10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (2022)

Study Abroad

you're planning to study abroad in New Zealand, these details about New Zealand Māori Culture will help you better understand your host country.

10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (1)

By Alison Clary

Published September 9, 2019

10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (2)

It is often said that the best way to get acclimated to a new country is by getting to know the locals. In New Zealand, this rings especially true, and the best place for you to start is by learning more about some of the country’s longest inhabitants, the Māori.

(Video) Who Are The Māori People Of New Zealand?

Known as the indigenous Polynesian population of New Zealand, the Māori people’s long history originated when they arrived in the early- to mid-1300s. Hundreds of years later, the Māori culture, rich with arts and tradition, is still a big part of New Zealand’s identity.

As is the same with approaching any new culture while studying abroad, it is necessary to be respectful when you begin discovering the Māori culture. Having some preliminary knowledge will help ensure you are you being a courteous traveler, so we’ve compiled a list of 10 things you should know about Māori culture before studying abroad in New Zealand.

1. Visiting a Marae is the best way to experience Māori culture

10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (3)

Maraes are tribal meeting grounds, and they offer unique opportunities for you to interact with local Māori people and discover more about their culture and history first-hand. Some of the activities you can witness at maraes include speeches and displays of traditional Māori singing and dancing.

It is important to note that maraes are only accessible via organized tours, so you can’t just locate one on a map and get dropped off in a cab. The good news, however, is that there are several organized tour offerings at affordable prices throughout the big cities like Northland, Auckland, Rotorua, and Canterbury. This is super convenient if you're studying abroad in one of these cities.

2. You must be invited in order to enter a Marae

You may be thinking, I booked my tour to visit the Marae, so doesn’t that mean I’m allowed to enter freely? Well, not exactly.

You first have to be officially welcomed by the Māori people through a traditional ceremony known as the powhiri. The ceremony typically commences with guests being challenged by one of the Māori warriors through an act known as a wero. While that might sound alarming, it is actually not a scary event at all. It usually consists of some singing and the warrior presenting the guests with a token, and it is mostly just intended to ensure all guests are coming in peace. As a student, we're sure you're coming in peace!

3. No two Māori tattoos are the same

Although their application techniques have evolved over the years from chiseling to more modernized needle techniques, tattoos have remained a huge part of the Māori culture since their origins and are known as ‘ta moko’. Specifically, tattoos are considered to symbolize their commitment to and respect for their culture.

An interesting aspect of the Maori art of tattooing is that no tattoos are completely identical. This is typically due to each tattoo being an external representation of the individual’s unique combination of lineage, wisdom, and stature among the tribe. Politely asking about tattoos is a great way to make your education about Māori culture even more personalized.

(Video) MAORI DOCUMENTARY | Meeting the Māori people of New Zealand

4. Dance plays a big role in Māori culture

Odds are that you’ve probably already heard of the Haka, a ceremonial war dance of the Māori people which consists of synchronized stomping and chanting combined with vigorous physical motions.

There’s actually a lot more to the popular dancing of Haka than it solely being used to intimidate competitors. In fact, Haka is often used as means to greet notable guests, honor significant achievements, or pay respect at occasions or funerals.

If you have the chance to attend a Haka as part of your semester in New Zealand, it's an honor and one you should definitely seize!

5. Traditional Māori food is cooked underground

10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (4)

The Māori use a unique culinary technique known as hangi, where food is cooked in an underground hole.

The hole where hangi is cooked is typically lined with hot rocks, aluminum foil, or wire baskets. Food varietals cooked through the hangi method often includes fish and chicken, as well as some vegetables.

(Video) Experiencing Maori Culture | Wanderlust: New Zealand [EP 3]

While hangi may sound like an easy method of cooking, it is actually a long and strenuous process. For the Māori, it is not just about the delicious food produced from hangi, but also the community aspect as well for it presents an opportunity for people to converge for long periods of time.

6. The Māori people are often largely represented in New Zealand sports

10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (5)

The Māori people have long remained huge supporters and participants in New Zealand’s sporting heritage, especially with their noticeable representation among rugby and netball teams. Additionally, roughly twenty percent of New Zealand athletes competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics were of Māori descent.

With these numbers, it’s no surprise that many New Zealand sports teams, including the national rugby union team, often pay tribute to the Māori culture by performing the haka prior to international matches. Again, attending one of these matches is a fantastic experience you should try to have while studying abroad in New Zealand.

7. The traditional Māori language is not English

While most New Zealanders speak English, the traditional language of the Māori people is known as Te Reo, which is similar in sound to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian. Te Reo has also been recognized as one of New Zealand’s official languages since 1987.

