Māori people

Māori people
Keisha Castle-Hughes at TIFF 2009 cropped.jpgWinstonPetersEuropa.jpgStephen Kearney 2.jpg
Hone Heke and wife  · Hinepare of Ngāti Kahungunu  · Tukukino  · Te Rangi Hīroa  · Meri Te Tai Mangakahia  · Apirana Ngata  · Keisha Castle-Hughes  · Winston Peters  · Stephen Kearney
Total population
approx. 790,000
Regions with significant populations
 New Zealand 663,900 (2010 est.) [1]
 Australia approx. 110,000 [2]
 United Kingdom approx. 8,000 [3]
 United States < 3,500 [4]
 Canada 1,305 [5]
Other regions approx. 8,000 [3]

Māori, English


Christianity, Māori religions

Related ethnic groups

other Polynesian peoples,
Austronesian peoples

The Māori (pronounced Māori: [ˈmaːɔ.ɾi], or commonly [ˈmaʊɹi] by English speakers) are the native or indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand (Aotearoa - The Long White Cloud). They arrived in New Zealand from eastern Polynesia in several waves[6] at some time before 1300 CE.[7] Over several centuries in isolation, the Māori developed a unique culture with their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and performing arts. They formed a tribal society based on Polynesian social customs and organisation. Horticulture flourished using plants they introduced, and after about 1450 a prominent warrior culture emerged.

The arrival of Europeans to New Zealand starting from the 17th century brought enormous change to the Māori way of life. Māori people gradually adopted many aspects of Western society and culture. Initial relations between Māori and Europeans were largely amicable, and with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 the two cultures coexisted as part of a new British colony. However, rising tensions over disputed land sales led to conflict in the 1860s. Social upheaval, decades of conflict and epidemics of disease took a devastating toll on the Māori population. But by the start of the 20th century the Māori population had begun to recover, and efforts were made to increase their standing in wider New Zealand society. A marked Māori cultural revival gathered pace in the 1960s and is continuing.

In 2010, there were an estimated 660,000 Māori in New Zealand, making up roughly 15% of the national population. They are the second-largest ethnic group in New Zealand, after European New Zealanders ("Pākehā"). In addition there are over 100,000 Māori living in Australia. The Māori language is spoken to some extent by about a quarter of all Māori, and 4% of the total population, although many New Zealanders regularly use Māori words and expressions in normal speech such as "Kia ora". Māori are active in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, with independent representation in areas such as media, politics and sport.

The Māori face significant economic and social obstacles, with lower life expectancies and incomes compared with other New Zealand ethnic groups, in addition to higher levels of crime, health problems and educational under-achievement. Socioeconomic initiatives have been implemented aimed at closing the gap between Māori and other New Zealanders. Political redress for historical grievances is also ongoing.



In the Māori language the word māori means "normal", "natural" or "ordinary". In legends and oral traditions, the word distinguished ordinary mortal human beings—tāngata māori—from deities and spirits (wairua);[8][i] likewise wai māori denoted "fresh water" as opposed to salt water. There are cognate words in most Polynesian languages,[9] all deriving from Proto-Polynesian *ma(a)qoli, which has the reconstructed meaning "true, real, genuine".[10][11]

Naming and self-naming

Early visitors from Europe to New Zealand generally referred to the inhabitants as "New Zealanders" or as "natives", but Māori became the term used by Māori to describe themselves in a pan-tribal sense.[ii]

Māori people often use the term tāngata whenua (literally, "people of the land") to describe themselves in a way that emphasises their relationship with a particular area of land — a tribe may be the tāngata whenua in one area, but not in another. The term can also refer to Māori as a whole in relation to New Zealand (Aotearoa) as a whole.

The Maori Purposes Act of 1947 required the use of the term 'Maori' rather than 'Native' in official usage, and the Department of Native Affairs became the Department of Māori Affairs. It is now Te Puni Kōkiri, or the Ministry for Māori Development.

Prior to 1974 ancestry determined the legal definition of "a Māori person". For example, bloodlines determined whether a person should enrol on the Māori or general (European) electoral roll; in 1947 the authorities determined that one man, five-eighths Māori, had improperly voted in the general (European) parliamentary electorate of Raglan.[12] The Māori Affairs Amendment Act 1974 changed the definition to one of cultural self-identification. In matters involving money (for example scholarships or Waitangi Tribunal settlements), the authorities generally require some demonstration of ancestry or cultural connection, but no minimum "blood" requirement exists.[13][iii]



The Māori settlement of New Zealand represents an end-point of a long chain of island hopping voyages

The most current reliable evidence strongly indicates that initial settlement of New Zealand occurred around 1280 CE. Previous dating of some Kiore (Polynesian rat) bones at 50–150 CE has now been shown to have been unreliable; new samples of bone (and now also of unequivocally rat-gnawed woody seed cases) match the 1280 date of the earliest archaeological sites and the beginning of sustained, anthropogenic deforestation.[14] Māori oral history describes the arrival of ancestors from Hawaiki, (the mythical homeland in tropical Polynesia), in large ocean-going waka. Migration accounts vary among tribes (iwi), whose members may identify with several waka in their genealogies or whakapapa.

