Māori culture

Wharenui, Ohinemutu village, Rotorua (tekoteko on the top)

Māori culture is the culture of the Māori of New Zealand (an Eastern Polynesian people) and forms a distinctive part of New Zealand culture. There have been three distinct but overlapping cultural eras—before widespread European contact, the 1800s in which Māori began interacting with European visitors and settlers, and the modern era since the beginning of the 20th century. The present culture of the Maori has been strongly influenced by western European culture but remnants of the old culture have been retained and revived, though often in a modified modern form. Maori speak fluent English but the New Zealand government has established government funding, organizations and schooling systems to encourage the learning and usage of the Maori language. As a result, there is now more awareness of their culture by young Maori.

Within the Māori community, and to a lesser extent throughout New Zealand as a whole, the word Māoritanga is often used as an approximate synonym for Māori culture, the Māori suffix -tanga being roughly equivalent to the qualitative noun ending "-ness" in English.


  • Polynesian settlement of New Zealand 1
    • Voyage to Aotearoa 1.1
    • Moa-hunter period 1.2
  • Culture in the Classic period 2
    • Cultural concepts 2.1
    • Disease 2.2
    • Food 2.3
    • Buildings 2.4
  • Culture change by contact with Europeans in the 1800s 3
    • Secular influences 3.1
    • Agriculture 3.2
    • Land dealings 3.3
    • Slaves 3.4
    • Missionaries 3.5
    • Education 3.6
    • Maori Newspapers (Niupepa) 3.7
    • The First Māori interpretation of Christianity 3.8
    • Māori kingship 3.9
    • Treatment of children 3.10
    • Ta Moko 3.11
    • Travel 3.12
    • Buildings 3.13
    • Clothing 3.14
  • Cultural changes in the 20th century 4
  • Marae 5
    • Marae protocols 5.1
    • Marae food 5.2
    • Marae events 5.3
    • Marae oral tradition 5.4
  • Events and activities 6
  • Films and books 7
  • Sport 8
  • Broadcasting 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11

Polynesian settlement of New Zealand

Māori cultural history is inextricably tied into a larger Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) people that had migrated from southeastern Asia.

The other main Polynesian cultures are Rapa Nui (now known as Easter Island), Marquesas, Sāmoa, Tahiti, Tonga, and Cook Islands.

Voyage to Aotearoa

Polynesian seafarers were ocean navigators and astronomers. Polynesians were capable of travelling long distances by sea. The strong female presence among early settlers in New Zealand suggests Polynesian migration voyages were not accidental but deliberate. The most current reliable evidence strongly indicates that initial settlement of New Zealand occurred around 1280 CE from the Society Islands.[1][2] In 1769 the experienced Society Island navigator Tupaia joined Captain Cook in the Endeavour on his voyage south. Despite a gap of many hundreds of years Tupaia was able to understand the Maori language which was very similar to the language he spoke. His presence and ability to translate avoided much of the friction of other European explorers and Maori in New Zealand.

European sailors, including Cook, found Polynesian sailors lost at sea, suggesting that by mid 18th century Polynesians had lost the art of very long distance navigation.[3]

Moa-hunter period

Researchers often label the time from about 1280 to about 1450 the "Moa-hunter period" - after the

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See also

Te Reo is the station's second channel, launched 28 March 2008. Te Reo is presented in 100% Māori language with no advertising or subtitles. It features special tribal programming with a particular focus on new programming for the fluent audience.[107]

Māori Television is a New Zealand TV station broadcasting programmes that tries to make a significant contribution to the revitalisation of te reo and tikanga Māori. Funded by the New Zealand Government, the station started broadcasting on 28 March 2004 from a base in Newmarket.


Ki-o-rahi and tapawai are two sports of Māori origin. Ki-o-rahi got an unexpected boost when McDonald's chose it to represent New Zealand.[106]

Māori take part fully in New Zealand's sporting culture with both the national Rugby league and Rugby Union teams have featured many Māori players, and other sports also feature many Māori players.[105] There are also national Māori rugby union, rugby league and cricket teams, which play in international competitions, separate from the main national ones.


