Māori culture

Understanding New Zealand - and New Zealanders - means understanding the influence of Māori people and culture.

It runs deep in many aspects of our daily life - from our cuisine, our language, and our attitudes, to what children learn at school and how the country is governed.

About the Māori people

Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand Aotearoa.

Te Reo (the Māori language) is an official language of the country, along with English and New Zealand Sign Language.

In the 2013 New Zealand census, nearly 700,000 people living in New Zealand were of Māori descent (more than one in seven of us).

While the best way to learn about Māori culture is to experience it first hand, Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand - has some excellent reading. It covers the history of Māori arrival and settlement and an overview of Māori culture to the present day. It also discusses ‘biculturalism’ and how the relationship between Māori and Pakeha (Māori term for people of European descent) has changed over time.

People being welcome to a Marae part of Maori culture

New Zealand’s unique mix of Māori and European ideas and customs began with the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi - our founding constitutional document. The Treaty, signed by Māori chiefs and representatives of the British crown when New Zealand first became a colony, continues to be hugely important in defining the relationship between Māori and Pakeha.

Māori Language Act 2016 | Māori Language Commission / Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori

Māori | Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Biculturalism | Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

The Treaty of Waitangi

2013 Census QuickStats about Māori | Statistics New Zealand

Māori culture in day-to-day life

Maori food Kete with shellfish

Māori food and recipes

Try out some traditional Māori recipes for yourself.

Read the article

The impact Māori culture may have on your day-to-day life depends on where you live and what work you do.

In 2013, most Māori (86%) lived in the North Island - nearly a quarter (23.8%) in the Auckland region. The areas with the highest percentage of Māori after Auckland were the Waikato region (14%), the Bay of Plenty region (11.5%), and the Wellington region (9.7%). If your work or lifestyle takes you to any of these regions (or to Northland or Gisborne) you will find Māori culture more visible than in other parts of the country.

If you work in the public sector you are likely to be involved in formal ceremonies that will include a lot of Māori protocol. You may also have ‘understanding Māori culture’ as one of your performance objectives or outcomes in your job description.

Visiting a marae

To get an idea of the protocols involved in visiting a marae (a meeting ground), view this video on New Zealand’s official TV and film funding agency website - NZ On Screen. It looks a bit dated (after all, it was filmed in 1984) but the ceremonies involved have long-standing traditions and the information in it still applies.

Beginner's guide to visiting the Marae | NZ On Screen

Understanding the basics

You will learn more about Māori culture just by living here. But to get you started, here are some of the Māori words and greetings you are likely to come across, tips on how to pronounce them, and information about key concepts in Māori culture.

Te Reo - language and pronunciation

Māori language (Te Reo) has been growing in use in recent years, with an increased number of Māori words, particularly greetings, used commonly by both Māori and non-Māori.

View the following video to hear how Māori say Grace.

Karakia Mo te Kai (Grace) (00:12)

Whakapaingia ēnei kai
(Bless our food)
Hei oranga mo ō mātou tinana
(As well being for our body)
Whāngaia ō mātou wairua
(Feed our spirit)
Ki te taro o te ora
(With the food of wellness)
Ko Ihu Karaiti tō mātou kaiwhakaora
(For Jesus Christ our Healer)

Whakapaingia ēnei kai
(Bless our food)
Hei oranga mo ō mātou tinana
(As well being for our body)
Whāngaia ō mātou wairua
(Feed our spirit)
Ki te taro o te ora
(With the food of wellness)
Ko Ihu Karaiti tō mātou kaiwhakaora
(For Jesus Christ our Healer)

The state broadcaster Radio New Zealand (RNZ) has a list of Māori greetings with audio guides so you can hear how they should be pronounced.

New Zealand’s Ministry for Culture and Heritage also has a helpful collection of common Māori words and phrases with audio guides so you can hear how the words should sound. You will soon see that Māori language is pronounced as it is written, ie phonetically.

'Pearson' has also published an excellent online Māori-English/English-Māori Dictionary.

Greetings in te reo Māori used on Radio NZ | Radio New Zealand

100 Māori words every New Zealander should know | NZ History

Te Aka Māori Dictionary | Pearson

Place names

Sometimes you might hear two different names used for places in New Zealand - the Māori name and the English name. Some English names have been officially replaced by Māori, but some people may still use the English name.

Or you may hear different pronunciations of the same Māori name. Although Kiwis are gradually becoming more aware of using correct Māori pronunciation, some people still have a distinctly Pakeha way of saying certain Māori words.

Ingoa Wāhi o Aotearoa - Aotearoa place names | Māori Language.net

1000 Maori place names | NZ History

Customs - Tikanga

If you live in New Zealand you really should have a basic understanding of Māori customs and protocol. It is essential if you want to visit a marae or get invited there in your line of work. The marae is the focal point of local Māori communities throughout New Zealand.

Two important aspects of Tikanga you should be aware of are Manaakitanga and Kaitiakitanga.


Manaakitanga is all about hospitality and kindness. It sums up the act of welcoming and looking after guests. By offering hospitality, generosity and mutual respect, everyone involved comes out better off. The concept is important to many New Zealanders. It is even recognised by our Government as one of the two core values of our tourism strategy.


Kaitiakitanga is the strong sense of respect and guardianship Māori have for the natural environment. Related concepts are mana, tapu and mauri.

  • Mana is spiritual power. A forest’s mana is shown by its abundant blossoms and fruit, and birds arriving to feed.
  • Tapu is spiritual restriction. For mana to come forth in the forest, some restrictions have to be put in place. Tapu is the basis for rāhui (restrictions) which, for instance, might put fishing areas off limits till stocks recover.
  • Mauri is life force. The mauri of the forest must be protected so its mana can flow.

Kaitiakitanga is another Māori philosophy that is central to the way many New Zealanders think about their responsibility for the natural world.

Kaitiakitanga - guardianship and conservation | Te Ara Encyclopedia

Marae protocol | Te Ara Encyclopedia

Learning more

A good way to start learning more about Māori culture is to visit your local museum. You can find a good list of museums, art galleries, cultural organisations and their collections online.

Another valuable way to experience Māori culture is by visiting a marae. It is a good idea to go with a group. Check our regional pages for details about how to arrange this.

The Māori Maps website can help you make contact with marae in your area.

Find museums | NZ Museums

Our cities and regions

Māori maps | Te Potiki National Trust

Maori foods and recipes

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Page last updated: 25/02/2020

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