The marae, the courtyard often fronting the whare runanga (meeting house) is where the rituals of tribal life take place.Certain kawa (protocols) govern behaviour, the marae being considered sacred. Visitors may not enter a marae uninvited. So if you don't know someone you may find it necessary to make your visit with a commercially run tour. Visitors are ritually challenged to determine friendly intent.
The term has more recently evolved to refer to whole complex, including the meeting and eating houses. Taking in what was previously referred to as a pā. and its community.