The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand; they comprise about 14 percent of the country's population -around 600,000. The Maori live predominately in the North Island where the climate is warmer.
A) Maori legend says that the Maori came from "Hawaiki", the legendary homeland about 1000 years ago. When the Maori arrived in Aotearoa -the Maori name for New Zealand= Land of the long white cloud) they found a land that was much colder and it possessed many volcanoes and huge snow capped mountains.
B)The commonly accepted theory today, says that the Maori originated in China, and traveled via Taiwan, the Philippines to Indonesia, onto Melanesia and reached Fiji, from there to Samoa and on to the Marquises and turned South West to Tahiti, thence to the Cook Islands and to/New Zealand.
C) Some believe that the Maori found Aotearoa probably by chance or mistake as they could have been blown off course in one of their navigations. But there is also evidence that the Maori had sophisticated ancient knowledge of the stars and ocean currents and this knowledge is carved in their "whare" (houses).
Dutch navigator Abel Tasman was the first European to encounter the Maori. Four members of his crew were killed in a bloody encounter in 1642. In 1769 British explorer James Cook established friendly relations with some Maori. By 1800, visits by European ships were relatively frequent. After the arrival of the Europeans, metal became available for trade. At this time, war and disease took their toll on the Maori till eventually their population dropped to about 100,000.
In 1840 representatives of Britain and Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. This treaty established British rule, granted the Maori British citizenship, and recognized Maori land rights. Today many of the treaty's provisions are disputed and there is an effort from the New Zealand Government to recompense Maori for land that was illegally confiscated.
The Māori believe all living things are descended from the Gods, embodied within certain mountains, rivers and lakes. All things have a type of soul. This is why the Māori have strong spiritual ties to the land. Priests or qualified persons use a godstick or “tiki wananga" to communicate with the spirits of certain gods. The priest either thrusts the godstick into the ground, or holds it. He calls upon the deity concerned to bless or help the tribe. Nowadays among churches in Maori community belong Ringatu church, Ratana church, but also the Church of England, the Catholic church.
Maoritanga is the native language which is related to Tahitian and Hawaiian. The name "Māori" originally meant "the local people", as opposed to the new arrivals - white European settlers - the "pakeha". First missionary schools started to be set up in the middle of 19th century. The use of the Māori language in schools was actively discouraged, in order to encourage assimilation into European culture. As a result, by 1960, only 26% of Māori spoke Māori as their first language. Thanks to the campaigning efforts of Sir Apirana Ngata, the Māori language became a University subject in 1951. In 1987 the Māori Language Act declared Māori as an official language of New Zealand. Radio and Television stations have been established, by Māori, for Māori, and in the Māori language. Each year, a National Māori Language Week takes place.
Before the coming of the Pakeha (White Man) to New Zealand, stories and legends were handed down both orally and through weavings and carvings. Some carvings are over 500 years old. This included many legends and waiata (song). The most recognised tradition today is the "Haka". There were quite a number of different types of haka performed in pre-European times- hakas of joy, and warlike hakas of "utu", performed before going into battle. The Haka tells of great feats, or it’s danced as a special welcome. The Haka has been immortalized by New Zealand's Rugby Team the All Blacks, who perform this dance before every game.
The traditional Maori welcome is called a powhiri, this involves a hongi which is a greeting that involves pressing noses as opposed to a kiss. Often this is performed three times : the first pressing is a greeting to the person, the second acknowledges ancestors, and a third pressing of nose and forehead honours life in this world.
The term "Whakapapa" is used to describe Maori genealogy. Whakapapa means to place in layers and this is the way that different orders of genealogies are looked at. One generation upon another.
Another prominent feature is the striking tattoos. Full faced tattoos or "moko" was predominantly a male activity. Female forms of moko were restricted to the chin area, the upper lip, and the nostrils. According to Māori mythology, there was a young man named Mataora who was in love with a young princess of the underworld named Niwareka. One day however, Mataora beat Niwareka a she run back to her father. Mataora followed her with a broken heart, begged her for forgiveness with his face paint messed and dirty after his long voyage. She finally accepted and her father taught him the art of tattooing.
