A Look at Maori Culture

Maori cultural showMaori culture has always fascinated me ever since I saw the movie Whale Rider. Their history, cool tattoos, dancing, beliefs, and general relaxed personality make them very interesting to me. As the indigenous people of New Zealand, they haven’t done well since the arrival of European settlers. Then again, no indigenous population fared well after Europeans arrived. However, the Maoris are a warrior race and are famous for never having been defeated by the English settlers. It’s a fact the proud Maori cherish greatly and are always happy to share.

I was determined to learn more about them while traveling here in New Zealand. The city of Rotorua is supposed to be one of the best places to learn. There are a variety of cultural shows and educational tours in the area. A Maori in the Bay of Islands even told me that if I was going to learn about Maoris, this area would be the easiest for me to do it in. The cultural tours all are quite similar (some are smaller, some have better food, some are different length) but you learn and see a lot of the same stuff. I went with the Tamaki Maori Village tour because my travel partners at the time were also doing it.

The show provides a basic look at Maori life, which is probably what most tourists want, but doesn’t provide the in-depth look that I wanted. While the cultural show was interesting, the food great, and the music entertaining, I plan on finding a more non-touristy Maori experience before I leave New Zealand to get a much deeper understanding of the culture.

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  1. We’re interested to know if you find something a bit less touristy. We’re very interested in learning more about Maori culture while we’re in New Zealand. We’d love to see some of the dancing, too. After our experience at the Heiva in Tahiti a few years ago we’re excited to see more!

  2. Oh dear it wasn’t doing too bad before they dragged out a particularly dire version of Po kare kare ana. Have to laugh at how modest the national dress is getting – there was not such thing as woven fabric traditional – it was all flax or bird feathers or reeds…

    If you want to get more off the beaten track try Gisborne and north (Tolga Bay ) – I havent’ been there for years but it used to very traditional – also parts of Northland – but you’ll transport – buses don’t run to the smaller places.

    As an expat Pakeha (white) NZer recently returned to NZ – its good to see Maori actually running these shows and keeping the profits – most Aborigine cultural experiences in Australia are one by some awfully white looking fellas! If you head as far as Tahiti – you will hear the language is similar and so is the culture but iwth local variations obviously

  3. Kine

    I agree with you, their culture is very interesting. I know a couple of maori guys (maori origin at least) living in New Plymouth near Mt Taranaki in NZ. Haven’t even heard half of what I’d like to about the Maori’s though, so keep us posted! :)

  4. The M?ori people often use the term tangata whenua which is literally known as, “people of the land” to describe themselves in a way that emphasizes their relationship with a particular area of land a tribe may be the tangata whenua in one area, but not in another. The term can also refer to M?ori as a whole in relation to New Zealand (Aotearoa) as a whole.

  5. Very interesting – we will definitely try to explore this part of NZ when we travel there. I look forward to hearing more about your next, more authentic, experience. It sounds like @Lis has some great suggestions for where to go!

  6. Matt, Check out the Te Papa museum when you are in Wellington. Though it doesn’t include interactions with people, the exhibit on the Treaty of Waitangi is incredibly interesting and put into perspective a lot of the issues the Maoris have. It is a fantastic museum and completely free.

    We found that the best place to interact with Maoris were in Hokitika and Te Anau. Maoris in Hokitika have exclusive control of jade finding and there are many many many Maori jade carvers. In Te Anau, several Maoris are guides on the kayaking expeditions.

  7. I’ve always found these types of shows to be more entertainment than education but what you captured does give us a little taste of what their culture is like. I’m always fascinated with the different Polynesian cultures. On the surface they “look” similar but each has their own surprises.

  8. Shay

    I visited Rotorua last year, and my favorite aspect of the tourist-y side of Maori life was seeing the artists at Te Puia who are actually working. Depending on when you go, you can spend more time talking to them. Tourist-centric, yes, but at least they are attempting to preserve traditional art and cultural skills. From what I understand, the only way to have a ‘real’ (i.e., non-touristy) look at Maori culture is to show up in a village and *hope* that someone is nice enough to want to invite you in and show you around. I’m not bold enough in my travels and would feel like it was an imposition, though, even if I found nice and willing ‘hosts.’

