Maori: An exotic overview of New Zealand tribal culture



The landmass New Zealand was cut off from the world some 80 million years ago and not until 700 years ago was it found by the present-day Māori clan. The land was completely void of humans. It had vast resources, fresh lands filled with avian fauna, and minimal amounts of mammals.

Waka canoe of the early New Zealand culture
Waka canoe

Polynesians sailed in hundreds of Waka canoe in the fierce ocean to start a new life, the cause of migration yet to be determined. A thousand scattered islands in the central and southern Pacific Ocean collectively called Polynesia.

Movement of early Polynesians through decades
Movement of Polynesians through decades

Early Polynesians settled in New Zealand and later became the Māori. Aotearoa: The land of the long white cloud was the name given by the Māori for New Zealand.


Abel Tasman, A Dutch explorer encountered New Zealand and its people in 1642. The expedition proved to be fatal as the contact led to bloodshed, killing four of his men and one Māori. Tasman never landed.

The next European, James cook too had faced bloodshed but later connected with the Māori in good relation.

The Māori clan regarded the Europeans and used to call them “Pākehā” meaning fair-skinned or non- Māorian.

The relations between the British and the Māorians were predominantly peaceful. The Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was signed by the British Crown and 500 Māori chiefs in and around the land.

Britishers occupying over the maorians
Britishers absorbing the territory

The treaty gave the Māorians rights as that of British subjects, property rights, and tribal autonomy in exchange for accepting British crown and undertaking as a colony for the British empire.

The first European impression of Māori, at Murderers' Bay in Abel Tasman's travel journal (1642)


The Māori oral storytelling was and is still dominant. Passing on stories of generations is one of their Polynesian aspects. The Māorians, when learned to write in the 1800s with the arrival of the Europeans, began documenting it.

The stories included legends and myths of folk heroes. One such mythological legend is that of Maui, the trickster god who is keen on exploring things. Legend says that he hooked up all the islands and bought them up to the open using his magical fishhook while he was sailing with his brothers. The tale even has movie adaptations like that of the famous animated movie “Moana (2016)”.

Maui is more of a folk hero than a worshipping god.

The Polynesians never saw the ocean as a hindrance once they mastered the art of sailing. They voyaged out into the sea taking the stars, sun, moon, planets as their guides to find new islands.

Colonization ensured that the clan would never be the same again, as they assimilated towards the European culture.

The “Kapa haka” meaning the haka team is an art form of dance. It includes many forms like haka (posture dance), poi (dance accompanied by song and rhythmic movements of the poi, a light ball on a string), waiata-ā-ringa (action songs), and waiata koroua (traditional chants). The haka dance is quite popular even in the 21st century.

New Zealand Haka dance in the Rugby World Cup
Haka dance in the Rugby World Cup. Source: Getty.

The New Zealand All Blacks are pictured here performing a Haka during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Source: Getty.

Dwayne Johnson acted out the Haka dance in the movie Fast and Furious 8


Actor Jason Momoa in the premiere of his movie “Aquaman” danced along the tunes of the culture.


The dance was known to be performed on important occasions, funerals, welcoming guests with its daunting tongue, and facial gestures.

Some other notable traditions are:-

hingi of New Zealand Tradition


It is a traditional greeting wherein the nose and forehead are pressed against the same as the other person. It is a respectful and intimate greeting.

Ta Moko of New Zealand tradition
Ta Moko

Ta Moko

Tattoos existed long back and the Māorians sported them on their head mostly as they considered the head to be the most sacred part of the body. It is a depiction of rank, wisdom, and most importantly culture. Now, these tattoos are inked in on the faces, bottoms, and thighs of men and on the lips and chins of women.

Carvings from the ancient times
Carvings from the ancient times
A cultural remark
A cultural remark


This is an art of beautiful carving of culture and history that has been passed on from generation to generation. Tools, buildings, canoes all have their formidable cultural carving mark on it.


A cooking technique that has been around for generations and is used for only significant occasions.

A cooking technique
A cooking technique by the people

Meats, potatoes, and vegetables are placed into a pit dug into the ground atop of hot stones.


The government has issued a number of policies and acts to uphold and protect the welfare of the tribes in New Zealand. Identification, preservation and conservation of New Zealand’s cultural values, heritage.

The acts regulate the exports of anything related to the Māorians culture or history. Safeguarding the principles for the present and future.

Some of the Acts/Laws are mentioned below:

1. Protected Objects Act 1975

2. Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014: -

3. Laws Related to Human Remains and Burial

· Coroners Act 2006

· Burial and Cremation Act 1964

4. Land Use and Conservation Laws

· Resource Management Act 1991

· Conservation Act 1987

· Reserves Act 1977

5. Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993

6. Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011

7. Māori-Government Relations and Policy

Around the 1960s-1980s, the period saw a renaissance, several legal developments with respect to Māori rights to land, resources, and the protection of cultural heritage emerged, Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) in 1987 was made an official language of the country. Waitangi day (the day the treaty was signed) was made a public holiday, introducing languages of Māori to preschools and elementary schools were also established.

The parliament includes members of Māori descent. There have been numerous negotiations between the Māori and the government on multiple aspects.

8. Protection of Wāhi Tapu and Other Sites of Interest to Māori

· Archaeological Sites

· Land Use and Development

· Criticism of Current Approach

· Processes and Protocols on Discovery of Kōiwi Tangata/Human Remains

· Protection of Taonga Tūturu/Cultural Artifacts

The present governments, as well as the past governments, have taken notable measures to sustain and maintain the Māori culture.

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