MAORI CULTURE

The Maori people of New Zealand have developed a unique culture rich in tradition. The following paragraphs briefly describe Maori culture covering such topics as Maori language and Maori art. For more detailed information click here for books on Maori culture.

Today Maori people live throughout New Zealand, and many are actively involved with keeping their culture and language alive. Within any Maori community, the marae provides a focus for social, cultural and spiritual life. The term marae describes a communal 'plaza' area that includes a wharenui (meeting house) and wharekai (dining room).

Maori people define themselves by their iwi (tribe), hapu (sub-tribe), maunga (mountain) and awa (river). Whanau is the name given to family - the term embraces immediate family, in-laws and all those connected by blood ties.

In recent years, the introduction of Maori language nests (kohanga reo) has revived the Maori language. At kohanga reo, preschool children are encouraged to speak in Maori. Primary and secondary schools build on this early immersion by including Maori in the curriculum.

Traditional carvers also help to keep Maori culture alive by creating intricate works that pay respect to the past. Every piece carved tells a story, which can be read by those who know how. The shape of the heads, position of the body as well as the surface patterns work together to record and remember events.

The ancient beliefs of Maori culture are recognized and respected by New Zealand's leaders today. Recently, a North Island road project was modified to avoid disturbing a taniwha (water monster). In its original form, the road project would have encroached on a swamp which is the home of a one-eyed taniwha, Karutahi. The local tribe, Ngati Naho, believes the taniwha spends half the year in the swamp. It has a second home in the Waikato River, to which it swims during floods. To ensure that the swamp is undisturbed, Transit New Zealand has altered its plans so that this historic site is preserved.

Maori culture is a rich and varied one, and includes traditional and contemporary arts. Traditional arts such as carving, weaving, kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory) and moko (tattoo) are practiced throughout the country. Practitioners following in the footsteps of their tipuna (ancestors) replicate the techniques used hundreds of years ago, yet also develop exciting new techniques and forms. Today Maori culture also includes art, film, television, poetry, theatre, and hip-hop.

Maori is an oral culture rich with stories and legends. The Maori creation story describes the world being formed by the violent separation of Ranginui, the Sky Father, and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, by their children. Many Maori carvings and artworks graphically depict this struggle.

Te Reo Maori is the Maori Language. Visitors to New Zealand will become immediately aware of the Maori language as the vast majority of place names are of Maori origin. At first, visitors may be puzzled by the seemingly impossible to pronounce names. In fact, Maori has a logical structure, and, unlike English, has very consistent rules of pronunciation.