Introduction to Māori Culture

Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, make up 15% of the population and are well-represented at the highest levels throughout New Zealand.

Haere mai - welcome

Mā tāu rourou, mā tāku rourou, ka ora ai te manuhiri / By your food basket and my food basket, the visitors will be nurtured.

Traditional Māori customs still play a big part in the lives of many modern Māori in New Zealand and are an intrinsic part of Kiwi culture for New Zealanders. Nothing arouses the passion of Kiwis like the haka as the All Blacks go through their pre-game challenge; nothing chills like the spine-tingling emotion upon hearing a karakia (prayer).

Probably New Zealand’s best-known international Māori identity is opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. She made her debut at Covent Garden in 1971 and has been a star in the opera world ever since. But Dame Kiri isn’t alone. People such as writer Witi Ihimaera, who penned the novel Whale Rider, actor Temuera Morrison, film director Lee Tamahori, golfer Michael Campbell, artists Cliff Whiting and Shane Cotton, the late poet Hone Tuwhare and businessman Wally Stone add to the culture of Aotearoa.

It is a culture that, due to initiatives over recent decades to revitalise Māori language, art and culture, continues to grow from strength to strength. As singer Hinewehi Mohi, who sings only in Māori, pointed out in an interview with Māori magazine Mana: "In Europe they’ve already done the Latin and Celtic thing - and they’re ready for the Pacific. I’m quite staunch about te reo [language] in my music. People ask me to translate the lyrics and I shrug and say: ‘Why?’"

With nearly one half of Māori language speakers less than 25 years of age, there may come a time when she won’t be asked to.

Tangata whenua: the people of the land

Māori lost much of their land through European colonisation and over the past decades many have been compensated for their loss. A number of iwi or tribal groups are in negotiations with the Government to settle their historical grievances.

Today, although many Māori live in urban areas, away from their tribal regions, their marae remains an integral part of their life. Any visit to New Zealand is bound to provide an encounter with this country’s unique Māori culture. An encounter that will allow you to experience a culture rich in traditions passed on from generation to generation.

Some key statistics from the New Zealand Census (2013):

  • One in seven people (598,605) in New Zealand were Māori
  • 86% of Māori lived in the North Island; 25% of Māori lived in Auckland alone
  • 21% of the Māori population spoke the Māori language
  • The Māori population had grown by 5.9% over the previous seven years

More information

Aotearoa - New Zealand's unique Maori culture : "Kia ora!" Many New Zealanders welcome visitors with the traditional greeting of the indigenous Māori people. Māori are the tangata whenua (people of the land) of Aotearoa New Zealand, and Māori culture is central to New Zealand's fresh, invigorating and adventurous national identity.

Māori and tourism : Māori are increasingly utilising tourism in a bid to preserve and promote their culture and create a more prosperous future for their youth. That initiative is assisting in the preservation of the natural environment of Aotearoa.

Māori creativity : The talent of Māori is evident in many fields of creative endeavour, both in New Zealand and overseas.

Māoritanga - Māori culture explained : Māori culture has its origins and customs in the mists of time, predating the Māori migration to New Zealand.

The haka: New Zealand icon : The haka popularised by New Zealand’s premier sporting team the All Blacks, Ka Mate, is not the only haka - there are various forms of haka and many individual forms of haka. However, Ka Mate, the haka of the Ngā ti Toa iwi, is the most renowned.

Māori Tā moko : Tā moko is traditional Māori tattooing, often on the face, and its purpose and applications are sacred. (Kirituhi means skin art and describes more general tattooing.)

Māori connection to land and sea : Māori have strong spiritual bonds with the land - Papatūānuku (the Earth mother). They regard land, soil and water as taonga (treasures). Māori see themselves as the kaitiaki (guardians) of this taonga, which provides a source of unity and identity for tangata whenua (local people).

The Māori marae : The marae (meeting place) is central to the concept of Māoritanga (Māori culture). It is the place where Māori values and philosophy are reaffirmed. Carvings and decorative panels inside each marae tell the story of ancestors.

The pōwhiri - Māori welcome : Māori culture has a dynamic nature that is inherent in a lot of what is seen on marae. The pōwhiri is a formal Māori welcome.

A new era: the Māori renaissance : Far from dying out, Māori culture is alive, well and flourishing. Right from the beginning of their school life, children of all races learn waiata (Māori songs) and haka, and have a number of choices available in order to learn more about the culture of the Māori.

The Treaty of Waitangi : On 6 February 1840 the British Government signed the Treaty of Waitangi with a number of Māori chiefs at a Bay of Islands settlement called Waitangi. The Treaty was written in both Māori and English.

New Zealand icon: Silver fern : The silver fern (Cyathea dealbata) has come to embody the spirit of New Zealand. This distinctly New Zealand symbol is considered a badge of honour by the people, products and services of our country that carry it.