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New Zealand

Moving to New Zealand? Learn about the Māori

Emigrating to another country is not for the faint hearted.  It’s full of challenges.  One way to understand a country and its thinking, and so ease your integration, is to learn about its culture and history before setting foot on its soil.

The Arrival of the Māori

The Māori people are the indigenous people of New Zealand and make up 14% of the population as a whole, and 25% of Auckland’s population.  Their history, language, traditions and culture help make New Zealand what it is today.  Māori history is full of legends, mythology and has a rich and unique culture.

The Māori tell us that they first set foot on what was to become New Zealand in around 950 AD, when Chief Kupe travelled from Hawaiiki in a canoe called the Maataa-hourua.  On his first sighting, Chief Kupe said, “He ae, he aotea he aotearoa” – “It’s a cloud, a white cloud, a long white cloud.”  The Maori have called these two islands Aotearoa ever since.

Toi and Whatonga followed Chief Kupe’s route in around 1150 AD and the ‘Great Fleet’ arrived from Hawaiiki in around 1350.  It’s thought that these early settlers were from eastern Polynesia, as there are similarities between the Polynesian language and culture and that of the Māori.

Settling Down

These early settlers lived along the coastline of New Zealand, particularly the more temperate east coast.  New Zealand has no native mammals, except bats and marine mammals, so the new settlers’ diet was fish and birds.  They were particularly fond of the Moa, a flightless bird which could weigh up to 230 kgs.

It’s believed that the Māori made many journeys from their home to New Zealand over the centuries, bringing with them dogs, rats, and various foods to cultivate, including sweet potatoes.

Over time the Māori slowly dispersed throughout New Zealand, forming clans.  Warring between clans was common as they fiercely defended their territories.  The traditional Māori war dance, the haka, is still a big part of Māori culture and is performed today at ceremonies, celebrations and, of course, to challenge opponents on the sports field – think All Blacks.

Europeans Land in New Zealand

Captain James Cook landed at Poverty Bay on 8th October 1769.  He mapped the country and wrote reams on the Māori.  The first organised settlement attempt by the British was in 1826.  Settlers, whalers, traders, explorers and missionaries began to arrive in New Zealand, causing land wars between the Māori and the new arrivals.

On 6th February 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the British and many Māori chiefs.  This Treaty led to New Zealand becoming a British colony and is considered the nation’s founding document.  It’s a day which is now celebrated with a public holiday and also a day which has caused a lot of anger and controversy since the treaty signed in the nineteenth century.


Today, Māori culture and history is celebrated.  The school curriculum contains segments on art, history and culture.   Many employers in New Zealand require their employees to have a thorough knowledge of New Zealand’s indigenous people and the part they’ve played in making New Zealand the prosperous country it is today.


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