Experience The Indigenous Maori Culture of New Zealand
New Zealand’s integral & indigenous Maori culture is accessible and engaging. It attracts the tourists offering unique and dynamic experience with different aspects of Maori life.
Maori culture is incredibly rich, and there are few more rewarding experiences in New Zealand than taking the time to learn about Maori history, crafts and traditions. Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. The unique and intriguing Maori culture is a key part of New Zealand’s identity, and a great attraction for international visitors. Maori people live throughout New Zealand, and many are actively involved with keeping their culture and language alive. Maori have inhabited the land now known as New Zealand for several centuries.
Indigenous Traditional Culture
The Maori people are the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and first arrived here in waka hourua (voyaging canoes) from their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki over 1000 years ago. Today, Maori make up over 14 percent of the population. Their language and culture has a major impact on all facets of New Zealand life. This culture was adapted over the years to their new surroundings. The Māori, New Zealand’s first settlers, make up around 14.6% of the population however there are many different ethnic communities living in New Zealand including European, Asian and Pacific Islanders. Māori are recognised as the Tangata Whenua (people of the land) of New Zealand. They make up 14.6% of the population and have a large cultural influence on the nation. In 1840 the British Crown signed a treaty (agreement) with some Māori chiefs. This treaty is known as the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’.
Myths and Legends
Maori is an oral culture, with many oral myths and legends. Maori mythology covers everything from creation myths to migration. Oral tradition is also used to recite genealogy (Whakapapa), and tribal affiliation. The Maori creation story retells the formation of the world through the separation of Ranginui (the Sky Father), and Papatuanuku (the Earth Mother) by their children. The children of Ranginui and Papatuanuku forced the two apart, Tane (God of the Forest) successfully holding the two forever apart. This action transformed the world from a state of darkness (Te Po) to a world of light (Te Ao-Marama).
New Zealand’s regions of Maori culture
Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, North Island
Rotorua is a bit of an action capital, but it’s also a great spot for learning about Maori culture. A must-do while in town is a visit to the Tamaki Maori Village for dinner.
Waitangi, Bay of Islands, North Island
Waitangi is often regarded as the birthplace of the nation, and it was where the often controversial Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in 1840. In a nutshell, it gave Britain sovereignty over the nation, Maori chiefs retained the rights to their land and the Maori people had equal rights to with the pakeha (non-Maori) settlers.
The best place to learn about the Maori way of life and history is at New Zealand’s National Museum, Te Papa. There’s a huge trove of Maori artefacts on display with more than 30,000 in the collection.
Cape Reinga, Northland, North Island
The far northern tip of New Zealand has huge significance to the Maori people. It’s where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, but more importantly, it is thought to be the point where the soul of the deceased leaves the mortal world and departs for the spiritual homeland of Hawaiki.
Gisborne, East Coast, North Island
Another excellent place to learn about Maori history is the Tairawhiti Museum in Gisborne, Poverty Bay. It focuses on the Maori of the East Coast, but the main emphasis is on arts and crafts. Plenty of local artists are represented amongst rotating national and international exhibitions.
Maori Culture Language – Te Reo Maori
The visitor to New Zealand will become immediately aware of the Maori language as the vast majority of place names are of Maori origin. At first, visitors may be puzzled by the seemingly impossible-to-pronounce names. In fact, Maori has a logical structure, and, unlike English, has very consistent rules of pronunciation.
Maori Culture Food
New Zealanders eat a fairly balanced diet of fresh vegetables with either meat or fish as their main evening meal. Tauranga has a number of restaurants and cafes catering to a variety of international tastes. Imported food products are also readily available from local retail outlets.
Meals and Table Manners are good. Most New Zealanders eat three meals each day: Breakfast (around 7-8am), lunch (12- 2pm) and an evening meal called dinner or tea (6-8pm).New Zealanders usually eat with a knife, fork and spoon. If you are not sure which one to use, ask your hosts.If your hosts asks you if you would like a ‘second helping’ (more to eat), accept if you would like more, but if you have had enough, just say ‘no thank you’. Your hosts will not think you are impolite.
Maori Art – Crafts & Performance
Maori art and performance is deeply associated with New Zealand’s landscape and environment. Maori art draws heavily on Polynesian carving and weaving techniques.Weaving and carving are used to visually convey important myths, legends and history. Maori art forms such as these are therefore akin to the written word in European culture – a form of visual literature.
There are three main forms of Maori carving: Wood, Bone and Pounamu (greenstone).Intricate wood carvings can be found on meeting houses and marae all over Aotearoa (New Zealand). They are created by master carvers, versed in the oral traditions of the tribe. These carvings tell the story of the tribe and important historical and mythological ancestors. Wood carving is also used to create waka (canoes), certain weapons and musical instruments.
Maori Music and Dance
Haka – Traditional War Dance
The haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace. Haka are a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity. Actions include violent foot-stamping, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping to accompany a loud chant. The words of a haka often poetically describe ancestors and events in the tribe’s history.
The shaking of the hand is called ‘wiri’ which represents the tremble of life in our hearts. The men’s protruding tongue represents defiance and ridicule to one’s enemies. In all welcoming ceremonies this act be men is very prominent. Maori believe that a visitor is truly friendly if that person does not react angrily at the abuse that is dished out to them. The foot beat of the dancer keeps the time and represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Maori dancers do not smile during traditional chants and war dances. Maori dancers are aggressive and reflect the warrior heritage of the Maori people. The dancing skirt, ‘piu piu’ is made of flax that is scraped, boiled, dyed, washed, dried and woven. It is only used for dancing and ceremonial occasions. It would be too chilly to wear on a cold day.
Originally Maori people only used aerophones and idiophones. Of course recently in contemporary commercial music the guitar and ukelele made their appearance too. Nowadays the music is mainly vocal. The use of instruments became neglected under influence of christianity, but today there is a strong revival movement. The vocal music can be divided in two categories: the recitatives and the songs. The recitatives have no fixed pitch organisation and the tempo is much higher than the song’s tempo.
The Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre of New Zealand brings to life the heritage of the Maori people through its vivid performance featuring tribal music, dance and hand-crafted, traditional costumes. A native Polynesian culture with ancestral ties to Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and the Cook Islands, the Maori have a rich history to share. The performance provides cultural, geographic and social information about the dances and music styles, and also features dances and songs of other Polynesian islands.