The novels of Witi Ihimaera and the short stories of Patricia Grace provide an insider's view of the culture. The Bone People a novel by Keri Hulme, won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1985.

  • Utu, 1983, loosely based on events from Te Kooti's War
  • Ngati, 1987, set in 1948, looking at the threat of unemployment for a local Māori community.
  • Mauri, 1988.
  • Te Rua, 1991, explored the links between Maori political activism, cultural identity and spiritual redemption.
  • Once Were Warriors, 1994, graphic depiction of urban Māori and domestic violence, and its 2001 sequel, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
  • Boy, 2010, by Taika Waititi, coming-of-age comedy-drama
  • Whale Rider, 2002 by Niki Caro, a 12-year-old girl's struggles for chiefly succession

Films that feature Māori themes and culture include:[104]

Films and books

  • The hui or meeting, usually on a marae. It begins with a pōwhiri (a welcome). If a visitor is noteworthy, he or she may be welcomed with an aggressive challenge by a warrior armed with a taiaha (traditional fighting staff), who then offers a token of peace, such as a fern frond, to the visitor. Acceptance of the token in the face of such aggression is a demonstration of the courage and mana (charisma) of the visitor. The pōwhiri is highly structured, with speeches from both hosts and guests following a traditional format, their sequence dictated by the kawa (protocol) of that place, and followed by waiata, songs. Hui are held for business, for festivities or for rites of passage such as baptism, marriage and death. It is appreciated if foreign guests can say a few words in Māori and sing a song they are familiar with as a group.
  • The haka – an action chant, often described as a "war dance", but more a chant with hand gestures and foot stomping, originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess by way of abusing the opposition. Now, this procedure is regularly performed by New Zealand representatives of rugby and rugby league teams before a game begins. There are many different haka; though, one, "Ka mate" by Te Rauparaha, is much more widely known than any other.
  • Kapa haka (haka groups) often come together to practice and perform cultural items such as waiata or songs, especially action songs, and haka for entertainment. Poi dances may also form part of the repertoire. Traditional instruments sometime accompany the group, though the guitar is also commonly used. Many New Zealand schools now have a kapa haka as part of the Māori studies curriculum. Today, national kapa haka competitions are held where groups are judged to find the best performers; these draw large crowds. The common expression "kapa haka group" is strictly speaking, a tautology.
  • Koha are gifts to the hosts, often of food or traditional items, though money is most commonly used today. Traditionally, the essence of koha is that it is voluntary and comes from the heart, so to specify the amount is contrary to its spirit. Increasingly, it is common for the koha to be a fixed sum per head that is communicated to the guests in private, so there is no embarrassment. Recipients rely on the donors' aroha (empathy), manaakitanga (cherishing) and wairua (spirit) to ensure that it is enough. Thanks for koha are accordingly warm.
  • Matariki, "Māori New Year", celebrates the first rising of the Pleiades in late May or early June. Traditionally the actual time for the celebration of Matariki varies, with some iwi celebrating it immediately, others waiting until the rising of the next full moon.[99][100] It is a day where they pay respect to the people they have lost but also gain over the last year that has passed. They celebrate the day and night with prayers, feast, love, singing and music. After lapsing for many years it is now becoming more widely celebrated[101][102] in a range of ways[103] and over the period of a week or month anywhere from early June to late July.
  • The "tangi" is a Maori funeral. Almost always it takes place on the home marae of the deceased. The rituals followed are essentially Christian. The tangi begins with a powhiri to welcome guests. It is normal for Maori to travel very long distances to attend the tangi of a loved one. Often black clothes are worn, following Victorian practices. Guests will speak formally about the deceased on the Marae atea often referring to tribal history and using humour. Pathos is commonly used to create a feeling of comfort and unity. Speeches are supported by Waiata(songs). The whanau of the deceased sit by the coffin on the wharenui porch but do not speak or reply. The family may often hold or display photos of the deceased or important ancestors. A tangi may go on for several days,especially for a person of great mana. Rainfall during a tangi is seen as a divine sign of sorrow.[97][98]

