New Zealand Maori

The Maori people are the indigenous people of New Zealand.
They originate from Polynesia and comprise about 8% of the country’s population.
Te Reo Maori is the native language which is related to Tahitian and Hawaiian.

It is believed that the Maori migrated from Polynesia in canoes about the 9th century to 13th century AD.

Dutch navigator Abel Tasman was the first European to encounter the Maori. Four members of his crew were killed in a bloody encounter in 1642.
In 1769 British explorer James Cook established friendly relations with some Maori.
By 1800, visits by European ships were relatively frequent.

In 1840 representatives of Britain and Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi.
This treaty established British rule, granted the Maori British citizenship, and recognized Maori land rights.

Today many of the treaty’s provisions are disputed and there has been an effort from the New Zealand Government to recompense Maori Tribes for some land that was illegally confiscated.
The present Maori population has increased to about 250,000 and the Maori live in all parts of New Zealand, but predominately in the North Island where the climate is warmer.

Original Maori carvings available here

The Maori have adapted well to living in 21st century New Zealand, but they have retained their unique culture, and this rich culture contributes much to New Zealand as a whole.

Maori legend says that the Maori came from “Hawaiki”, the legendary homeland about 1000 years ago.
When the Maori arrived in Aotearoa they found a land of volcanic activity and snow capped mountains.
Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand and means Land of the Long White Cloud.

Maori Carving

There are many theories about the origins of the Maori.
The Maori say that the island of Hawaiki could have been near Hawaii. Some scholars say that the Maori originally came from a land that is now called China, and travelled via Taiwan, the Philippines to Indonesia, onto Melanesia and reached Fiji.
From there to Samoa and on to the Marquesas and turned South West to Tahiti, thence to the Cook Islands and to Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The Moriori

The Moriori people arrived in the Chatham Islands off the coast of New Zealand either just before or at the same time as the first Maori were busy settling on the mainland. It is sometimes claimed that the Moriori were a race that settled in New Zealand previous to the arrival of ancestors of the Maori; however it appears that there is no evidence to support this belief.

The Moriori named these islands Rekohu, after the mist which hangs over the area. Here, the Moriori remained isolated until the European discoverers arrived in 1791. Although the Moriori are close relatives of the Maori, they have distinct features which indicate an independent colonisation from tropical Polynesia.

These first settlers were said to be descended from Te Aomarama and Rongomaiwhenua (which is Moriori for Sky Father and Earth Mother). The names of the three canoes bearing the first Moriori settlers were : Rangi Houa, Rangi Mata and Oropuke.

Similarly to the Maori, inter tribal warring led to a dangerous decline in the number of the Moriori population, and this was said to have been stopped by the chief Nunuku Whenua, who ordered no more warring to take place so that the population would not become decimated. If a dispute took place, the custom was to cease immediately at the first drawing of blood. In this way, the Moriori became a totally peaceful people.

The main activity in the harsh conditions of these islands at that time then became hunting birds, seal and shellfish for survival. The Moriori population increased to an estimated 2000, but later fell to around 1660 after the arrival of the first Europeans.

The Europeans arrived in the Chatham Islands (Rekohu) in 1791, as part of George Vancouver’s expedition. The British Lieutenant Broughton sailed in on the brig “Chatham”, took possession of the islands in the name of King George III, and gave them their present day name. As with Abel Tasman and Captain James Cook, the first confused encounters led to violence, with some Moriori being killed.

From 1793, whaling and sealing ships from Europe and North America began invading New Zealand and the Chathams, making the Chathams the centre of this industry. They largely ignored the Moriori “tapus” which were directed against killing on breeding grounds, and this European activity killed off one of the main sources of the Moriori diet.

In 1835 Maori tribes from the Wellington area arrived in the Chathams, driven south in search of new land, and claiming ownership of the Chathams. A number of Morioris were killed and others captured.

The Moriori numbers fell to 101. Most of the Moriori eventually left the Chathams by 1870. It was Solomon’s grandfather, the chief of the Rauru tribe, who convinced the Moriori to remain pacifist during the invasion of their land. Tame Horomana Rehe Solomon, known as Tommy Solomon, the last full blooded Moriori, died in 1933.


Back to Maori

Other scholars believe that the Maori found Aotearoa by chance as they were probably blown off course. But there is also evidence that the Maori had sophisticated ancient knowledge of the stars and ocean currents and this knowledge is carved in their “whare” (houses).

Maoritanga is Maori culture; a way of life and view of the world.
It is a growing and changing part of life in NZ. The ancestors and all living things are descended from the gods, who are often embodied in specific mountains, rivers and lakes, which is why kinship and links with the land are so important.

Maui was one of the earliest descendants and was responsible for slowing the sun to make the days longer, taming fire, and fishing the North Island (Te Ika a Maui) from the sea from his brothers’ canoe (the South Island – Te Waka a Maui).
Most Maori can trace descent from the chiefs of Hawaiki who sailed to Aotearoa in voyaging canoes from about 1200 years ago.
The marae (particular area of land and buildings, containing the Whare or meeting house) is the focus of traditional Maori community life.

The term “Whakapapa” is used to describe Maori genealogy. The word “Papa” doesn’t mean father but rather anything broad, flat and hard such as a flat rock.
Whakapapa means to place in layers and this is the way that different orders of genealogies are looked at. One generation upon another.
The Maori term for descendant is uri, its precise meaning is offspring, progeny.

Maori Poi Dance

Before the coming of the Pakeha [White Man] to New Zealand all literature in Maori was orally passed onto succeeding generations. This included many legends and waiata (song). The most recognised tradition is the “Haka” which is a war dance. The Haka was performed before the onset of war by the Maori last century, but has been immortalized by New Zealand’s Rugby Team the All Blacks, who perform this dance before every game.

The traditional Maori welcome is called a powhiri, this involves a hongi which is a greeting that involves pressing noses as opposed to a kiss.

All Maori tribes are represented by the Maori King, King Te Arikinui Tuheitia Paki. His mother, Queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, who passed away on 15 August 2006.
Dame Te Ata, who was well respected throughout New Zealand and the world, reigned for 40 years.

Another prominent feature of Maori Culture are the striking tattoos that were worn. Full faced tattoos or “moko”, amongst the Maori tribes was and is predominantly a male activity. Female forms of moko are restricted to the chin area , the upper lip, and the nostrils. Today there is an increasing number of Maori who are opting to receive their Moko, in an effort to preserve their culture and identity.

Maori Poi Dance

The traditional Maori way of cooking food is called a Hangi which is a feast cooked in the earth. Stones are heated in a fire in a dug out pit and covered in cabbage leaves or watercress to stop the food from burning.
Mutton, pork, chicken, potatoes and Kumera (a sweet potato) are then lowered into the pit in a wire netting basket. The food is covered with wet sheets and earth to keep in the steam. The food takes about 3 hours to cook. The Hangi is still popular and is a viable alternative to a Barbeque. The unique taste of food cooked in a Hangi can best be described as steamed food with a smokey, earten flavour.