Maori Culture of New Zealand
A Peek into Māori Culture
Guest post by Ashley Murphy
New Zealand is probably the most beautiful place I have ever had the experience of visiting, both because of the breathtaking scenery, and the people. In my time spent in this amazing country, I got to learn a lot about the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Here is just a small peek into what I learned about this awesome culture.
The Legend of How New Zealand Came to Be
My favorite and probably most memorable story about the Māori culture dealt with the stories and legends they carry which always drew me in. My favorite is the creation of New Zealand; in this legend, the clever demigod Māui hid in his four brothers’ canoe so that he would not be left behind on their fishing trip. Once they were far from land, Māui revealed himself and the magical fishhook he had created from an ancestral jawbone. Māui threw the fishhook overboard while chanting powerful incantations. As he did so, he felt something tug on his line, together with his brothers, he pulled up the might fish to the surface. To this day the north island of New Zealand, or Aotearoa as the Māori call it, is known as Māui’s fish, and the south island is known as Māui’s canoe. So in this legend, Māui literally pulled the north island up from the bottom of the sea.
The kappa haka is also a crowd favorite. This performance art was traditionally used on the battlefield as a type of ancient Māori war dance, as well as when groups came together in peace. This dance includes a lot of violent foot-stamping, tongue protrusions, and body slapping to accompany a loud chant. This chant display’s the tribe’s pride, strength and unity while also trying to intimidate their opponent. Though there aren’t a lot of wars currently happening in New Zealand that requires the Māori to put on this dance, it can still be seen at the beginning of every rugby match by the New Zealand All Blacks. I have witnessed it at one of these events, and I can honestly admit that if I were on the other side of the haka, I would be thoroughly intimidated.
Meaning “the waters of greenstone”, and often simply referred to as greenstone, is one of the most prevalent Māori traditions seen by tourists. These stones can be found in colors ranging from a cloudy light green to a deep emerald, all depending on its river source. Greenstone is typically carved into numerous jewelry designs, each with its own meaning, ranging from abundance, new life and growth, life’s eternal emerging paths, or love, loyalty and friendship between people. There are many beautiful meanings behind this greenstone, but there is one cardinal rule that is to be followed; that one should not buy one for oneself, as pounamu was a gift from the land, carved greenstone should always be a gift between two people.
Where to Experience Māori Traditions
Māori traditions are still a very big part of the New Zealand culture as a whole, there are some specific places you can visit specifically for this culture. The best place to observe the Māori culture is on a marae, the tribal meeting grounds of these people, but not just anyone can visit these places. You must be invited or have it arranged to go to these places, luckily, there are many organized tours throughout northern New Zealand that will welcome you onto a marae. Included in these tours you will typically hear Māori speeches and singing, view some of their traditional carvings and weavings, meeting the locals, and the best part: enjoying a hāngi feast cooked in earth ovens. This traditional food preparation involves wrapping baskets of food in damp cloth and burying them with fire-heated rocks in a pit, where the food is slow cooked to perfection. This is a tourist favorite, as it should be, because who doesn’t adore the food of a new culture?
The Māori culture is a big part of New Zealand, the indigenous people have had a good relationship with the European colonizers, and as a result, New Zealand has become a place that has combined the two cultures into one. It is extremely unlikely that you wouldn’t experience a bit of the Māori culture upon traveling to New Zealand, but I can’t imagine a reason as to why you would want to. There are so many more parts of the Māori culture left for you to discover, each as interesting as the last, happy discovering!