The Maori, a Cultural Window

So Andrew and I decided it’d be very interesting to learn more about the Maori culture since they are a fairly big part of the New Zealand demographic. The Polynesian people came to New Zealand and are the ancestors of the Maori people and traditions. The Europeans came afterwards and today the Maori people are a much smaller group occupying a much smaller percentage of land. There are still some on-going disputes between the Maori and the New Zealand government, albeit there is no more killing over land, as opposed to back in the day.


Like many native cultures, that Maori have shifted ways considerably. As a culture, they have adapted to the changes in the environment around them, both culturally and physically. One thing that stands out to me is the Anglican Church in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. Like the Mayans in Mexico, many Maori practice more mainstream religions, but have adapted those religions to incorporate Maori tradition. See Maori carvings on the Anglican church above. Graves are above ground to accommodate for the thermal activity in the Rotorua area as well. The above ground graves are a common trait across New Zealand.

The Thermal Village is a modern day village for the Maori people, but it is very run down. The houses are tiny, at best and in poor condition. As we learned later, the Maori traditions almost went extinct after most of the communities were decimated  by the British and Europeans and the remaining Maori were shifting into the 21st century. Slowly, a few prominent Maori have made a big push to get the communities to better learn about and share their heritage.


The Mitai Maori Village is another modern day village for the Maori people. The Mitai family runs a culture event including a hangi, a Maori meal, and a performance as well as a bush walk through their grounds. Throughout the evening, the guides passed on a lot of interesting information. For instance, the haka is the dance or a war cry utilizing intense focus and all the muscles in the body. The New Zealand Rugby team performs a haka prior to games, so you may have seen it. They described the meaning behind some of the tattoos (the facial tattoos are all of birds), weapons and instruments they use as well. Many of the artifacts are just that, artifacts, but there are other items that are currently used for cultural or entertainment purposes. The mere, a short, blunt club is no longer used today but for decoration, but the Taiaha, a long rod/spear is still used for cultural performances and in practice (like karate). The grounds of the Mitai Village were beautiful and the cultural performances and events are a great way to share their culture.


There was a performance at the Mitai Maori village that included dancing and demonstrations, but first there was the greeting. In traditional Maori, there is a test to see if visitors are friend or foe. As part of the tradition, the Maori perform an intimidating dance and then offer a peace offering. Our group of tourists elected an Irishmen (Maori are a patriarchal culture, no woman allowed as chiefs) to accept the peace offering on our groups behalf. Additionally, once the visitor chief accepts the peace offering the whole tribe must perform a song. We did, and while as a group our Maori was terrible, most people participated respectfully with only a few chuckles.


After the performance we ate a hangi, a traditional Maori meal. The hangi is prepared by putting food, meat and vegetables, on top of burning coals or wood underground, covered in wet blankets for steam and then covered with earth. Some tribes in the area even use the hot springs to boil or steam food. The hangi we participated in had chicken, lamb, potatoes, kumara (local sweet potato) and then an assortment of cold foods and salads. The meat was pretty juicy, but to be fair it wasn’t super flavorful as there were no spices. There were a handful of sauces, berry, mint or gravy to accompany the meat and potatoes though. It was enjoyable, nonetheless.


After dinner there was a short walk through the bush where we saw glowworms. They were pretty cool, but of course, I couldn’t capture those in a picture. Also, the guide shined a light into the pond (pictured above) and we saw a huge eel! The grounds where these Maori live are pretty spectacular! Though of course, they have fought very hard in the past to keep it. I’m glad that I was able to learn about the Maori and it was a great experience.