No credible evidence exists of human settlement in New Zealand prior to the Polynesian voyagers. Compelling evidence from archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology indicates that the first settlers came from east Polynesia and became the Māori. Language evolution studies[15] and mitochondrial DNA evidence[16] suggest that most Pacific populations originated from Taiwanese aborigines around 5,200 years ago (before Chinese colonisation),[17] moving down through Southeast Asia and Indonesia.[18]

Archaic period

The earliest period, conventionally dated 1100–1300, is known as the Archaic period (also referred to by Te Papa Tongarewa as "Ngā Kakano").[19][iv] Archaeology has shown that Otago was the node of Māori cultural development during this time, and the majority of archaic settlements were on or within 10 km (6 mi) of the coast, though it was common to establish small temporary camps (whakaruruhau) far inland. The settlements ranged in size from 40 people (Palliser Bay, Wellington), the more common size, to 300–400, with 40 buildings at Shag River (Waihemo) mouth. The main food was moa[20] hence the people are sometimes called the Moahunters. Up to 9.2 moa per week were killed, each producing an average 45 kg of meat, and the various species were probably wiped out within 200 years.[21] Moahunters extensively modified the natural vegetation by burning. Old soils show the thin horizons of carbon associated with this activity. The middens of the people reveal that they enjoyed a rich, varied diet of birds, fish, seals and shellfish. This period is remarkable for the lack of weapons and fortifications so typical of the later "classic" Māori,[20] and for its distinctive "reel necklaces".[19] From this period onward around 32 species of birds became extinct either through over predation by the people and the kiore and kurī they introduced,[22] repeated burning of the grassland or climate cooling, which appears to have occurred from about 1400-1450.

The best known archaic or Moahunter site is at Wairau Bar which has been extensively studied.[23][24] The oldest skeleton was from a person about 50 years old. The mean age of skeletons at the site is difficult to determine, as during early investigation it appears the skeletons of children were scattered and friable to the extent they could not be readily uplifted for study. The people still practiced Polynesian-style burials. The teeth of all the older skeletons were worn to the gums: this is believed to be one reason for the low life expectancy. Artefacts found were bone necklaces,[25] Polynesian worked stone tool adze heads and the remains of small shelters. All of the older skeletons showed signs of a hard life with many having broken bones that had healed, suggesting a balanced diet and a supportive community that had the resources to support severely injured family members. A series of large pits located by geotech methods indicate that the people were using East Polynesian–style large Umu-Ti type pits common for the preparation of the large tap root of various cordyline varieties to make a sweet pulp. One of these pits on the Otago Peninsula has been well researched and at least eight other examples are known in Otago. Due to tectonic forces some of the Wairau Bar site is now under water.

Classic period

The cooling of the climate, a series of massive earthquakes in the South Island, tsunamis that destroyed many coastal settlements and the extinction of the moa and other food species were probably some the factors that led to sweeping changes to the culture, forming the "Te Tipunga" cultural period from 1300–1500,[25] which developed into the most well-known "Classic period"[26] that was in place when European contact was made. This period is characterised by finely made pounamu weapons and ornaments, elaborately carved canoes - a tradition that was later extended to and continued in elaborately carved meeting houses,[27] and a fierce warrior culture, with fortified hillforts known as , frequent cannibalism[28][29][30] and some of the largest war canoes ever built. About 1780–90 the largest battle ever fought in New Zealand, the Battle of Hingakaka occurred, south of Ohaupo on a ridge near Lake Ngaroto. The battle was fought between about 7,000 warriors from a Taranaki-led force and a much smaller Waikato force under the leadership of Te Rauangaanga.

Early European contact

1846: Hone Heke, holding a musket, with his wife Hariata and his uncle Kawiti, holding a taiaha.

European settlement of New Zealand occurred in relatively recent historical times. New Zealand historian Michael King in The Penguin History Of New Zealand describes the Māori as "the last major human community on earth untouched and unaffected by the wider world."

Early European explorers, including Abel Tasman (who arrived in 1642) and Captain James Cook (who first visited in 1769), recorded their impressions of Māori. From the 1780s, Māori encountered European and American sealers and whalers; some Māori crewed on the foreign ships. A trickle of escaped convicts from Australia and deserters from visiting ships, as well as early Christian missionaries, also exposed the indigenous population to outside influences. In the Boyd Massacre in 1809, Māori took hostage and killed 66 members of the crew and passengers in apparent revenge for the whipping of the son of a Māori chief by the captain. There were accounts of cannibalism, and this episode caused shipping companies and missionaries to be wary, and significantly reduced contact between Europeans and Māori for several years.

