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10 Things You Did Not Know About the Maori Culture

Tourism NZ

… Unless you’re from NEw Zealand!

Ok, if you’re from New Zealand, you will know most things about the Maori culture. For the rest of us, the most we have probably heard is something about a Haka when the All Blacks play rugby? It turns out, the Maori culture, which is the culture of the first people who settled in New Zealand, is a fascinating culture that you’ll just want to learn more and more about once you discover it in New Zealand.

There are plenty of places to experience the Maori culture in New Zealand, more prominently in the North Island, which has always been more populated with Maori than the south. Why not learn a little bit more about the culture before diving into these experiences with these 10 things you did not know about the Maori culture?!

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1. Each Maori tattoo is unique

Ta moko is the traditional art of tattooing in the Maori culture. They are unique on each individual because they show that person’s geneology, knowledge and social status with their tribe (or “iwiw”). “Moko” was originally done with pigment on the end of a sharp bone hit into the skin. However, nowadays, most people opt for more modern methods of tattooing.

Most tattoo parlours in New Zealand offer tattoos with traditional Maori designs. Find out more in Where to Get a Tattoo in New Zealand?
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2. there used to be no written language

Before the European settlers arrived in New Zealand, there was no written language for Maori, otherwise known as Te reo Maori. Instead, history was also taught orally through stories or depicted in carvings. That’s why the Maori are among some of the most incredible story-tellers you’ll ever meet.

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3. The Haka is not only a war dance

If there’s one thing you know about the Maori culture, it’s probably the Haka. This compelling chant seen at the beginning of the New Zealand rugby games is often believed to be a war dance. While it was sometimes used for that purpose, there are actually many types of Haka used for different occasions, from funerals to motivation for the tribe. The Haka has a fascinating history in itself, which you can learn more about in The Maori Haka: Its Meaning & History.

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4. The Maori culture is one of the youngest

The first Maori arrived in New Zealand in the 1300s. It’s not 100% certain where the Maori originally came from, but it is said that the Maori culture as we know it was developed during these first voyages in New Zealand. As this was only around 700 years ago, this makes the Maori culture one of the youngest in the world.

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5. Maori food is cooked underground

One of the most traditional and most favoured meals in the Maori culture is something called a Hangi. This is meat and vegetables slow-cooked underground. There are lots of opportunities to try a Hangi, especially in Rotorua which has most of the Maori tourism experience.

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6. Maori greet by the pressing forehead and noses together

The greeting in Maori is called a Hongi. This is when two people press their foreheads and noses briefly together, closing their eyes and breathe deeply. This is to representing sharing the “breath of life” where souls and meeting.

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7. Greenstone is a precious stone to the Maori

Mostly found on the West Coast of the South Island, greenstone or jade is a precious stone to the Maori people. It’s known as “pounamu” in te reo Maori and is highly valuable. While greenstone has been used for weapons, ornaments and tools, you’ll mostly see it carved into pendants symbolising particular meanings.

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8. You must be welcomed onto a Maori meeting ground

A Maori meeting ground is called a Marae. To be welcomed onto the Marae, you must first be welcomed through a powhiri. This usually involves a challenge by a Maori warrior, singing, chanting and you must show that you come in peace. It’s not as scary as it sounds, in fact, we say it’s one of the must-do Maori experiences in New Zealand. Prepare for it by checking out Maori Etiquette: What to do When Visiting a Marae.

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9. Maori used to live in pas

A pa site is an old Maori fortified village. They were usually based on hills with terraces dug into the sides and surrounded by high fences. Many of the Maori people will know where their ancestors’ pa sites were but usually not much remains other than the terraces. However, some Maori tourism groups have remade villages, particularly in Rotorua and Gisborne, to give people an idea of what they used to look like.

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10. There’s a legend about everything

Like we said before, the Maori are the best story tellers. Maori have legends about most mountains, rivers, lakes and other important landmarks across New Zealand. Even the wildlife and greenstone have legends on how they came to be. Most Maori legends are usual told to teach certain lessons to children.

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