Interestingly, the Māori people had no written language when European settlers arrived and had been relaying their history and stories orally for many years. In some instances, they would also convey their stories through carving character scenes into wood and stone.

(Video) A Day in the Life of a Maori — New Zealand | The Travel Intern

Some students study abroad to learn a new language; if you can even do a short study course in Te Reo, it will help augment your cultural experience in New Zealand even more.

8. “Hand-” shakes are not the traditional form of greeting for Māori people

10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (6)

While it may be impulsive to extend your hand and go for a firm handshake when approaching a new acquaintance, this physical movement is not the approach the Māori people use for saying hello. Try to restrain yourself if you attend an event during your semester where you're meeting Māori locals.

Instead, they use a much warmer and up-close form of salutation known as the hongi (not to be confused with the hangi method of cooking). Specifically, the hongi entails two individuals pressing their noses and foreheads up against one another and sharing the breath of life together. It is meant to symbolize the unification of both souls.

9. Greenstone is considered treasure in Māori culture

Known to the Māori as Pounamu, greenstone is quite literally a "green stone" found mostly in rivers in parts of southern New Zealand. To the Māori, greenstone is precious and often passed from generation to generation. The Māori have used greenstone in many forms, and it can be found in items such as spears, hooks, and tools.

Today, greenstone can be purchased and is most popularly bought in the form of jewelry or decorative objects. Sounds like a perfect souvenir for yourself, your friends, and your family once you return home from studying abroad!

10. The Māori population is still highly prevalent in New Zealand

10 Things to Know about New Zealand Māori Culture Before Studying Abroad (7)

Today, Māori are still highly prevalent in New Zealand society, and they make up over 14% of the population. Further, a 2013 census found that over 600,000 people living in New Zealand were of Māori descent, making them the country’s second-largest ethnic population group.

(Video) Our cultural identity as New Zealanders. Our Kiwi-Tanga | Ellis Bryers | TEDxTauranga

While about 90% of the present-day Māori population lives in New Zealand’s North Island, there is some Māori presence on the South Island as well. This means that no matter which island you're studying abroad – or which New Zealand city you're studying abroad in – you'll encounter Māori and have a chance to learn from it.

Studying abroad is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture –and in New Zealand, you can do that even more deeply by also learning about Māori culture! Using these ten tips to guide your immersion will help you respectfully learn about Māori culture and return home with a greater appreciation of your host country.


What is important to Māori culture? ›

Māori culture in the 21st century. To most Māori, being Māori means recognizing and venerating their Māori ancestors, having claims to family land, and having a right to be received as tangata whenua (“people of the land”) in the village of their ancestors.

What should I know about New Zealand culture? ›

The New Zealand culture is open-minded and welcoming to people of all countries and cultures. As a country we value kindness, tolerance and friendship. We're open-minded and welcoming toward all religions and uphold the right to freedom of religion, worship and belief for all.

What is Māori culture in New Zealand? ›

Māori culture (Māori: Māoritanga) is the customs, cultural practices, and beliefs of the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand. It originated from, and is still part of, Eastern Polynesian culture.

What are the 7 Māori tribes? ›

The seven waka hourua that arrived to Aotearoa were Tainui, Te Arawa, Mātaatua, Kurahaupō, Tokomaru, Aotea and Tākitimu.

How do you respect your Māori culture? ›

Sites or objects that Māori regard as tapu (sacred) are not to be tampered with or touched. Always seek permission before entering a place that is a marae, a traditional Māori meeting ground. Do not eat inside a traditional Māori meeting house (wharenui).

What are some Māori values? ›

We have distilled five key values that underpin Māori leadership.
  • Whakaiti - humility. Whakaiti is a key term in Māori leadership. ...
  • Ko tau rourou and manaakitanga - altruism. ...
  • Whanaungatanga - others. ...
  • Tāria te wā and kaitiakitanga - long-term thinking, guardianship. ...
  • Tikanga Māori - cultural authenticity.
7 Jan 2019

What is the most common culture in New Zealand? ›

New Zealand's cultural influences are predominantly European and Māori. Immigrant groups have generally tended to assimilate into the European lifestyle, although traditional customs are still followed by many Tongans, Samoans, and other Pacific peoples.

How Maori culture is different from other cultures? ›

Māori often like to come together in the greater community to strengthen and maintain links to cultural traditions. Generally, they are a more collectivistic people than other New Zealanders as their culture places a high value on loyalty and belonging to their tribe. As a result, they tend to be very family-oriented.

Where is Māori culture from? ›

Known as the indigenous Polynesian population of New Zealand, the Māori people's long history originated when they arrived in the early- to mid-1300s. Hundreds of years later, the Māori culture, rich with arts and tradition, is still a big part of New Zealand's identity.