By 1830, estimates placed the number of Europeans living among the Māori as high as 2,000. The newcomers had varying status-levels within Māori society, ranging from slaves to high-ranking advisors. Some remained little more than prisoners, while others abandoned European culture and identified as Māori. These Europeans "gone native" became known as Pākehā Māori. Many Māori valued them as a means to the acquisition of European knowledge and technology, particularly firearms. When Pomare led a war-party against Titore in 1838, he had 131 Europeans among his warriors.[31] Frederick Edward Maning, an early settler, wrote two lively accounts of life in these times, which have become classics of New Zealand literature: Old New Zealand and History of the War in the North of New Zealand against the Chief Heke.

During the period from 1805 to 1840 the acquisition of muskets by tribes in close contact with European visitors upset the balance of power among Māori tribes, leading to a period of bloody inter-tribal warfare, known as the Musket Wars, which resulted in the decimation of several tribes and the driving of others from their traditional territory.[32] European diseases such as influenza and measles killed an unknown number of Māori: estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.[33][34] Te Rangi Hiroa documents an epidemic caused by a respiratory disease that Māori called rewharewha. It "decimated" populations in the early 19th Century and "spread with extraordinary virulence throughout the North Island and even to the South..." [35] He also says, p83: "Measles, typhoid, scarlet fever, whooping cough and almost everything, except plague and sleeping sickness, have taken their toll of Maori dead." Economic changes also took a toll; migration into unhealthy swamplands to produce and export flax led to further mortality.[36]

British annexation

Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, a member of the Kotahitanga movement in the 1890s, who argued that women should have equal voting rights in the Māori Parliament

With increasing Christian missionary activity, growing European settlement in the 1830s and the perceived lawlessness of Europeans in New Zealand, the British Crown, as a world power, came under pressure[37] to intervene. Ultimately, Whitehall sent William Hobson with instructions to take possession of New Zealand. Before he arrived, Queen Victoria annexed New Zealand by royal proclamation in January 1840. On arrival in February 1840, Hobson negotiated the Treaty of Waitangi with northern rangatira (chiefs). Other rangatira subsequently signed this treaty. In the end, 500 rangatira out of the 1500 sub-tribes of New Zealand signed the Treaty, while some influential rangatira — such as Te Wherowhero in Waikato, and Te Kani-a-Takirau from the east coast of the North Island — refused to sign. The Treaty gave Māori the rights of British subjects and guaranteed Māori property rights and tribal autonomy, in return for accepting British government or sovereignty.

Dispute continues over whether the Treaty of Waitangi ceded Māori sovereignty. Rangatira signed a Māori-language version of the Treaty that did not accurately reflect the English-language version.[38] It appears unlikely that the Māori version of the treaty ceded sovereignty; and the Crown and the missionaries probably did not fully explain the meaning of the English version.[39]

Despite the different understandings of the treaty, relations between Māori and Europeans during the early colonial period were largely peaceful. Many Māori groups set up substantial businesses, supplying food and other products for domestic and overseas markets. Among the early European settlers who learnt the Māori language and recorded Māori mythology, George Grey, Governor of New Zealand from 1845–1855 and 1861–1868, stands out.

However, rising tensions over disputed land purchases and attempts by Māori in the Waikato to establish what some saw as a rival to the British system of royalty led to the New Zealand wars in the 1860s. These series of conflicts were fought between Crown troops and numerous Māori groups opposed to the disputed land sales. Other tribes supported or fought in support of the Crown (known as kupapa), while some were not involved at all. Although these resulted in relatively few Māori or European deaths, the colonial government confiscated tracts of tribal land as punishment for what they called rebellion, in some cases taking land from tribes that had taken no part in the war. Some of the confiscated land was returned to both kupapa and "rebel" Māori. Several minor conflicts also arose after the wars, including the incident at Parihaka in 1881 and the Dog Tax War from 1897–98.

The Native Land Acts of 1862 and 1865 established the Native Land Court, which had the purpose of transferring Māori land from communal ownership into individual title. Māori land under individual title became available to be sold to the colonial government or to settlers in private sales. As a result, between 1840 and 1890 Māori lost 95 percent of their land (63,000,000 of 66,000,000 acres (270,000 km2) in 1890). In total 4% of this was confiscated land, although about a quarter of this was returned. Individual Māori titleholders received considerable capital from these land sales, although disputes later arose over whether or not promised compensation in some sales was fully delivered. However, the subsequent loss of land hampered Māori participation in the growing New Zealand economy, eventually diminishing the capacity of many iwi to sustain themselves.

By the late 19th century a widespread belief existed amongst both Pākehā and Māori that the Māori population would cease to exist as a separate race or culture and become assimilated into the European population.[40] In 1840, New Zealand had a Māori population of about 100,000 and only about 2,000 Europeans. By 1860 it was estimated at 50,000. The Māori population had declined to 37,520 in the 1871 census, although Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Buck) believed this figure was too low.[41] The figure was 42,113 in the 1896 census, by which time Europeans numbered more than 700,000.[42] By 1936 the Māori figure was 82,326, although the sudden rise in the 1930s was probably due to the introduction of the family benefit − only payable when a birth was registered, according to Professor Poole.

