New Zealand Culture
Introducing Maori

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New Zealand culture could be called New Zealand Biculture. What was previously studied by a few academics is now part of all New Zealanders nation awareness knowledge. It’s recognised that a greater understanding is being stimulated and encouraged.

“What are you talking about?” I hear you ask… Well I’m talking Maori, culture and heritage. We’ve touched on New Zealand culture and now it’s time for a bit of Maori culture; to get you in the swing of things for your New Zealand holiday.

Charley and I are not here to write a cultural thesis. Remember, this is a holiday guide. We would though like to give you a brief overview and taste of what to expect when you travel and meet the great New Zealand population!

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The Maori people of New Zealand are a tribe. You have the family, the Whanau, which is part of the Hapu (sub-tribe) and the larger Iwi, the full tribe. They are collectively the People Of The Land.

There are over 40 Iwi in New Zealand numbering from some 30,000 to 100,000 members in the largest. Check out this link for more info about the arrival and origins of Maori.

The Maori social structure is remarkably similar to the Scottish Clan system of old (think Mel Gibson in Brave heart). They both have a deep love of music, dance, song, storytelling and, as invaders have discovered, a fighting spirit full of courage and fearless determination.


Tapu is at the core of traditional Maori Life. Tapu means sacred or taboo. A traditional Maori is bound by the customs, impressions and behaviour of Tapu. The counter balance to this is Noa meaning something similar to mundane. Noa can lift Tapu so it is a bit like a blessing.

New Zealand Culture 3 For example, Tapu can be a person or place. There are places in New Zealand that are Tapu, meaning not approachable, to be observed from a respectful distance. Now, at some point the elders may deem it necessary to lift the Tapu on a place and so they have a blessing, a Noa.

The most obvious example of the benefits of this particular type of Tapu is conservation of the environment in New Zealand. Culture is not often presented so positively


Carving in New Zealand culture is a High Art. New Zealands’ Maori carvings go beyond the art and mine the rich seam of ancestors, myths and legends with conscious and deep respect. You only have to be invited to a Marae to see the skill of the Maori carver and craftsman.

Weaving for the Maori embraces clothing, namely cloaks, containers such as baskets, and floor mats. The weaving technique developed by the Maori has no equal. The cloaks woven with this technique have great prestige for their owners


The most important place within a Maori community is the Marae. This is the sacred meeting place that exists around a tribes meeting house and it’s storehouse (more commonly now called dining room). This is where anything of consequence to the tribe takes place.

It is here at the Marae that Maori custom is best observed and an understanding of it gained. The carved front and interior of the meeting house speaks of the ancestors and history of the tribe.

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The meeting house will have a name and it’s usually that of a revered ancestor. The building itself a physical representation of him with the large carved boards at the front representing his open arms and the long ridge of the roof his spine. So when you enter you are moving within the ancestor himself. Spooky, yet quite beautiful.

When Phil visited his first Marae he said it made him feel curiously secure. Only later did he read up in more detail about New Zealand culture, traditions and history.

Always remember that when you attend a Marae and are greeted by a warrior you are to remain passive and not respond with gestures. Bit like taking your shoes off when invited into a Japanese home. You don’t question you just do it.

The whole unfolding moment of walking onto a Marae for a formal welcome is a wonderful encounter and the devotion to tradition, the respect and dignity shown, is an experience to be remembered. You may with luck be shown and greeted with a hongi (the pressing of noses).

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Music plays an important role in Maori life. No function in Maori life is complete without music and song. Songs or waiata, are integral to the Maori way of emotion and oratory. Songs are handed down and tell of history, events and myths.

And yes, we will write up about the New Zealand Maori Haka for all you dance fans!


Now Charley and I have the caveat that we could write and research forever and still not give you all the New Zealand facts about Maori Culture, or New Zealand culture come to that. So we haven’t touched on a number of areas. Look on it as being your starter before the main!

Two destinations as a starting point for you to visit and expand on your Maori culture knowledge are the Auckland Museum and Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington.

New Zealand culture and Maori culture have a unique heritage.

Charley and I encourage you to experience and learn the growing importance of this cultural synergy on your New Zealand holiday.

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