that the Maori word for this genealogy includes whaka- canoe. This is because the story of a tribe always traces its way back to the name of the canoe that brought the tribe's ancestors to New Zealand! During this speechmaking, the genealogical links between visitors and hosts are emphasised.

Each speech is followed by the performance of a waiata (song), or sometimes a haka, by the orator's group. The quality of the performance is a matter of critical concern, and reflects on the orator, and the orator's tribe.

At the completion of their speeches, the visitors will present a gift; the visitors and hosts then greet each other with the hongi, a gentle pressing of noses. This signifies the mingling together of the sacred breath of life, and the two sides become one.

The powhiri concludes with the hakari, the sharing of food. The food removes the tapu (taboo) from the visitors, so that the two sides may complete the coming together. As in all cultures, the sharing of food also signifies a binding together.

In game terms, the Powhiri card provides one Victory Point to the player who owns the card. It also provides a special ability; once during the game, a player may examine any stack of enemy units. This can only be done once, so the player must carefully consider when the card's ability will best be used. There is no stacking limit in Conquest of Paradise, and units remain hidden. So this card can be quite useful for determining your opponent's intentions!

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