5 Feb 2018

Meet the Māori warden escorting Ardern onto her marae

10:28 am on 5 February 2018

First Person - Francis Mahanga has been a Māori Warden for two decades but never personally met a Prime Minister.

Francis Mahanga (right)

Francis Mahanga (right) Photo: RNZ/ Shannon Haunui-Thompson

Today the Ngāpuhi elder will not only met Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern but she'll escort the delegation of politicians onto her marae of Te Whare Rūnanga, the marae at the treaty grounds.

Follow RNZ's live coverage of the day's events

While Whaea Francis is nervous about her eminent role she's not alone. Ms Ardern is also feeling heavy with anticipation. She's hoping her mihimihi comes out right. While her 'state of the nation' speech is the focus, she's equally concerned she gets the Māori vowels right in her introduction.

When she stands from the māhau - or the porch - this morning during the formal pōwhiri proceedings, her close advisor Peeni Henare said she'll be making history. Mr Henare carries the weight of the decision to have the leader of the nation, a woman, break tradition and deliver a speech during the pōwhiri.

Mr Henare, who is the son of the late Ngati Hine leader Erima Henare, says his father has been in his thoughts in recent times and admits while he is excited about the pōwhiri he is rightly nervous.

Around 100 bare-chested boys and men run through their haka pōwhiri - or welcome - on the side of Te Whare Rūnanga. The Māori Wardens, led by Whaea Francis pace up and down the path practicing their steps before the official delegation arrive. Ngāpuhi elders arrive and greet each other while a strong police presence circles the treaty grounds.

The forecasted rain hasn't arrived and the sun and mist have created a foggy backdrop over the grounds, perfect for the event due to unfold.