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, our attitudes, what children learn at school to how the country is governed.

About the Māori people

Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand.

Their language - Te Reo - is an official language of the country along with English and sign language.

Nearly 700,000 people in New Zealand are Māori. That’s more than one in seven of us.

While the best way to learn about Māori culture is to experience it first hand, Te Ara Encyclopedia 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.

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 | 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

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.

Most Māori (86%) live in the North Island. They make up around 25% of Auckland’s population, and from 15-30% of the population in the North Island’s other big regions of Wellington, Waikato (Hamilton) and the Bay of Plenty (Tauranga). If work or lifestyle takes you to any of these regions (along with Northland or Gisborne) you’ll find Māori culture more visible than in other parts of the country.

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

Visiting a marae

To get an idea of the protocols involved in visiting a marae, view this video on the website of New Zealand’s official TV and film funding agency. 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’ll pick up more about Māori culture just by living here. But to get you started, here are some of the Māori words and greetings you’re likely to come across, tips on how to pronounce them, and information about key concepts in Māori culture.

Language - Te Reo and pronunciation

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

The state broadcaster Radio NZ has a list of Māori greetings with audio guides so you can hear how they should be pronounced.

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)
Āmine
(Amen)

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)
Āmine
(Amen)

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

Longman Pearson has published an excellent online Māori-English Dictionary.

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

100 Māori words every New Zealander should know | NZHistory

Māori Dictionary | Longman Pearson Education NZ

Place names

Sometimes you might hear two different names used for places in New Zealand.

It’s possibly because one of them is the Māori name and it’s different to the English name. (Some English names have been officially replaced, but old habits die hard!).

Or it may or simply be a different pronunciation of the Māori. Although Kiwis have gradually become more aware of using correct Māori pronunciation, some people still have a distinctly Pakeha way of saying certain Māori words.

Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori - the Māori Language Commission – has an interactive map that gives the correct Māori pronunciation of the names of many places in New Zealand.

Ingoa Wāhi o Aotearoa - Aotearoa place names | Korero Māori

Customs - Tikanga

If you live in New Zealand you really should have a basic understanding of Māori customs and protocol. It’s essential if you want to visit a marae or get invited there in your line of work. The marae or ‘meeting ground’ 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

Manaakitanga is all about hospitality and kindness. It sums up the act of welcoming and looking after guests. The idea is that 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

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

Māori manners and social behaviour | 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

Regions

Māori Maps | Te Potiki National Trust

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Page last updated: 31/08/2016

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