Koha is a common tikanga in Māori tradition and involves the act of giving. Formal koha involves the giving of gifts or money by manuhiri to a host marae as part of the powhiri process.
Koha is also a common practice in Aotearoa in many more informal ways. It’s usual to bring a koha of food or gifts when visiting friends and whānau. Very rarely would people arrive to visit without bringing something, however small.
Instead of charging an entrance fee to many occasions and venues, a koha may be requested. This generally means that one gives what one can afford. It’s still a freely given gift rather than a charge for services or entrance to an event.
Koha is an example of the reciprocity which is a common feature of tikanga Māori. The giving of gifts by manuhiri (visitors) to hau kāinga (host marae) would traditionally have taken the form of food, although taonga (treasured possessions) are sometimes offered as koha, and in more modern times a koha of cash would be likely to be given.
The koha reflects the mana of both the giver and the recipient, reflecting what the giver is able to give, and the esteem in which they hold the person or group to whom they are making the gift. This important acknowledgment is part of cementing good relations and is taken very seriously. Misunderstandings related to koha have the potential to cause offence.
This traditional practice of koha remains active today in New Zealand in Māori contexts. At hui, any money given helps with the actual costs associated with the meeting, and for the benefit of non-Māori unfamiliar with the custom, some marae may suggest a particular amount be given as koha.
Koha is part of the powhiri process. Here are two links about powhiri, te kawa o te marae (marae protocol) and the act of koha.
Māori powhiri visual essay - This video explains the powhiri process and includes information on where koha fits.