For the tribes further south, living in a much cooler climate and where crops were less easily cultivated, hunting the Moa- flightless bird and the seal remained the main activities for food resources. Fishing was a very important economic activity, and fishing rights still take extreme importance today.
A traditional form of cooking called a Hangi is a feast cooked in the earth. They usually put there some mutton- baranina, pork, chicken, potatoes and Kumara (a sweet potato) The food takes about 3 hours to cook. The Hangi is still popular and is an alternative to a weekend barbecue. The unique taste of food cooked in a Hangi can best be described as steamed food with an earthen flavour. Kumara:
"A sweet potato of tropical origin. Maori claim to bring kumara from their original Homeland Hawaiki. It was their major cultivated food crop. The kumara grew successfully only on sheltered north-facing gardens in the north of the North Island. Extra food /as dried fish or flesh/ and also weapons or mats were stored in a "pataka" (storehouse). Pataka symbolized the rich resources of the tribal chief. Pataka was generally decorated with carvings which made reference to fertility, or to a generous food supply. It was mounted on piles, and situated within the marae area. Only war canoes were second to the pataka in prestigious ranking. The pataka was usually tapu (under sacred protection).
The Marae, sacred open meeting area, is the place of greatest spirituality. Young people are expected to help in the work on the Marae. The older people of the Marae have authority, and are respected. The Kaumatua (older people) are the Marae elders. Their role is to teach the young people Māori traditions such as "whaikorero" (speeches), "whakapapa" (genealongy" or "waiata" (song). The elders also take part in welcoming visitors. A white man may only enter the Marae on permission from the Elders.
The Whare is nearly always situated between the Marae and the gateway. It is used for funerals, religious meetings, or entertaining visitor. The Whare is usually symbolically designed to represent the chief and his ancestors and is nearly always named after an ancestor.
A Pa is a fortified settlement, including ditches, banks and palisades as protection. Each pa was dedicated to a tribal god. The fortified pa included a complex internal organization. The pa had several cooking areas. Pits for storing food were established outside of the perimeter palisades. The well fortified pa was practically invulnerable to attack. The battle of "Gate Pa" was a perfect example. This battle was fought on 29 April 1864 and was one of a number of engagements fought in the period 1860 - 1872 in what are known as the New Zealand Wars or the Maori Wars. These wars were fought between the native Maori and the British Government which at that time administered New Zealand as a colony. Gate Pa was to be a major defeat for the British at the hands of an out numbered Maori and even today there is no clear reason why this defeat occurred.
By the time of the Battle of Gate Pa, Pa design had reached a high point. Features of the pa were: Pekerangi (Light Fence), behind the pekerangi was a trench then a parapet formed out of the earth thrown out of the digging of the trench. Within the parapet there were underground chambers that served as shelter from muskets and cannon balls. A witness to these chambers in a pa in 1860 said:"The pa consisted of ten chambers excavated in the clay, communicating with each other, three at each side, and two at each flank, each calculated to contain from twenty to twenty-five men. These chambers were wider at top than at bottom, sloping from the centre to give strength and width of base to the work. The chambers were overlaid with rafters and a layer of fern and earth between two and three feet deep, the whole surrounded with a double fence, filled up with fern and earth, communicated with the interior, and from whence the inmates could fire without in the least exposing themselves."
The interior design of the trenches was like a labyrinth.
War parties were usually composed of males, although female tribal members could fight as well. The Māori warriors excelled in the art of appearing and disappearing swiftly and noiselessly. They usually attacked at dawn. The aim was to kill all enemies, so that no survivors would remain with the risk of "utu" (revenge). If a lasting peace was considered with a former enemy, an inter-tribal marriage was arranged to ensure the peace pact. The fighting season was generally between late November and early April, the summer months, when food and fishing was plentiful for warriors on a long war trail. A war party led by a chief (rangatira), would be made up of around 70 warriors, which was the average compliment of a war canoe (waka taua). It was not uncommon, however, for a war canoe to carry up to 140 warriors.