Thursday, December 9, 2010

Culture & Traditions - Maori

Culture & Traditions
Indigenous People - Maori

The first inhabitants migrated from the Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki about 1000 years ago. These voyagers arrived at the shore of the island by canoes and began building a settlement. Over the years, they developed their own distinct culture, the Maori. Their population grew and were eventually divided into different tribes (and sub tribes) across the 2 islands. There are namely 6 tribles: Ngati Kuri, Ngati Wai, Te Rarawa, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou and Ngati Koata.

The Maori has a rich and unique culture, which is solely found in New Zealand only. Although there is a slight similarity with the Eastern Polynesian cultures, the original Maori has developed many of their own traditions and lifestyles over the years. Traditional arts include carving, weaving, moko (tattoo), the Kapa Haka (group performace) and many more. Some local communities are still tightly bound to the Maori culture, and with the support of the local government, the distinct culture of Maori still could be experienced across New Zealand.
1.  Oral traditions

Like the other olden traditions, Maori is an oral culture, shared through many rich and interesting stories and legends. One of the creation stories says that “the world is formed by the violent separation of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, by their children.” This story could be depicted by many Maori carvings and artworks. This oral tradition is a very important aspect for the Maori as many stories, songs, chants, poetry and music are shared during festivals and even the daily life from the old to the young generations.
2. Arts
- Carving
Wood, bone and stone are the 3 main materials that the Maori used for carvings. Traditionally performed by men only, the Maori could carve out many objects from house decorations, containers to jewelleries. Jewelleries are made from bone, or pounamu (green stone), which is a form of jade. With the arrival of Europeans which brought about the introduction of metal tools, carving has become more intricate and detailed which helps to produces many beautiful accessories and tools for decorations.
Fish hook necklance, made of fish bone

Made of pounamu (green stone)

- Ta moko
A traditional marking (carving) or tattoo by the Maori. One differences between Ta moko and modern tattoo is that the skin is carved by uhi (chisels) in Ta moko, while skin is punctured in modern tattooing. This will result in rough skin with grooves. Moko plays an important role traditionally for the Maori as they receive moko between childhood and adulthood. Moko was traditionally done during rites and rituals. It is a symbol of integrity, identity, prestige, one’s ancestry and personal history. Moko also symbolises social rankings, as one without moko was seen of having lower social status. Men usually have moko on their faces, buttocks and thighs. On the other hand, women wore them on their lips and chins.
Traditional method

End results...
- Painting

The Maori does not see painting as an important form of art as it was mainly used as a minor decoration in houses. One of the oldest forms of Maori art are rock paintings. However, the arrival of Europeans has allowed paintings to become more popular as they are interested in art appreciation.
- Weaving

Maori could create numerous things through weaving, from wall panels in houses to clothing. They serve as important gifts to people, and this traditional art could take hundreds of hours to complete. Harakeke (New Zealand flax) was the most widely used material for weaving cloaks. The first cloaks were made for protection from the natural elements (rain, cold winter). Other materials including feathers and even dog skin were used, but mostly for high ranks like the rangatira (chiefs). Fine and high quality weaving is a vital skill that a Maori woman has to learn. A Maori proverb says, 'Aitia te wahine o te pa harakeke', which translate into 'Marry the woman who is always at the flax bush, for she is an expert flax worker and an industrious person'.
Beautiful handmade bags

Maori feathered cloak

- Music

Singing Maori
Songs (waiata) were strongly emphasised as the Maori uses songs to convey stories and feelings. They could be sung solo, in unison or at the octave. Love songs, lullabies and laments are some types of song included. Maori also have many traditional musical instruments, which are used both as a rhythmic accompaniment to singing, or solo. Some of more popular instruments include Koauau, Nguru and Putorino.


- Dance

Another way how the Maori people express their heritage and culture identity is through Kapa haka, or “Maori Performing Arts”. Similar to everyone, I have noticed that the New Zealand Rugby Team, the “All Blacks”, always perform a dance ritual on the field before every game. This ritual is actually called “haka”, refers to a Maori challenge). There are several types of dance styles in haka that is performed for different reasons and occasions.
-          Haka for challenges
-          Waiata-a-ringa (literally means “song of hands or arms”)
-          Poi are women’s dances using swinging balls attached to cords. Traditionally to improve a women’s agility, but now is used to show the gracefulness of women.
-          Whakawatea are used to bid farewell to audiences.
All Black Rugby Team... Getting ready

Female dancers

All Black Rugby Haka Dance... Before matches.

Haka Dances with Traditional Costume
For more details on the different types of haka, click here: (
3. Protocol / Greetings
Traditional protocols could be observed on a marae (Maori meeting grounds). A formal welcome includes a challenge between 2 warriors (1 from the host, 1 from the guests). Women from the hosts will perform chants. Inside a wharenui (meeting house), greetings and speeches are made, with songs on certain occasions. One important greetings is the hongi – ceremonial touching of noses.

Hongi greeting


Over the years, many immigrants come to settle in New Zealand from across the world. Hence, New Zealand has a diverse population; with about 78% is European or others. Although each carries a different culture and history, New Zealanders are proud to call themselves Kiwis (a symbol of New Zealand icon). With the many different ethnic groups, it brought about an introduction to modernised society and culture to New Zealand.
Cuisine from all over the world could be found, such as Chinese, Japanese and American. Modern music such as Rock, Hip hop and Electronica, could be easily found within cities. Sports, such as Rugby, is a popular sport widely played in New Zealand. In addition, due to its vast landscape with mountains and lakes, New Zealand is also famous for its extreme sports and adventure trails.
Group band using western instruments

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