Discovering New Zealand’s Indigenous Culture: Meet the Māori

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In a world where everything feels fast paced and ever changing, it’s incredible to find that nearly 15% of the New Zealand population still subscribe to the Māori culture.

Though most now live in urban areas, away from their tribal regions, the traditions, foods and beliefs still remain a central part of their daily lives. As such, here’s some of what you can expect to encounter during your visit.

Tā moko: Traditional Tattooing

Unlike more well-known forms of tattooing, Tā moko is a traditional skin art using chisels, rather than needles, to create grooves in the skin. Not only is the methodology different, but the symbolism and meaning are powerful.

Each moko (tattoo) is unique and has a deep significance to each line and symbol, which has been approved by family and elders in the tribe. These markings were originally a rite of passage to mark the movement from childhood to adulthood and telling a story of their life or tribe.

Traditionally, men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks and thighs, while women wore them on their lips and chins. You’ll often still see them in these key places, but now too in other spots like arms and shoulders.

Don’t be afraid to ask what story their moko is telling. It’s a great way to learn more about their heritage and the culture.

Haka: Traditional War Dance

If you visit a Māori village, you’ll have a chance to see a tribal haka performed as part of your day. But for a truly New Zealand experience, head to a rugby game where the famous local team the All Blacks will perform it before the match.

Different Haka were created by each tribe as part of a war cry to scare opponents prior to battle. The loud grunts, aggressive gestures, bulging eyes and poking of their tongues was designed to embolden the warrior while intimidating those they faced.

Understandably, the All Blacks love both reasons for stirring up the crowd prior to a game! However, they aren’t the only one’s who still put this tradition to work. Overtime it has become a way for communities to bond and show their strength, so it is often performed at weddings and other large celebrations.

Raranga: Creative Art Forms

In some cultures building, painting or sculpture were used to celebrate heritage and tell stories for future generations. The Māori used their skills from Polynesia to weave cloaks, baskets and mats from New Zealand flax.

The cloaks, woven by hand, were integrated with feathers, decorative threads and then died with natural ingredients like swamp mud for black or bark for brown. Not only were cloaks valued by the tribe, but the most skilled weavers (traditionally women) were highly respected and sought after within the tribe.

You’ll easily find many traditional and modern Māori weavings throughout art galleries and shops in New Zealand.

This is just a snippet of the rich living culture that continues to thrive throughout New Zealand thanks to the Māori.  Immerse yourself in this unique culture which can be experienced all over the country.

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