Modern history

Late twentieth-century house-post depicting the navigator Kupe fighting two sea creatures. Māori carvings often contain spiral patterns and paua shells, as can be seen in this image.
Sir Apirana Ngata became instrumental in the revival of traditional arts such as kapa haka and carving. He also promoted farming as a means of land-retention.
Whina Cooper leads the Māori Land March through Hamilton in 1975. Māori protests gathered pace in the 1960s and 1970s seeking redress for historical grievances.

The decline of the Māori population did not continue, and levels recovered. Despite a substantial level of intermarriage between the Māori and European populations, many Māori retained their cultural identity. A number of discourses developed as to the meaning of "Māori" and to who counted as Māori or not. (Māori do not form a monolithic bloc, and no one political or tribal authority can speak on behalf of all Māori.) There is no racial test to determine who is Māori or not, merely an affinity with one's Māori ancestry (regardless of how remote).

From the late 19th century, successful Māori politicians such as James Carroll, Apirana Ngata, Te Rangi Hīroa and Maui Pomare emerged. They showed skill in the arts of Pākehā politics; at one point Carroll became Acting Prime Minister. The group, known as the Young Māori Party, cut across voting-blocs in Parliament and aimed to revitalise the Māori people after the devastation of the previous century. For them this involved assimilation — Māori adopting European ways of life such as Western medicine and education. However Ngata in particular also wished to preserve traditional Māori culture, especially the arts. Ngata acted as a major force behind the revival of arts such as kapa haka and carving. He also enacted a programme of land development which helped many iwi retain and develop their land.

The government decided to exempt Māori from the conscription that applied to other citizens in World War II, but Māori volunteered in large numbers, forming the 28th or Māori Battalion, which performed creditably, notably in Crete, North Africa and Italy. Altogether 17,000 Māori took part in the war.

The urbanisation of Māori proceeded apace in the second half of the 20th century. A majority of Māori people now live in cities and towns, and many have become estranged from tribal roots and customs.

Since the 1960s, Māoridom has undergone a cultural revival[43] strongly connected[verification needed] with a protest movement.[44] Government recognition of the growing political power of Māori and political activism have led to limited redress for unjust confiscation of land and for the violation of other property rights. The Crown set up the Waitangi Tribunal, a body with the powers of a Commission of Enquiry, to investigate and make recommendations on such issues, but it cannot make binding rulings. As a result of the redress paid to many iwi (tribes), Māori now have significant interests in the fishing and forestry industries. Tensions remain, with complaints from Māori that the settlements occur at a level of between 1 and 2.5 cents on the dollar of the value of the confiscated lands. The Government need not accept the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, and has rejected some of them, with a most recent and widely-debated example in the New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy.

Once Were Warriors, a 1994 film adapted from a 1990 novel of the same name by Alan Duff, brought the plight of some urban Māori to a wide audience. It was the highest-grossing film in New Zealand until 2006,[45][46] and received international acclaim, winning several international film prizes.[47] While some Māori feared that viewers would consider the violent male characters an accurate portrayal of Māori men, most critics praised it as exposing the raw side of domestic violence.[48] Some Māori opinion, particularly feminist, welcomed the debate on domestic violence that the film enabled[citation needed].

In many areas of New Zealand, Māori lost its role as a living community language used by significant numbers of people in the post-war years. In tandem with calls for sovereignty and for the righting of social injustices from the 1970s onwards, many New Zealand schools now teach Māori culture and language, and pre-school kohanga reo ("language-nests") have started, which teach tamariki (young children) exclusively in Māori. These now extend right through secondary schools (kura tuarua). In 2004 Māori Television, a government-funded channel committed to broadcasting primarily in te reo, began. Māori is an official language de jure, but English is de facto the national language. At the 2006 Census, Māori was the second most widely-spoken language after English, with four percent of New Zealanders able to speak Māori to at least a conversational level. No official data has been gathered on fluency levels.

There are seven designated Māori seats in the Parliament of New Zealand (and Māori can and do stand in and win general roll seats), and consideration of and consultation with Māori have become routine requirements for councils and government organisations. Debate occurs frequently as to the relevance and legitimacy of the Māori electoral roll, and the National Party announced in 2008 it would abolish the seats when all historic Treaty settlements have been resolved, which it aims to complete by 2014.[49]

Modern challenges

Māori on average have fewer assets than the rest of the population, and run greater risks of many negative economic and social outcomes. Over 50% of Māori live in areas in the three highest deprivation deciles, compared with 24% of the rest of the population.[50] Although Māori make up only 14% of the population, they make up almost 50% of the prison population.[51] Māori have higher unemployment-rates than other cultures resident in New Zealand [52] Māori have higher numbers of suicides than non-Māori.[53] "Only 47% of Māori school-leavers finish school with qualifications higher than NCEA Level One; compared to a massive 74% European; 87% Asian."[54] Māori suffer more health problems, including higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse, smoking and obesity. Less frequent use of healthcare services mean that late diagnosis and treatment intervention lead to higher levels of morbidity and mortality in many manageable conditions, such as cervical cancer,[55] diabetes[56] per head of population than non-Māori.[57] Māori also have considerably lower life-expectancies compared to New Zealanders of European ancestry: Māori males 69.0 years vs. non-Māori males 77.2 years; Māori females 73.2 yrs vs. non-Māori females 81.9 years.[58] Also, a recent study by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse showed that Māori women and children are more likely to experience domestic violence than any other ethnic group.[59]

