Understanding New Zealand means understanding how Maori culture influences our daily lives.

It runs deep in many aspects of our daily life. From our cuisine, language and our attitudes, to what children learn at school – the Maori culture is a huge part of New Zealand identity.

About the people

Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand Aotearoa. In fact, Te Reo (the Maori language) even is an official language of the country. As the 2013 New Zealand census showed, nearly 700,000 New Zealanders were of Māori descent. In other words, one in seven of us.

While the best way to learn about Māori culture is to experience it at first hand, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has some excellent reading. Not only does it cover Māori settlement and an overview of Māori culture, but also discusses ‘biculturalism’.

Moreover, it focusses on how the relationship between Māori and Pakeha (Europeans) has changed over time.

Customs - Tikanga

If you live in New Zealand you really should have a basic understanding of Māori customs and protocol. It is essential if you want to visit a marae or get invited. The marae is the focal point of local Māori communities throughout New Zealand.

In particular, there are two important aspects of Tikanga you should be aware of: Manaakitanga and Kaitiakitanga.


Maori @ Fraser Clements

First, Manaakitanga is all about hospitality and kindness. It expects hosts to welcome their guest and look after them in a humble manner. By offering hospitality, generosity and mutual respect, everyone involved comes out better off.

Especially today, many New Zealanders live this concept in their daily lives. Even our government recognises it as one of the two core values of our tourism strategy.


Maori culture - K. Gasenzer

Second, Kaitiakitanga is the strong sense of respect and guardianship Māori have for the natural environment. Related concepts are mana, tapu and mauri:

  • First, Mana is spiritual power. Abundant blossoms and fruit, and birds arriving to feed show the forest’s mana and its strength.
  • Second, Tapu is spiritual restriction. For mana to come forth in the forest, some restrictions have to be put in place. Tapu is the basis for rāhui (restrictions) which, for instance, might put fishing areas off limits till stocks recover.
  • Third, Mauri is life force. The mauri of the forest must be protected so its mana can flow.

Place Names

Sometimes you might hear two different names used for places in New Zealand: the Māori and the English name. Some Maori names have officially replaced English names, but some people may still use the latter.

Or you may hear different pronounciations of the same Māori name. Although Kiwis are gradually becoming more aware of using correct Māori pronunciation, some of them still have a distinctly Pakeha way of saying certain Māori words.