What do Maori people wear? ›

Māori wore a wide range of hairstyles and ornaments, skin colourings and oils, as well as facial or body tattoos. Clothing consisted of shoulder and waist garments, belts and sometimes sandals. People adorned themselves with a range of neck and ear pendants, and carried prized weapons in formal situations.

What customs do the Maori people have? ›

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.

How do you pronounce Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu? ›


What is a Māori tribe called? ›

Iwi (Māori pronunciation: [ˈiwi]) are the largest social units in New Zealand Māori society. In Māori iwi roughly means "people" or "nation", and is often translated as "tribe", or "a confederation of tribes". The word is both singular and plural in the Māori language, and is typically pluralised as such in English.

What is the biggest Māori tribe? ›

Ngāpuhi is the largest tribe in New Zealand. Their territory stretches from the Hokianga Harbour to the Bay of Islands, and to Whangārei in the south.

What is a Māori boat called? ›

Waka (Māori: [ˈwaka]) are Māori watercraft, usually canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes (waka tīwai) used for fishing and river travel to large, decorated war canoes (waka taua) up to 40 metres (130 ft) long.

What do the Māori call New Zealand? ›

Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand, though it seems at first to have been used for the North Island only.

What are Māori principles? ›

In the Kaupapa Māori framework, these relationships are built on mutual trust, respect, reciprocity and whanaungatanga.

What is New Zealand's culture food? ›

The food in New Zealand is pretty close to British food, with fish and chips, pies, roast meats and vegetables all being very popular. The traditional Maori method of cooking in an underground oven - called hangi - created delicious dishes of root vegetables, meat and stews.

What is a Māori welcome called? ›

A pōwhiri is a Māori welcoming ceremony, involving whaikōrero (formal speech) , waiata (singing) and kai (food).

Why are Māori values important? ›

Based on tradition and beliefs, they provide an explanation for and guidance around the correct ways to perform activities and enable Māori to act in a manner that is socially acceptable within their community. Māori values are central to the guiding principles of Te Ao Māori – the world of Māori (Harmsworth, 10/2005).

What are the 4 elements of Māori? ›

Māori views on health are framed by an holistic approach that encompasses four key elements - wairua (spiritual), hinengaro (psychological) tinana (physical) and whānau (extended family).

How many cultures are there in NZ? ›

There are six major ethnic groups in New Zealand: European, Māori, Pacific peoples, Asian, MELAA (Middle Eastern / Latin American / African), and 'Other ethnicity'.

What are culture beliefs? ›

Cultural beliefs are beliefs that are learned and shared across groups of people. Because the amount of information in a culture is too large for any one individual to master, individuals know different subsets of the cultural knowledge and thus can vary in their cultural competence.

What is the traditional clothing in New Zealand? ›

New Zealand does not have a specific national dress. Customary Māori clothing is the only form of dress that is distinctive to New Zealand. Kahu (cloaks) give significant mana and honour to official occasions, such as royal tours and state funerals.

What is unique about the Maori culture? ›

Rich and Varied. Māori culture is a rich and varied one, and includes traditional and contemporary arts. Traditional arts such as carving, weaving, kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory) and moko (tattoo) are practised throughout the country.

How do Māori people communicate? ›

Māori often give less verbal feedback in conversation than Pākehā. They make greater use of non-verbal communication and silence as a more normal and acceptable part of communication. This can be disconcerting to Pākehā listeners, while Māori listeners expect it.

What makes NZ unique? ›

New Zealand is one of the most gorgeous countries on earth, and even with its modest size, it packs a lot of history, culture, and attractions for us to experience. New Zealand is known for its stunning national parks, dynamic Māori culture, incredible hiking trails, and world-class skiing and surfing.

Why do Māori wear black? ›

Black was the colour of Maori ta moko and woven attire, and signified the void from which the world began. During the Victorian period, it remained a marker of status but for women it started to dissipate in the Edwardian era.

What is a Māori skirt called? ›

The word 'piupiu' means 'to swing', and is also the name for a skirt with free-hanging strands. Piupiu could be worn either around the waist or across one shoulder. They were made in many types of material and styles.

What did Māori wear in the cold? ›

Māori constructed and wore practical, protective garments in hardy materials to keep warm and dry. These included rain capes and cloaks made from a variety of materials. Shorter than a cloak, rain capes were covered with hukahuka, strips or shreds of fibre, twined in rows that resembled roof thatching.

What was life like for Māori? ›

The early settlers lived in small hunting bands. Seals and the large, flightless moa bird were their main prey, until moa were hunted to extinction. In the South Island, hunting and gathering remained the main mode of survival.

