Māori renaissance - a new era

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.

It is a tribute to the non-Māori teachers and the teacher training colleges that the increased interest in Māori culture has taken place in New Zealand’s classrooms, though this is not something that has happened overnight.

In the late 1940s a prominent Māori leader and Member of Parliament, Sir Peter Buck, lamented the passing of traditions such as the haka being reserved for special pomp and ceremony for visiting dignitaries and that these customs were becoming increasingly difficult to revive with the passing of generations.

Buck attributed this to the assimilation of European values and customs to Māori. Māori children had abandoned games and dances handed down by their ancestors and adopted new ones learnt from their Pākehā schoolmates.

Keeping Māori culture alive

Today, against the backdrop of the Treaty of Waitangi, policy makers and regulators are better recognising Māori expectations and have deliberately intervened in order to keep Māori culture alive.

For example, at most state schools children have a choice of whether they want to be educated in Māori, English or a combination of both; most tertiary programmes have a Treaty component; governments have developed Māori language agencies, broadcasting services and policy development arms; and Māori is an official language of New Zealand.

The Māori renaissance has its roots in the 1970s when Māori began to focus on regaining their tribal lands, language, art and culture.

The ability to speak Māori became an intrinsic component of Māori cultural identity and efforts to revitalise the language have stabilised its decline. A 1913 survey showed that 90% of Māori school children were native Māori language speakers. That figure had reduced considerably by the mid 1970s and a Māori language survey in 1995 revealed that only 7% of Māori youth had a medium to high level of fluency in Māori.

The 1995 survey was also telling because it indicated the language was under threat from extinction because most of its fluent speakers were over 45 and mortality rates for Māori in this bracket were high.

Global stage

Artists like Shane Cotton, musicians such as Moana Maniapoto and actors in the class of Temuera Morrison, have helped to blaze a trail for Māori on the global stage.

The flag bearers for the Māori renaissance have stemmed the tide and along the way have achieved some significant victories, notably in broadcasting and education.

From a single Māori radio station that was networked nationally in the 1980s to 21 tribal radio stations today, plus a Māori television network, efforts are being made at a number of levels to keep the culture and the language of the Māori people alive.

Te Matatini

Every two years, hundreds of performers and thousands of supporters flock to Te Matatini - New Zealand’s national Māori performing arts competition, inaugurated in 1972.

Te Matatini celebrates the indigenous culture and arts of Māori. Kapa haka is the most significant component (a modern day performance of traditional and contemporary Māori song and movement). Other traditional art forms also feature, such as oratory, carving, weaving and tā moko (Māori tattooing), as well as contemporary Māori drama, poetry and fine art.

During the festival, groups compete from across New Zealand, battling for supremacy in Māori performing arts. Teams represent the honour of their tribes, their families and their history. The opportunity to compete in Te Matatini is often the culmination of two years of commitment, dedication and hard work.

The final day of the 2013 festival, held over four days in Rotorua, attracted a live audience of approximately 15,000 people and thousands more around the world watched the performances on television and online.


 Matariki, a traditional celebration of the Māori New Year, is undergoing a renaissance. The Māori new year is marked by the rise of Matariki, a group of stars also known as the Pleiades cluster, and the sighting of the next new moon. The pre-dawn rise of Matariki can be seen in the last few days of May every year and the new year is marked at the sighting of the next new moon which occurs during June.

Traditionally, depending on the visibility of Matariki, the coming season’s crop was thought to be determined. The brighter the stars indicated, the warmer the season would be and thus a more productive crop. It was also seen as an important time for family to gather and reflect on the past and the future.

Today Matariki means celebrating the uniqueness of New Zealand and giving respect to the land. Matariki is celebrated with education, remembrance and the planting of new trees and crops signalling new beginnings. It is also seen as a time to learn about the land and to remember whakapapa (ancestors) who have passed from this world to the next and the legacy they left behind. Celebrations are held in many parts of the country to mark Matariki.

More information

Matariki: Maori New Year celebration

Māori culture and New Zealand today

Aotearoa - New Zealand's unique Maori culture

Introduction to Māori culture

Māori and tourism

Māoritanga - Māori culture explained

The haka: New Zealand icon

Tā moko

Māori connection to land and sea

The Māori marae

The Treaty of Waitangi

New Zealand icon: Silver fern