Treaty of Waitangi settlements

During the 1990s and 2000s, the government negotiated with Māori to provide redress for breaches by the Crown of the guarantees set out in the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. By 2006 the government had provided over NZ$900 million in settlements, much of it in the form of land deals. The largest settlement, signed on 25 June 2008 with seven Māori iwi, transferred nine large tracts of forested land to Māori control.[60]

Rising middle class

There is a growing Māori middle class of high achievers who see the treaty settlements as a platform for economic development.[61]


First European impression of Māori, at Murderers' Bay in Abel Tasman's travel journal (1642)
A Māori chief with tattoos (moko) seen by Cook and his crew.
A young man performs in a kapa haka group at a Rotorua tourist venue.

Traditional culture

The eastern Polynesian ancestors of the Māori arrived in a forested land with abundant birdlife, including several now extinct moa species weighing from 20 to 250 kg. Other species, also now extinct, included a swan, a goose and the giant Haast's Eagle, which preyed upon the moa. Marine mammals, in particular seals, thronged the coasts, with coastal colonies much further north than today.[62]

In the mid-19th century, people discovered large numbers of moa-bones alongside human tools, with some of the bones showing evidence of butchery and cooking. Early researchers, such as Julius von Haast, a geologist, incorrectly interpreted these remains as belonging to a prehistoric Paleolithic people; later researchers, notably Percy Smith, magnified such theories into an elaborate scenario with a series of sharply-defined cultural stages which had Māori arriving in a Great Fleet in 1350 AD and replacing the so-called "moa-hunter" culture with a "classical Māori" culture based on horticulture.[63] Current anthropological theories recognise no evidence for a pre-Māori people; the archaeological record indicates a gradual evolution in culture that varied in pace and extent according to local resources and conditions.[64]

In the course of a few centuries, growing population led to competition for resources and an increase in warfare. The archaeological record reveals an increased frequency of fortified , although debate continues about the amount of conflict. Various systems arose which aimed to conserve resources; most of these, such as tapu and rāhui, used religious or supernatural threats to discourage people from taking species at particular seasons or from specified areas.

Warfare between tribes was common, generally over land conflicts or to restore mana. Fighting was carried out between units called hapu. Although not practised during times of peace, Māori would sometimes eat their conquered enemies.[65]

As Māori continued in geographic isolation, performing arts such as the haka developed from their Polynesian roots, as did carving and weaving. Regional dialects arose, with minor differences in vocabulary and in the pronunciation of some words. The language retains close similarities to other Eastern Polynesian languages, to the point where a Tahitian chief on Cook's first voyage in the region acted as an interpreter between Māori and the crew of the Endeavour.

Around 1500 AD a group of Māori migrated east to Rekohu (the Chatham Islands), where, by adapting to the local climate and the availability of resources, they developed a culture known as Moriori — related to but distinct from Māori culture in mainland Aotearoa. A notable feature of the Moriori culture, an emphasis on pacifism, proved disastrous when a party of invading Taranaki Māori arrived in 1835. Few of the estimated Moriori population of 2000 survived.[66]

Performing arts

Kapa haka

Kapa haka (literally, haka team), a traditional Māori performance art form, is still popular today. It includes haka (posture dance), poi (dance accompanied by song and rhythmic movements of the poi, a light ball on a string) waiata-ā-ringa (action songs) and waiata koroua (traditional chants). From the early 20th century kapa haka concert parties began touring overseas, including those led by guide Makareti (Maggie) Papakura. Since 1972 there has been a regular competition, the Te Matatini National Festival, organised by the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Society. Kapa haka is taught by experts such as Ngāpo (Bub) Wehi, Pita Sharples, and Tihi Puanaki, and notable kapa haka groups include Waihirere of the Gisborne area, and Te Waka Huia from Auckland. There are also kapa haka groups in schools, tertiary institutions and workplaces. Kapa haka is performed at tourist venues such as Te Puia in Whakarewarewa, Wairākei Terraces near Taupo, and Ko Tāne in Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, Christchurch.[67][68]

Belief and religion

Traditionally, Maori believed in Te Ao Maori and practices such as Tohungatanga until Maori traditions and practices were suppressed and its society was colonised under European/British rule and their Christian beliefs.

Today, Māori "tend to be followers of Presbyterianism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), or Māori Christian groups such as Ratana and Ringatu",[69] but with Catholic, Anglican and Methodist groupings also prominent.[70][71] There is also a growing community of Māori Muslims.


