Known as the tāngata whenua (indigenous people) of Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori immigrated here from Polynesia many years ago, and formed their own unique cultures, language and traditions.

Following the arrival of European settlers, in 1840 te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) was signed between Māori chiefs and the British crown as an agreement of partnership, protection and participation. In early 1860s, land wars broke out and Māori lost most of their land through European colonisation. Today, a number of iwi (tribal groups) continue to negotiate with the Government in attempts to settle breaches by the Crown.

Currently, approximately one in seven people in New Zealand are Māori, and while many live in urban areas away from their hapū and iwi, culture remains an integral part of daily life.

Visitors to New Zealand have the opportunity to experience the country’s unique Māori culture, and are encouraged to learn and appreciate the long-standing values and traditions that bring depth and beauty to Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. We’ve put together a brief overview below – read on to learn more about Tikanga Māori (ways of conduct).


Central to the concept of Māoritanga (Māori culture) is the marae, a complex of carved buildings and grounds belonging to the local iwi (tribe), hapū (clan) or whānau (family). Marae are used for meetings, celebrations, funerals, educational workshops and other important events.

“He tangata takahi manuhiri, he marae puehu.”

A person who mistreats his guest has a dusty Marae
This proverb accentuates the importance of Manaakitanga, or hospitality within Māori society and culture.


A hui is a gathering of people, such as marriage celebrations, tangi (funerals), social gatherings or meeting for the purpose of decision-making. Māori believe that everyone gets to have a say, and have a very collaborative decision-making process.

“He waka eke noa.”

A canoe which we are all in with no exception
This proverb demonstrates the Māori philosophy that “we are all in this together”. To give some context – say a group of friends were going out for dinner, but one didn’t have enough money. You can say he waka eke noa, meaning you will pay as one group and it would not be the same if they were to miss out.


Māori have strong spiritual connection with the land – Papatūānuku (the earth mother). They regard the land, soil and water as taonga (treasures). Māori are connected to the land through whakapapa (genealogy), and therefore see themselves as the kaitiaki (guardians) of this taonga which provides a source of unity and identity for tangata whenua (tangata – people, whenua – land, so ‘people who are the land’).

“Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua.”

Man disappears, the land remainsThis proverb conveys the holistic values of the Māori, and the utmost respect of Papatūānuku, earth Mother and Ranginui, Father sky.


In Aotearoa, the iwi (tribe) is the largest of the groups that form Māori society often linked to a common ancestor or waka (canoe). Each iwi is made up of various hapū (clans), which might have several hundred members.

“He kākano ahau i ruia mai i Rangiātea.”

I am a seed which was sown in the heavens of Rangiatea
A famous proverb from the Aotea waka, which shows the importance of your genealogy and your culture.


Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) is one of the three official languages of New Zealand (the others being English and New Zealand sign language). Visitors to the country are encouraged to learn the basics of the language, and familiarise themselves with words and concepts unique to Māori – for example;
Whānau - an extended family or community of people who live together in the same area.
Mana - the Māori concept of authority, spiritual power or charisma.
Tapu - something sacred, prohibited, set apart or holy.
Utu - the Māori concept of reciprocation and balance.
Wairua - the spirit associated with a person or thing.

“Toi tu te kupu, toi tu te mana, toi tu te whenua.”

This proverb was spoken by Tinirau of Wanganui. It is a reminder that without language, without mana (spirit), and without land, the essence of being a Māori would no longer exist, but be a skeleton which would not give justice to the full body of Māoritanga (Māoridom).


Māori traditional ways of conduct and culture (Tikanga Māori) have been handed down through history and have relevance today. Visitors to New Zealand are invited to respect Tikanga Māori by familiarising themselves with certain etiquette and protocols. For example;.

  • Marae (meeting grounds) are sacred – you’re usually invited, or can request permission before entering a Marae.
  • Many Māori sites are tapu (sacred). Areas such as burial grounds are particularly tapu and should not be touched or approached without permission.
  • Because the body is tapu, places for food preparation (tables, benches) are not for sitting on or for leaving clothes on. The head is the most tapu part of the body, so out of respect you would ask permission before touching someone’s head or sit on their pillow.
  • Food (including chewing gum) is not consumed inside the meeting house (Wharenui).
  • Footwear is usually removed before entering the meeting house.


The haka is an ancient Māori war dance, traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups come together in peace. The haka is intended as a display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity. People from all over the world have seen one form of this tradition in action courtesy of the All Blacks at rugby matches! This particular haka comes from Ngati Toa tribe in the central North Island.

Ka mate, ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna nei I tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
Ā, upane! Ka upane!
Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!


The pōhiri or pōwhiri is the traditional Māori welcome ceremony, usually taking place on a marae. A purpose of the pōwhiri is to remove the tapu of the Manuhiri (visitors) and make them one with the Tāngata Whenua (local people).

“Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi.”

With your basket and my basket the people will liveThis proverb refers to co-operation, teamwork and the sharing of resources to get ahead.


Māori pass on their history, myths and genealogy through storytelling. Traditional Māori storytelling utilise three essential elements; waiata (song), whakapapa (the genealogy of the story), and the karakia (prayer).

“Ko taku reo taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria.”

My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul
This proverb emphasises the importance of using language to share and strengthen Māori culture.


Māori tattoo or Tā moko is a unique expression of cultural heritage and identity. Designs are made to reflect the individual’s whakapapa (ancestry) and personal history.

“You may lose your most valuable property through misfortune in various ways… your house, your weaponry, your spouse, and other treasures. You may be robbed of all that you cherish. But of your moko, you cannot be deprived, except by death. It will be your ornament and your companion until your final day.”- Netana Whakaari of Waimana, 1921


Make the most of your chance to experience Māori culture first-hand while in New Zealand. Just a few of the best destinations include...


Auckland War Memorial Museum
Visitors to the He Taonga Māori (Māori Treasures) Gallery within Auckland Museum are presented with a story that relates the past, the present and something of the future of Māori in New Zealand. This gallery contains over 1,000 artefacts from around Aotearoa; dating back to the arrival and settlement of Māori.


Te Papa Museum
Located on Wellington’s waterfront, Te Papa Museum of New Zealand features a number of exhibits dedicated to Māori history and culture. A visit here will give you good insight into the history, legends and culture of the Māori people.


Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Bay of Islands
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is New Zealand’s most significant historic site. It was here on 6 February 1840, that te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) was first signed between Māori and the British Crown. A visit to the grounds offers the opportunity to learn about Māori culture and the ongoing significance of the treaty.


Home of Māori culture tourism in New ZealandCultural tourism was pioneered in Rotorua in the early 19th century – and the region still offers the best opportunities to learn about Māori life. Visit Tamaki Village, Whakarewarewa – ‘The Living Māori Village’, Te Puia, Mourea Marae, or the Pohutu Cultural Theatre for a memorable Māori culture experience.


Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings
The Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings that tower above the deep waters of Lake Taupō, are New Zealand’s most extraordinary artwork. Matahi Whakataka Brightwell was the key architect of this iconic attraction. Carving started in October in 1976, so 2019 marks the 43rd anniversary of the commencement of the project.


Greenstone Carving in Hokitika & Rotorua
New Zealand is home to a rich history of Pounamu (greenstone) carving. Visitors have the opportunity to carve their own greenstones with family-owned business Mountain Jade – making a beautiful personal memento of your time in New Zealand. Carving workshops run every day in their Hokitika and Rotorua locations.


Māori to English dictionary Ngata
Learn more about Māori

Header image: Te Puia Hongi