Significant Māori cultural events or activities include:

Events and activities

The history of individual tribal groups is kept by means of narratives, songs and chants, hence the importance of music, story and poetry. Oratory, the making of speeches, is especially important in the rituals of encounter, and it is regarded as important for a speaker to include allusions to traditional narrative and to a complex system of proverbial sayings, called whakataukī.[96] Oral traditions include songs, calls, chants, haka and formalised speech patterns that recall the history of the people.

Marae oral tradition

Like in pre-European times, marae continue to be the location of many ceremonial events, including birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. The most important event located at marae are tangihanga. Tangihanga are the means by which the dead are farewelled and the surviving family members supported in Māori society. As indicated by Ka'ai and Higgins, "the importance of the tangihanga and its central place in marae custom is reflected in the fact that it takes precedence over any other gathering on the marae" (p. 90).[95]

Marae events

Although marae have modern cooking facilities, the traditional hāngi is still used to provide meals for large groups because the food it produces is considered flavourful. The hāngi consists of a shallow hole dug in the ground, in which a fire is prepared and stones are placed on the top. When the stones are hot, prepared food is placed on top of them, meat first and then vegetables such as the kūmara, potatoes and pumpkin. The hāngi is then covered with leaves or mats woven out of harakeke flax, or wet sacks, and soil is then heaped over the hāngi to seal in the heat to cook the food.

Marae food

The details of the protocols, called "tikanga"[94] or "kawa",[94] vary by iwi but in all cases locals and visitors have to respect certain rules especially during the rituals of encounter. When a group of people come to stay on a marae, they are considered manuhiri (guests) while the hosts of the marae are known as tangata whenua. Should other groups of manuhiri arrive, the manuhiri who arrived previously are considered tangata whenua for the purposes of formally welcoming the new group.

Marae protocols

The marae is a communal ceremonial centre where meetings and ceremonies take place in accordance with traditional protocols. The marae symbolises group unity and generally consists of an open cleared area in front of a large carved meeting house, along with a dining hall and other facilities necessary to provide a comfortable stay for visiting groups. On the marae official functions take place including formal welcomes, celebrations, weddings, christenings, reunions, and tangihanga (funerals). The older people have the authority on the marae, and they impart, primarily through oral tradition, traditions and cultural practices to the young people. These include genealogy, spirituality, oratory, and politics, and arts such as music composition, performance, weaving, or carving.

The most appropriate venue for any Māori cultural event is a marae, which is an enclosed area of land where a meeting house or wharenui (literally "big house") stands. A marae is the centre for much of Māori community life. Generally the Māori language is used in ceremonies and speeches, although translations and explanations are provided when the primary participants are not Māori speakers. Increasingly, New Zealand schools and universities have their own marae to facilitate the teaching of Māori language and culture.

A carved representation in contemporary style of Te Au-o-te-whenua, an ancestor of the Kawerau-ā-Maki people.


From the a new generation of radicals arose demanding more Māori influence. Amongst the demands were for increased "tino rangatiratanga". The expression, an abstraction of the word for aristocracy, had been coined by Henry Williams in the Treaty of Waitangi to convey the idea of "chieftainship". However, the term was often used by Māori to express the idea of political rights for all Māori not just the rangatira class, or the idea of Māori sovereignty or Māori independence.

This position set high expectations for positive results from the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal which was set up to investigate Māori grievances against historical New Zealand governments in relation to the treaty. From the early 1990s a series of favourable outcomes from the treaty tribunal resulted in a large flow of capital in the form of land, primary resources and cash from the government to various Māori iwi and hapu.[93] The largest tribal deals approached $1 billion although many were far smaller. This gave iwi and hapu organizations a source of financial security they had not had previously. To 2013 the total paid by government exceeds $4 billion. These resulted in more cohesive tribal organization as all assets went to tribal or hapu organizations. In 2012 it was estimated that the total value of Māori controlled assets was about $400 billion.

