The Māori arrived in New Zealand in around 950AD and are the tangata whenua (indigenous people) of the country. They travelled from east Polynesia to New Zealand on canoes, bringing with them animals and new foods, such as sweet potatoes. When you arrive in New Zealand, you’ll immediately notice that many of the town names are in the Māori language.
When the Europeans arrived in New Zealand, the Māori language – te reo Māori – was obviously the predominant language in the country. This language is closely related to Tahitian and Hawaiian. As the country became more populated with Europeans, the Māori language was only spoken in their own communities, even though in the early days, traders had to learn the language in order to do business with the Māori.
Amidst fears that this language was going to be lost forever, there were major government and other initiatives to save it during the 1980s. Today, around 125,000 Māoris can speak and understand the language and it’s one of New Zealand’s official languages, together with English and sign language.
As te reo was not a written language, the legends and songs of the indigenous people of New Zealand were passed on orally or as carvings in homes.
Haka – the haka is the Māori war dance, performed before fighting with neighbouring tribes. Today, it’s performed before important sports matches, such as an All Blacks rugby game or at prestigious events. Dance is an important part of life for Māori, each movement and facial expression tells part of a story.
Powhiri – the traditional Māori greeting is a pressing of noses rather than a kiss.
Moko – Moko are tattoos which are usually full-face tattoos for men and restricted to the nostrils, chin and upper lip on women. Today, many men are opting to receive their moko in order to preserve this part of their culture.
Hangi – hangi is the Māori traditional way of cooking. It’s basically a fire pit in the ground which is covered with cabbage leaves or watercress to prevent the food from burning. A basket containing meat and perhaps potatoes or sweet potatoes is placed on top of the leaves and traditionally covered with flax. The soil is then sprinkled on top to keep the heat in. The food is then left to cook for around three hours. This style of cooking is popular with all of New Zealand.
Maraes – the maraes is similar to the Roman forum and is an area where people meet. The maraes have a meeting house (wharenui) and a dining room (wharekai) where social, cultural and spiritual matters can be discussed and enjoyed.
Māori were exceptionally skilled hunters and gatherers and fishermen. They were also talented weavers and produced intricate carvings. Māori social structure revolves around family – whānau – and this includes extended family. The family or whanau is part of a subtribe or hapū, which in turn is a member of an iwi or main tribe. Many Māori still live with extended family, sometimes with three generations living in one home.