Māori connection to land and sea

During George Grey’s governorship (1845-53) the Crown purchased large tracts of Māori land.

Māori and the land

Land in the lower North Island and the South Island was among the earliest to be bought because these areas had fewer Māori living on them, therefore the purchases were less likely to be resisted.

There was opposition by some Māori in the North Island to purchases, so between 1864-66 the Crown confiscated large areas of Māori land. For dispossessed Māori, only some of who were allocated lands again in the 1870s and 1880s, the confiscations are an enduring grievance. Indeed, the loss of ancestral lands is a key issue for Māori and the New Zealand government has, since 1987, undertaken a process of settling confiscation claims.

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).

Māori and the sea

Not surprisingly, given that New Zealand is surrounded by sea, Māori have a strong affinity with the ocean.

Oral storytelling is a vital element in Māori culture, and the story of demi-god Māui fishing Aotearoa from the sea has been passed down through the generations. The North Island (Te Ika a Māui) was the fish Māui caught and became home to Māui, his family and all Māori. The South Island became the waka (canoe) of Māui through the legend and is known as Te Waka a Māui (the canoe of Māui). Stewart Island, located to the south of the South Island is known as Te Punga a Māui (Māui’s anchor).

According to tradition Māori arrived progressively in waka (canoes) from Hawaiiki - the ancestral homeland of the Māori, possibly located in or near the Cook Islands. The first waka was captained by Kupe and arrived in the north of the North Island.

The tangata whenua (people of the land) of New Zealand have always been great fishers and have special provision to fish under customary fishing regulations. Kaimoana (seafood) caught under the customary fishing regulations cannot be traded or sold.

More information

New Zealand's sacred mountains

Tane mahuta: separator of heaven and earth

Introduction to Māori culture

Aotearoa - New Zealand's unique Maori culture

Māori and tourism

Māoritanga - Māori culture explained

The haka: New Zealand icon

Tā moko

The Māori marae

A new era: the Māori renaissance

The Treaty of Waitangi

New Zealand icon: Silver fern