How old are the Māori? ›

Known as the indigenous Polynesian population of New Zealand, the Māori people's long history originated when they arrived in the early- to mid-1300s. Hundreds of years later, the Māori culture, rich with arts and tradition, is still a big part of New Zealand's identity.

What did Māori do for fun? ›

Traditional Māori society sought a balance between work and leisure. Leisure time was spent telling stories, performing waiata, haka and poi, playing musical instruments, dancing and playing sports and games. Leisure activities had serious purposes like transmitting knowledge as well as entertainment value.

Is there a Māori flag? ›

On 14 December 2009, Cabinet recognised the Māori (Tino Rangatiratanga) flag as the preferred national Māori flag, and noted that it will complement the New Zealand flag. The national Māori flag was developed by members of the group Te Kawariki in 1989. On 6 February 1990, the group unveiled the flag at Waitangi.

What do Maori people believe in? ›

The Indigenous Māori Faith

The historic Māori practiced a polytheistic faith similar to those of other Polynesian cultures. According to their beliefs, gods, or atua, inhabit the natural world and shape the destinies of its people.

Are Māori friendly? ›

To outsiders, Maori facial mokos may appear intimidating. The truth is, Maori are friendly and welcoming.

Who was the first Māori? ›

Kupe. In many traditions, Kupe was the first Polynesian to discover New Zealand. He chased a great octopus across the ocean in his canoe, and finally killed it at Cook Strait.

What is Māori food? ›

Along with root vegetables, they also introduced Kiore (the Polynesian rat) and Kurī (the Polynesian dog), both valuable sources of meat. Māori hunted a wide range of birds (such as mutton birds and moa), collected seafood and gathered native ferns, vines, palms, fungi, berries, fruit and seeds.

Why do Māori make their eyes big? ›

A pukana helps to emphasise a point in a song or haka and demonstrate the performer's ferocity or passion. For women, pūkana involves opening their eyes wide and jutting out their chin. For men, it means widening their eyes and stretching out their tongue or baring their teeth.

What do the Māori call New Zealand? ›

Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand, though it seems at first to have been used for the North Island only.

Why do Māori shake their hands? ›

The shaking of the hands,” says Johnstone, “that's an expression of our life force … it's showing that there's an energy within you.” In Māori, kapa means a row, line, or a company of people, and haka means dance.

What are Māori colours? ›

The national colours of the Māori, an indigenous people of Polynesian origin in New Zealand, are black, white and red.

What do colours represent in Māori? ›

White also symbolises purity, harmony, enlightenment, and balance. Koru – the curling frond shape, the Koru, represents the unfolding of new life. It represents rebirth and continuity, and offers the promise of renewal and hope for the future. Red – represents Te Whei Ao, the realm of Coming into Being.

Why do Māori tattoo their faces? ›

Tā moko for men and women

As māori believe the head is the most sacred part of the body, facial tattoos have special significance. Moko kauae - are received by women on their lips and chin. A moko kauae represents a woman's whānau and leadership within her community, recognising her whakapapa, status, and abilities.

What is unique about the Māori culture? ›

Rich and Varied. Māori culture is a rich and varied one, and includes traditional and contemporary arts. Traditional arts such as carving, weaving, kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory) and moko (tattoo) are practised throughout the country.

What do Māori call themselves? ›

The Māori used the term Māori to describe themselves in a pan-tribal sense. Māori people often use the term tangata whenua (literally, "people of the land") to identify in a way that expresses their relationship with a particular area of land; a tribe may be the tangata whenua in one area, but not in another.

What is Maori religion called? ›

Traditional Māori religion – ngā karakia a te Māori.


1. 10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Moving To New Zealand
2. First People In New Zealand // Maori History Documentary
(History Time)
3. New Zealand: Maori - Travel Kids in Oceania
(Travel Kids)
4. 10 things NOT to do in New Zealand 😬
5. Study in Auckland, New Zealand - Māori Culture
(Study Auckland, New Zealand)
6. Māori (The REAL Language of New Zealand)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Saturnina Altenwerth DVM

Last Updated: 11/15/2022

Views: 6562

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Saturnina Altenwerth DVM

Birthday: 1992-08-21

Address: Apt. 237 662 Haag Mills, East Verenaport, MO 57071-5493

Phone: +331850833384

Job: District Real-Estate Architect

Hobby: Skateboarding, Taxidermy, Air sports, Painting, Knife making, Letterboxing, Inline skating

Introduction: My name is Saturnina Altenwerth DVM, I am a witty, perfect, combative, beautiful, determined, fancy, determined person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.