Māori participate fully in New Zealand's sporting culture. The national All Black rugby union team has featured many Māori players even though rugby league is more popular with Māori.[72] There are also Māori rugby union, rugby league and cricket teams that play in international competitions. Ki-o-rahi and tapawai are two sports of Māori origin. Ki-o-rahi got an unexpected boost when McDonalds chose it to represent New Zealand.[73] Waka ama (outrigger canoeing) is also popular with Māori.


Māori or te reo Māori (pronounced [ˈmaːoɾi, te ˈɾeo ˈmaːoɾi]) commonly te reo ("the language"), is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori, where it has the status of an official language. Linguists classify it within the Eastern Polynesian languages as being closely related to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan and Tahitian; somewhat less closely to Hawaiian and Marquesan; and more distantly to the languages of Western Polynesia, including Samoan, Tokelauan, Niuean and Tongan.


Historical development

19th-century village life
19th-century depiction of village life.

Polynesian settlers in New Zealand developed a distinct society over several hundred years. Social groups were tribal, with no unified society or single Māori identity until after the arrival of Europeans. Nevertheless, common elements could be found in all Māori groups in pre-European New Zealand, including a shared Polynesian heritage, a common basic language, familial associations, traditions of warfare, and similar mythologies and religious beliefs.[74]

Most Māori lived in villages, which were inhabited by several whānau (extended families) who collectively formed a hapū (clan or subtribe). Members of a hapū cooperated with food production, gathering resources, raising families and defence. Māori society across New Zealand was broadly stratified into three classes of people: rangatira, chiefs and ruling families; tūtūā, commoners; and mōkai, slaves. Tohunga also held special standing in their communities as specialists of revered arts, skills and esoteric knowledge.[75][76]

Shared ancestry, intermarriage and trade strengthened relationships between different groups. Many hapū with mutually-recognised shared ancestry formed iwi, or tribes, which were the largest social unit in Māori society. Hapū and iwi often united for expeditions to gather food and resources, or in times of conflict. In contrast, warfare developed as an integral part of traditional life, as different groups competed for food and resources, settled personal disputes, and sought to increase their prestige and authority.[75]

Māori whānau from Rotorua in the 1880s
Māori whānau from Rotorua in the 1880s. Many aspects of Western life and culture, including European clothing and architecture, became incorporated into Māori society during the 19th century.

The arrival of Europeans to New Zealand dates back to the 17th century, although it was not until the expeditions of James Cook over a hundred years later that any meaningful interactions occurred between Europeans and Māori. For Māori, the new arrivals brought opportunities for trade, which many groups embraced eagerly. Early European settlers introduced tools, weapons, clothing and foods to Māori across New Zealand, in exchange for resources, land and labour. Māori began selectively adopting elements of Western society during the 19th century, including European clothing and food, and later Western education, religion and architecture.[77]

But as the 19th century wore on, relations between European colonial settlers and different Māori groups became increasingly strained. Tensions led to conflict in the 1860s, and the confiscation of millions of acres of Māori land by the New Zealand colonial government. Significant amounts of land were also purchased by the colonial government and later through the Native Land Court. Confiscations and land sales facilitated European expansion across New Zealand, but also drastically reduced the economic sustainability and social organisation of many iwi. The 19th century also saw a dramatic decline in the Māori population across New Zealand, widely attributed to outbreaks of disease and a deterioration in living conditions.[78]

By the start of the 20th century, a greater awareness had emerged of a unified Māori identity, particularly in comparison to Pākehā, who now overwhelmingly outnumbered the Māori as a whole. Māori and Pākehā societies remained largely separate – socially, culturally, economically and geographically – for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries.[79] Nevertheless, Māori groups continued to engage with the government and in legal processes to increase their standing in – and ultimately further their incorporation into – wider New Zealand society.[80]

Many Māori migrated to larger rural towns and cities during the Depression and post-WWII periods in search of employment, leaving rural communities depleted and disconnecting many urban Māori from their traditional social controls and tribal homelands. Yet while standards of living improved among Māori, they continued to lag behind Pākehā in areas such as health, income, skilled employment and access to higher levels of education. Māori leaders and government policymakers alike struggled to deal with social issues stemming from increased urban migration, including a shortage of housing and jobs, and a rise in urban crime, poverty and health problems.[81]. In regards to housing, a 1961 census revealed significant differences in the living conditions of Māori and Europeans. That year, out of all the (unshared) non-Māori private dwellings in New Zealand, 96.8% had a bath or shower, 94.1% a hot water service, 88.7% a flush toilet, 81.6% a refrigerator, and 78.6% an electric washing machine. By contrast, for all (unshared) Māori private dwellings that same year, 76.8% had a bath or shower, 68.9% a hot water service, 55.8% a refrigerator, 54.1% a flush toilet, and 47% an electric washing machine.[82].

