Aotearoa - New Zealand's traditional Māori arts

From ancient times, Māori culture has been passed down from generation to generation through music, carvings, art, story-telling and reciting of whakapapa genealogies.

The strength and beauty of Māori art is evident in architectural carving and the interior designs of marae (villages), and in ornate whakairo - carving of wood, bone, and pounamu / jade (greenstone) pendants and other taonga or treasures.

Carving and weaving skills arose from the practical requirements of the traditional Māori lifestyle. Fibre for clothing, ropes and other uses was created by weaving native flax and other natural fibres.

Prized pounamu - New Zealand jade found in the lower South Island - was originally made into weapons and carving implements.

Beautiful native woods were carved into spiritual objects that adorned wharenui - Māori meeting houses - and waka or canoes.

The modern outlet for the creation of such traditional objects comes through artworks, many of which are highly sought after in the art world.

Maori art terms

Toi is the Māori word that refers to knowledge, origin and source, and to art in general.

Toi Māori covers the wide range of traditional arts and creative activities in which Māori artists engage:

  • whakairo - carving
  • kowhaiwhai - rafter patterns
  • raranga - weaving
  • tukutuku - lattice work
  • ta moko - tattooing
  • waiata - music, song and chants
  • haka - dance
  • taonga puoro - traditional musical instruments
  • karanga - traditional call of welcome
  • whaikorero - oratory
  • mau rakau - art of weaponry.

Toi Māori also refers to all the contemporary art forms Māori artists are exploring such as writing, stage production, contemporary dance, film, visual arts, clay work and sculpture.

Toi Māori Aotearoa - Māori Arts Network

The Toi Māori Aotearoa (Māori Arts Network) was established to preserve, develop, promote and encourage participation in Māori arts.

The network represents eight national art form committees:

  • Te Atinga (contemporary visual arts)
  • Te Ope o Rehua (contemporary performing arts)
  • He Awhi Tikanga (protocol within the arts)
  • Te Hā (contemporary Māori writers)
  • Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa (weavers)
  • Puatatangi (Māori music)
  • Nga Waka Federation (traditional canoe skills)
  • Te Hunga Taunaki Kaituhi Māori (writers in Te Reo Māori).

Te Puia - Māori Arts and Crafts Institute

The Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, based at Te Puia in Rotorua, was established in 1963 by the New Zealand Government. The institute was created to counter fears that Māori culture and its unique arts and crafts could be lost.

The institute is a showplace for Māori arts and crafts, and a training centre for young Māori crafts people to learn the skills of customary arts and crafts under master craftsmen.

More information:

Ta moko - Māori tattoo art

Ta moko - significance of Māori tattoos