Maori are descended from Polynesian people who journeyed in canoes from an ancestral homeland known as Hawaiki to reach these shores over 1,000 years ago. They established deep relationships with the land, personifying natural features to create a history in which people and land are interwoven. From the earliest years of European settlement, trading relationships were established between Maori and the new arrivals. In 1840, at Waitangi, the relationship was formalised in a treaty between Maori and the British Crown – The Treaty of Waitangi. This document established British law in New Zealand while guaranteeing Maori authority over land and culture.
Tribal New Zealand
Although Maori tribal identity is still a crucial element of the culture, it is celebrated as a unifying force rather than a divisive one. Intertribal warfare was once common, and you will find many historic battle and siege sites around the country, but now the differences between tribes are embraced as adding to the richness of the whole culture. Maori people define themselves by their iwi (tribe), hapu (sub-tribe), maunga (mountain) and awa (river). Whanau is the name given to family – in Maori society this word applies not only to the immediate family, but also to the entire extended family and all those who are related by blood or marriage.
Maori Culture Today
In recent times there has been a major resurgence of Maori language and culture. Maori culture has thrived because, in many ways, Maori have succeeded in uniting traditional culture with contemporary interpretation. Today the culture is expressed through music, the arts and the media, while a Maori cultural experience is a must do when visiting. The Maori television channel supports the culture by telling stories by and about Maori people. Maori have also been strongly involved in New Zealand politics since the first Maori MPs were elected back in 1868.