New Zealand Maori Culture
Maori are from Polynesia having migrated to New Zealand over 1000 years ago according to the experts.. They make up around 10% of the total population of New Zealand with the culture, language and customs alive and well.
Maori Art & Performance
Weaving and carving are used to visually convey important myths, legends and history.
Many people will be familiar with the Maori haka used at the beginning of the All Black rugby games and other events.
I am a big fan of the poi dances that are performed.
Maori use bone, wood and greenstone for their carvings. When you visit a marae or a meeting house pay close attention to the carvings throughout the meeting house. They are made by the best carvers who are knowledgeable about tribal history and traditions and are conveyed in the carvings.
Bone carving is another very important Maori art form that is usually worn as a necklace.
Specific shapes are symbols such as the fish hook or hei matau that represents the power of their ancestors and brings good luck and protection on a trip especially over water.
The koru design represents the fern fond unfurling and symbolises new life and regeneration.
The tiki is based upon mythical figures.
Greenstone or Pounamu is extremely hard to carve, therefore are highly treasured. Pounamu carvings have and create their own history over time, and are many are deemed Taonga (treasured possessions)by the Maori.
Perhaps you may want to take photos of a Maori marae you come across as you travel. The Maori are very particular about that and I suggest you receive permission from an elder or someone there in charge. Some Maori sites are considered sacred (Tapu) especially any burial grounds.
Here are some rules to remember when invited to a meeting house (and you must be invited)
The Maori marae or meeting ground is not tourist attraction - they are sacred part of Maori life. Always ask permission before entering a marae. If invited you will experience a traditional welcome (powhiri) and learn about Maori culture and mythology.
Always remove footwear before entering a meeting house.
Food cannot be eaten inside a meeting house (Wharenui).
Do not sit on surfaces used for eating or food preparation such as an edge of a table.
If you go onto a marae you will experience:
The formal welcome (Powhiri) begins with a wero (challenge). During the wero a host warrior will challenge the guests (manuhiri). Carrying a spear (taiaha), the warrior will lay down a token for the guests to pick up - indicating they come in peace.
A group of host kuia (women) then perform a karanga (chant) of welcome. Women from the group of guests in turn respond as they move onto the marae.
Whaikorero (Speeches of Welcome)
Once inside the wharenui (meeting house), mihimihi (greetings) and whaikorero (speeches) are made. Waiata (songs) may also be sung.
After greeting the hosts with a hongi (traditional touching of noses) the guests will then present a koha (gift) to the hosts.
After the formal greetings kai (food) is shared.
Myths and Legends
Maori is an oral culture, consisting of many oral myths and legends. It covers everything from creation myths to migration.
It is also used to recite Maori genealogy (Whakapapa), and tribal affiliation.
The Maori creation story follows the concept of the formation of the world through the separation of Ranginui (the Sky Father), and Papatuanuku (the Earth Mother) by their children. The children of Ranginui and Papatuanuku forced the two apart, Tane (God of the Forest) successfully holding the two forever apart. This action transformed the world from a state of darkness (Te Po) to a world of light (Te Ao-Marama).
The legend of Maui is about the creation of New Zealand (Aotearoa). Maui fished up the North Island from his waka (the South Island). The tail of the fish is Cape Reinga, and the mouth is Wellington Harbour. Stewart Island is known as the punga (anchor) of Mauiís canoe.
A quick explanation of several questions to help you understand a bit:
Question: What Is a Hongi?
Answer: The hongi is the Maori welcome expressed by the rubbing or touching of noses, something akin to the Western custom of kissing someone by way of greeting. The literal meaning of "hongi" is the "sharing of breath."
Question: What Is a Hangi?
Answer: Hopefully you get to experience a hangi while hereÖ.
Hangi is a method of cooking in the ground with hot stones. It is a feast of Maori food cooked in the manner described. Various types of meats and vegetables, such as kumara or sweet potato, are wrapped in leaves or aluminium foil. These items of wrapped food are then placed in a hole in the ground and cooked with hot stones. Hangi is also known by the term umu. Rotorua has a number of hotels that offer a hangi, accompanied by Maori music and folk dancing. This is a real "taste" of Maori culture. Donít miss it!
Question: What Is Matariki?
Answer: Matariki is the constellation of stars known as the Pleiades. Matariki is also known as the Seven Sisters. Matariki's appearance in New Zealand skies marks the start of the Maori New Year. Matariki rises on New Zealand's northeast horizon in May or June. The constellation was a key navigation tool for the early ocean voyagers.
The Maori New Year celebrations begin on the sighting of the new moon after the appearance of Matariki.