We can thank the Maori people for New Zealand. Originally from eastern Polynesia, they arrived on these shores by canoe on several waves of voyages that lasted between 1250 and 1300 AD. Naturally, they brought their own culture with them, and over the centuries they developed their own language, mythology, customs, and crafts. We hope this glimpse into Maori culture will enrich your journey.
Greetings! You’re sure to feel good tidings and well wishes from the Maori you meet in New Zealand. Day to day, they greet each other with a hearty “Kia Ora,” a phrase that’s been adopted by other New Zealanders.
Greetings! (With an edge). However, traditional tribal welcomes (or hui) might seem quite unwelcoming at first. A warrior, armed with a fighting staff, might meet the guest with an aggressive challenge, then offer a token of peace, such as a fern. By accepting the offering, the guest demonstrates courage and charisma and is warmly received.
What’s in a name? In their own language, the word “maori” translates into “normal” or “natural.” It’s believed that early settlers used this term to humbly distinguish themselves from gods and spirits.
Keeping the peace. The British colonized New Zealand in 1840. As they asserted their power, tensions between the Crown and the Maori grew. Conflicts came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which recognized Maori ownership of their own land and gave tribes the rights of British subjects. The treaty is considered the foundation of New Zealand as a nation.
Traveling treaty. In order for all tribal leaders to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, copies of the documents traveled all over New Zealand. More than 500 chiefs gave it their signature, and at least 13 of them were women.
May I have this dance? The traditional haka dance originated as a war cry. Though it is still traditionally performed by men, often at the opening of rugby matches in an effort to intimidate challenging teams, it may also mark great achievements or celebratory occasions. Dancers slap their bodies, stamp their feet, chant words, display the whites of their eyes, and stick out their tongues.
It takes a village. Many tribal relationships and customs are still observed among the Maori. Several extended families, or whanau, for instance, might form a clan, or hapu. Members of the larger hapu might pool their resources, just as the ancient Maori shared food and raised families together.
For the people by the people. Maori societies, often within their hapu, meet for official tasks and ceremonies at the marae, a group of buildings gathered around an open space similar to a public common. Tribes are overseen by a governing body called a runanga, which manages tribal assets and serves as a liaison with the New Zealand government.
Top chefs. For a flavorful feast, the Maori might cook a meal prepared by hangi, especially for large groups of diners. The cooks dig a shallow hole in the ground and prepare a fire within it. They heat stones on top of the fire, then place meat and vegetables on the stones. Leaves are then spread on top and the entire “oven” is covered in soil to seal in the heat.
Tell it like it is. The history of tribal groups is passed on largely by oral tradition. Storytelling, song, chanting, and poetry play a critical role in keeping the collective memory alive.