    I know this is going to sound silly as a question, but have you watched any Maori television? I really enjoyed watching bro’Town when I was in New Zealand, and I get that watching the show is no more the same as watching The Simpsons to learn what Americans are like. Yet there is still something *there* in a cultural sense, and I think the tourist-oriented edu-tainment shows can never show you what life is genuinely like for Maori youth now (many of whom are living in urban conditions, not ‘traditional’ villages) the same way that kind of television can.

  9. Shawn

    Hey Matt, have you seen the movie “once were warriors”? Released around 1995.

    Be kind of interesting to compare the culture to the accuracy to the movie. When you visit with people maybe ask about the movie, I would be interested you their opinion.

    Happy trails

  10. This post reminds me of my serendipitous encounter with Maori culture back in 2002. I was studying in Sydney at the time when 8 of us decided to fly to Auckland, rent a camper-van, and drive around the North Island for a week. We hit Rotorua and the Bay of Islands, and while driving one day, we got lost and found ourselves pretty much in the middle of the Waitangi Day Parade (The Waitangi Treaty is NZ’s founding document). We ended up parking and joining in the festivities for the day. We still laugh about it to this day.

    Enjoy the rest of your travels in NZ!

  11. Go to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Bay of Islands region of the North Island! It has a wealth of Maori culture and Maori-British history, and a great cultural show. Also, our family was impressed with the Maori wing of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

  12. This post reminds me of an essay I wrote on Maori culture in middle school. And “Whale Rider” is one of the best films ever made. I loved the acting by the girl who played Paikea.

  13. Maori culture like any other indigenous culture (including North American Indians) has its roots deep in tradition and can only best understood by reading, listening and talking with Maori. I’ve studied their culture and worked with them for many years and am still learning.
    If you want to learn about their culture look at books that are written by Maori (not White anthropolgists) that talk about their taonga – treasure. Art, songs, dances, language, medicine, spirtuality beliefs and differences in clans (hapu, iwi) and the impact the Treaty of Waitangi.
    Going to a show will give you a glimpse but it doesn’t go further then that.
    Try this link if you haven’t done so already: http://www.maori.org.nz/
    If you want to read an adult story one of the better ones written is The Bone People by Kerry Hulme.

  14. Hi, yes, I agree with kiwitravelwriter. Maori tours in Kaikoura are great. I know it was Jan 2010 when he posted that comment and you’ve probably been there since but I found it a very good tour and not so touristy. It goes a bit more indepth into their culture and it’s a family run business. Well recommended.

  15. Nathaniel Hardy

    Come on, it’s a bit limited and cliched. You’re really not hitting the mark with your comments – not to the full extent. If you want a tourist sideshow then fine but don’t think that it necessarily gives you a real and absolute sense of the full depth of feeling or interpretation. You’ve come through and you want to offer others an insight. I think you could do better and not fall into the trap of a quick assessment. Life is richer and more diverse in its interpretation than you have found. A lot of what we are as a people here are is defined by influence of cultural elements. It’s not always an ‘us and them’ situation and there is a lot of give and take and common heritage. It is a young country and what is familiar becomes cherished and culture appreciated. People marry cultures and marry each other and may feel at a loss when further afield simply because those who are indigenous are not around. Language and thinking is infused by others and indigenous culture impacts on everyone and positively.This idea of conflict is mis-stated. The raw deal isn’t absolute and it isn’t true to say that there are not considerable benefits and harmony. People deeply feel for a lot and it’s not true to say that those with a fairer skin do not think in ways that reflect the feelings at times of their indigenous kin with regards to mindset and make-up and cultural thoughts. And why not? This people in all its diversity are a product of different cultural strengths and have been together for a while and feel at home here. This idea of conflict you have is not quite accurate and it is because there is a lot of love. Appreciation runs deep of others and the idea of some battling cultural to and fro is not necessarily how it is. A lot of the tourist displays tend towards simplicity and there may be more depth and something other than ‘just for the visitors’ to consider. Also, there are tribal elements and not necessarily uniform opinion.

  16. Olivia

    Please bear in mind that the Maori people are called Maori, not “Maoris”, which to Maori and even pakeha kiwis such as myself sounds quite crass and bastardised. Glad you enjoyed your trip to New Zealand, I think its really key to ask locals here where to go, I often see tourists at horrific tourist traps ten minutes away from proper beauty :(

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