Educated urban Māori advocated the teaching of Māori language and the inclusion of a Māori point of view in all aspects of education. Māori began to express their ideas in new political movements with Māori voters switching from supporting the Labour party to alternatives such as the Māori lead New Zealand First party in 1992. The introduction of MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) elections in 1996 had the effect of giving minority groups of any shades, more influence. The 1996 election produced 14 Māori MPs with 3 in cabinet. Māori MP Winston Peters, was the deputy Prime minister. This gave Māori an unprecedented voice in the nation's political executive.

These ingredients were potential causes of racial tension. They were seen by the wider community as "Māori problems". By the 1970s and 1980s enough urbanized Māori had reached positions of influence to bring about a gradual but radical change to the thinking of governments. Their advocacy was underscored by an increasing willingness to use vigorous protest to push Mana Māori. Young urban radicals beat up a group of University students taking a comical view of Māori dance. Protestors occupied Bastion Point which was claimed as Māori land and resisted police arrest. In Raglan local Māori protesters reclaimed ownership of land used as an airstrip and golf course.

Apart from jobs, another attraction to urban migration were the monetary, recreational and lifestyle attractions of the city. Many Māori felt that success lay in the city rather than the country. King describes this as a "fantasy contagion-the realty did not live up to the myth but this did not stop the fantasy or the migration".[90] Other changes were a rising birth rate. In 1955, the Māori birth rate was nearly double the European rate at 43.6 compared to 26 per 1000. At the same time Māori had less qualifications. In 1956 6.5% of Māori held professional, managerial or clerical jobs compared to 26.7% non Māori. As a result, only 3.36% of Māori earned 700 pounds or more per annum compared to 18.6% for non Māori.[91] Māori were significantly impacted by changing economic circumstances such as the drop in wool prices. This made Māori more vulnerable to economic and social deprivation. King says that the lower Māori educational attainment lead to lower income jobs, which led to lower income, poor housing, and poor health, which in turn led to higher rates of crime.[92]

Māori continued to experience significant cultural change during this century. In 1900 few Māori lived in urban settlements. It was rare for any Māori to live in a European settlement. This changed very slowly. There were only 1,766 Māori in Auckland in 1935. By 1936 only 11.2% of Māori lived in urban areas. By 1945 this had risen to 19% and by 1971 to 68%. These changes reflect a significant alteration in the basis for income and employment-from working on hapu based rural land to working mainly in construction, freezing works or labouring. The dominant factors influencing this shift were the burgeoning Māori population and the inability of the land to support the increasing population. During the 1930s and 1940s MP Ngata had passed land legislation to help Māori make better use of their remaining tribal land. Māori were handicapped in using and developing the land for modern agriculture as much Māori land was steep, remote, erosion prone with high rainfall.[88] European farmers who owned their land freehold mechanized to gain higher productivity, using bank loans for the new equipment. Māori were unable to gain loans as their land was generally tribal land and could not be used for securing individual loans. Leasing land to European farmers gave Māori a steady income but this was spread among many people. Māori farming was often based on a different system of values and not driven by European goals of efficiency and high productivity.[89]

Cultural changes in the 20th century

From the early sealing days Māori working in sealing camps in the South Island had adopted European style clothing. Traditional clothing made from flax and dog skins had gone out of common use by 1850 everywhere. This type of clothing took a long time to make and did not offer much protection or warmth. European clothing had become widely available from itinerant peddlers who also sold pipes, tobacco, axes, billies, buckets and other household items Māori could not make. The blanket was the most common item in use. It was worn as a kilt, cloak or shawl. Blankets were used at night to partly replace the fires lit inside a sleeping whare which, without chimneys, "had a detrimental effect on eyesight and lungs". From the end of the 19th century and continuing into the present, traditional clothing is only used on ceremonial occasions.[87]


The traditional Māori whare continued to be used in rural areas in particular well into the post contact period. They were usually very small with a dirt floor and