While the arrival of Europeans had a profound impact on the Māori way of life, many aspects of traditional society have survived into the 21st century. Māori participate fully in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, leading largely Western lifestyles while also maintaining their own cultural and social customs. The traditional social strata of rangatira, tūtūā and mōkai have all but disappeared from Māori society, while the roles of tohunga and kaumātua are still present. Traditional kinship ties are also actively maintained, and the whānau in particular remains an integral part of Māori life.[83]

Marae, hapū and iwi

Whenuakura Marae in Taranaki
Whenuakura Marae in Taranaki. Marae continue to function as local community centres in modern Māori society.

Māori society at a local level is particularly visible at the marae. Formerly the central meeting spaces in traditional villages, marae today usually comprise a group of buildings around an open space, that frequently host events such as weddings, funerals, church services and other large gatherings, with traditional protocol and etiquette usually observed. They also serve as the base of one or sometimes several hapū.[84]

Most Māori affiliate with one or more iwi (and hapū), based on genealogical descent (whakapapa). Iwi vary in size, from a few hundred members to over 100,000 in the case of Ngāpuhi. Many people do not live in their traditional tribal regions as a result of urban migration.

Iwi are usually governed by rūnanga – governing councils or trust boards, which represent the iwi in consultations and negotiations with the New Zealand government. Rūnanga also manage tribal assets and spearhead health, education, economic and social initiatives to help iwi members.


In the 2006 Census, 565,000 people identified as being part of the Māori ethnic group, accounting for 14.6% of the New Zealand population, while 644,000 people (17.7%) claimed Māori descent.[85] As of 30 June 2010, the estimated Māori population in New Zealand was 663,900.[1] Many Māori also have at least some Pākehā ancestry, resulting from a high rate of intermarriage between the two cultures.

According to the 2006 Census, the largest iwi by population is Ngāpuhi (122,000), followed by Ngāti Porou (72,000), Ngāti Kahungunu (60,000) and Ngāi Tahu (49,000). However, 102,000 Māori in the 2006 Census could not identify their iwi.[85] Outside of New Zealand, a large Māori population exists in Australia, estimated at over 110,000 in 2010.[2] The Māori Party has suggested a special seat should be created in the New Zealand parliament representing Māori in Australia.[86] Smaller communities also exist in the United Kingdom (approx. 8,000), the United States (up to 3,500) and Canada (approx. 1,000).[3][4][5]

Political representation

The Māori Parliament at Pāpāwai, Greytown in 1897
The opening of the Māori Parliament at Pāpāwai, Greytown in 1897, with Richard Seddon in attendance.

Māori have been involved in New Zealand politics since the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand, prior to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Māori have had reserved seats in the Parliament of New Zealand since 1868: presently, this accounts for seven of the 122 seats in New Zealand's unicameral parliament. The contesting of these seats was the first opportunity for many Māori to participate in New Zealand elections, although the elected Māori representatives initially struggled to assert significant influence. Māori received universal suffrage with other New Zealand citizens in 1893, and today may vote in either the general electoral roll or the separate Māori roll.

Being a traditionally tribal people, no one organisation ostensibly speaks for all Māori nationwide. The Māori King Movement originated in the 1860s as an attempt by several iwi to unify under one leader: in modern times, it serves a largely ceremonial role. Another attempt at political unity was the Kotahitanga Movement, which established a separate Māori Parliament that held annual sessions from 1892 until its last sitting in 1902.[87] Several Māori political parties have formed over the years to improve the position of Māori in New Zealand society. The present Māori Party, formed in 2004, secured 2.39% of the party vote at the 2008 general election and holds five seats in the 49th New Zealand Parliament, with two MPs serving as Ministers outside Cabinet.


The New Zealand Law Commission has started a project to develop a legal framework for Māori who want to manage communal resources and responsibilities. The voluntary system proposes an alternative to existing companies, incorporations, and trusts in which tribes and hapū and other groupings can interact with the legal system. The foreshadowed legislation, under the proposed name of the "Waka Umanga (Māori Corporations) Act", would provide a model adaptable to suit the needs of individual iwi.[88][89] At the end of 2009, the proposed legislation was awaiting a second hearing.[90]

Wider commercial exposure has increased public awareness of the Māori culture, but has also resulted in several notable legal disputes. Between 1998 and 2006, Ngāti Toa attempted to trademark the haka "Ka Mate" to prevent its use by commercial organisations without their permission.[91] In 2001, Danish toymaker Lego faced legal action by several Māori tribal groups (fronted by lawyer Maui Solomon) and members of the on-line discussion forum Aotearoa Cafe for trademarking Māori words used in naming the Bionicle product range – see Bionicle Māori controversy.

Race relations

Protest hikoi during the Foreshore and Seabed controversy in 2004
Protest hikoi during the Foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004.
New Zealand endorses Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, 2010
New Zealand endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in April 2010.

The status of Māori as the indigenous people of New Zealand is recognised in New Zealand law by the term tāngata whenua (lit. "people of the land"), which identifies the traditional connection between Māori and a given area of land. Māori as a whole can be considered as tāngata whenua of New Zealand entirely; individual iwi are recognised as tāngata whenua for areas of New Zealand in which they are traditionally based, while hapū are tāngata whenua within their marae. New Zealand law periodically requires consultation between the government and tāngata whenua – for example, during major land development projects. This usually takes the form of negotiations between local or national government and the rūnanga of one or more relevant iwi, although the government generally decides which (if any) concerns are acted upon.

