Maori Customs & Etiquette

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Rich in a unique history that ties both Maori and non - Maori people together is the first region of New Zealand

© Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Te Reo Maori — the Maori Language

Visitors to New Zealand will become immediately aware of the Maori language as the vast majority of place names are indigenous. At first you may be puzzled by the seemingly impossible-to-pronounce names. In fact, Maori has a logical structure and, unlike English, has very consistent rules of pronunciation.

How do you say Onehunga, Whangamomona and Nguru?

Maori consists of five vowel sounds: a e i o u (‘a’ as in ‘car’, ‘e’ as in ‘egg’, ‘i’ like the ‘ee’ in ‘tee’, ‘o’ as in ‘four’, ‘u’ like an ‘o’ in ‘to’). There are eight consonants in Maori similar to those in English — ‘h’, ‘k’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘p’, ‘r’, ‘t’, and ‘w’. There are also two different consonants — ‘wh’ and ‘ng’. Many Maori pronounce the ‘wh’ sound similar to our ‘f’. The ‘ng’ is similar to our own ‘ng’ sound in a word like ‘sing’, except that in Maori, words can start with ‘ng’.

The Maori language is considered a national taonga (treasure) and is spoken by around 23 percent of New Zealanders. The language is undergoing a revival, with initiatives like Maori Language Week, Maori language schools (from pre-school through to high school) and a Maori language television station all playing a role in growing te reo.

Maori Traditions

Being a tribal Polynesian people, Maori have unique traditions. These can be observed throughout New Zealand by visiting marae, craft workshops, museums and galleries, and cultural attractions.

Maori carving Waitangi
Maori carving Waitangi

Welcome to the marae

The best place to observe Maori traditions is on a marae (Maori meeting grounds). Many tourist operators in New Zealand organise visits to marae, which usually include a powhiri or traditional welcome ceremony followed by delicious Maori food. During the powhiri, visitors will be formally called onto the marae and hear speeches and songs in the Maori language before greeting their hosts with a hongi (touching of noses).

Toi Maori - culture and the arts

From ancient times Maori knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation through music, arts and crafts, story-telling and reciting of whakapapa genealogies. Traditions such as carving, weaving and ta moko (tattoo) are still practised throughout the country. Kapa haka (group performance) which incorporates harmonious singing, rhythmic dancing and ferocious war dances or haka, is a must-see for any visitor.

Stories and Legends

The Maori culture is rich with stories and legends. The creation of New Zealand is described by the legend of Maui. The demi-god Maui went fishing one day and, using his magic hook, caught a very big fish – so big it took all the strength of Maui and his four brothers to haul it up. That fish was the North Island, with its tail in the north and its head in the south. To this day, the North Island is known to Maori as Te Ika a Maui (Maui’s fish) and the South Island is said to be his waka (canoe) with Stewart Island (Rakiura) the punga (anchor). Look at a map of New Zealand to see the resemblance.

Source: Tourism New Zealand

What is offensive to Maori?

  • Remove your shoes before entering any building on the Marae.
  • Avoid touching items labelled tapu, as it means 'sacred'.
  • Don't sit on any surface where food is prepared or eaten on a Marae.
  • Younger people should be polite and respectful to older Maori.
  • Do not start eating until the blessing has been said, as many Maori are Christian.

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