New Zealand: Maori culture and customs

With such beautiful and seemingly untouched landscapes, you’d never guess that New Zealand has been inhabited for more than 1,000 years.

Maoris are the indigenous people of New Zealand and they arrived in the country around 1150 A.D. Today, their culture is still deeply ingrained in the country’s identity – villages, towns and cities still embrace Maori names and colonial architecture, and Marae (tribal meeting grounds) still exist across New Zealand.

The remaining Maori people – around 14% of New Zealand’s population – are actively involved in keeping their presence and language alive. We’ve found some of the Maori traditions and customs that still exist today:

Kapa haka (Maori performance art)

Kapa haka is a form of dance created by the Maori people to showcase their heritage and cultural identity. While the blend of powerful chants, choral singing and war dancing can appear a little aggressive, performances are art forms which represent grace, elegance and stylistic movement. Visit Te Puia in Rotorua, Wairakei Terraces in Taupo or Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch to experience kapa haka.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

Marae

The Marae is a sacred courtyard and is the heart of Maori communities across New Zealand. Used as a meeting ground, Maoris come to discuss and debate, to celebrate, to welcome the living, and to bid farewell to those who have passed on. The focal point of the Marae is the Wharenui (meeting house); each one decorated with intricate tribal carvings. Anyone stepping inside a Wharenui must remove their shoes before doing so as a sign of respect.

Hongi greeting

The traditional Maori greeting is known as a hongi. Instead of shaking hands or kissing, Maoris press noses and foreheads with their acquaintance. The meaning of Hongi is the ‘sharing of breath’, and the action is still commonly practiced at ceremonies and during meetings at the Marae.

Traditional Maori Jade

Traditional Maori Jade

Te reo Maori

Around 23% of New Zealanders can speak te reo Maori, the traditional language. As we mentioned before, many of the country’s place names are indigenous and this, as well as initiatives like Maori Language Week, have been a factor in helping to keep it alive. Here are some common words and phrases:

Kia ora = hello

Kei te pehea koe? = how’s it going?

Kei te pai = good

Hei konei ra = goodbye

You can get your own slice of Maori culture by joining one of our trips to New Zealand. On our 8-day Northern Discovery itinerary, we take you on a unique Be My Guest experience to enjoy a traditional Maori Hangi feast. Or on our 18-day Best of New Zealand trip, we take you to the Tamaki Family Marae to sample a taste of country life on a local farm.

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