Māori issues are a prominent feature of race relations in New Zealand. Historically, many Pākehā viewed race relations in their country as being the "best in the world", a view that prevailed until Māori urban migration in the mid-20th century brought cultural and socioeconomic differences to wider attention.[92]

Māori protest movements grew significantly in the 1960s and 1970s seeking redress for past grievances, particularly in regard to land rights. Successive governments have responded by enacting affirmative action programmes, funding cultural rejuvenation initiatives and negotiating tribal settlements for past breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.[93] Further efforts have focused on cultural preservation and reducing socioeconomic disparity.

Nevertheless, race relations remains a contentious issue in New Zealand society. Māori advocates continue to push for further redress claiming that their concerns are being marginalised or ignored. Conversely, critics denounce the scale of assistance given to Māori as amounting to preferential treatment for a select group of people based on race.[94] Both sentiments were highlighted during the foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004, in which the New Zealand government claimed sole ownership of the New Zealand foreshore and seabed, over the objections of Māori groups who were seeking customary title.[95]


  • ^i : Māori has cognates in other Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian 'Maoli,' Tahitian 'Mā'ohi,' and Cook Islands Maori 'Māori' which all share similar meanings.
  • ^ii : The orthographic conventions developed by the Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori) recommend the use of the macron (ā ē ī ō ū) to denote long vowels. Contemporary English-language usage in New Zealand tends to avoid the anglicised plural form of the word Māori with an "s": Māori generally marks plurals by changing the article rather than the noun, for example: te waka (the canoe); ngā waka (the canoes).
  • ^iii : In 2003, Christian Cullen became a member of the Māori rugby team despite having, according to his father, about 1/64 Māori ancestry.[96]
  • ^iv : Although, as noted elsewhere in this article, evidence is increasingly pointing to 1280 as the earliest date of settlement.


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  • Hill, Richard S (2009). "Maori and State Policy". In Byrnes, Giselle. The New Oxford History of New Zealand. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-558471-4. 
  • Howe, K. R. (2003). The quest for origins: who first discovered and settled the Pacific islands?. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-14-301857-4. 
  • Howe, Kerry (2006). "Ideas of Māori Origins". In Māori Peoples of New Zealand: Ngā Iwi o Aotearoa. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Auckland: David Bateman.
  • Irwin, Geoffrey (2006). "Pacific Migrations". In Māori Peoples of New Zealand: Ngā Iwi o Aotearoa. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Auckland: David Bateman.
  • King, Michael (1996). Maori: A Photographic and Social History (2nd ed.). Auckland: Reed Publishing. ISBN 0 7900 0500 X. 
  • King, Michael (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-301867-1. 
  • Lashley, Marilyn E. (2006). "Remedying Racial and Ethnic Inequality in New Zealand: Reparative and Distributive Policies of Social Justice". In Myers, Samuel L.; Corrie, Bruce P.. Racial and ethnic economic inequality: an international perspective, volume 1996. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-5656-X. 
  • McIntosh, Tracey (2005), 'Maori Identities: Fixed, Fluid, Forced', in James H. Liu, Tim McCreanor, Tracey McIntosh and Teresia Teaiwa, eds, New Zealand Identities: Departures and Destinations, Wellington: Victoria University Press
  • Mead, Hirini Moko (2003). Tikanga Māori: living by Māori values. Wellington: Huia Publishers. ISBN 1-877283-88-6. 
  • Orange, Claudia (1989). The Story of a Treaty. Wellington: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0046410538. 
  • Sorrenson, M. P. K (1997). "Modern Māori: The Young Maori Party to Mana Motuhake". In Sinclair, Keith. The Oxford Illustrated History of New Zealand (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 019 558381 7. 

Further reading

  • Ballara, Angela (1998). Iwi: the dynamics of Māori tribal organisation from c. 1769 to c. 1945. Wellington: Victoria University Press. ISBN 0 86473 328 3. 
  • Biggs, Bruce (1994). "Does Māori have a closest relative?" In Sutton (Ed.)(1994), pp. 96 – 105.
  • Hiroa, Te Rangi (Sir Peter Buck) (1974). The Coming of the Māori. Second edition. First published 1949. Wellington: Whitcombe and Tombs.
  • Irwin, Geoffrey (1992). The Prehistoric Exploration and Colonisation of the Pacific. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Simmons, D.R. (1997). Ta Moko, The Art of Māori Tattoo. Revised edition. First published 1986. Auckland: Reed
  • Sutton, Douglas G. (Ed.) (1994). The Origins of the First New Zealanders. Auckland: Auckland University Press. ISBN 1869400984
  • Mclean, Mervyn (1996). "Maori Music". Auckland : Auckland University Press.

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