Māori people

Not to be confused with Maouri people or Mauri people.
This article is about the Māori people of New Zealand. For the Māori people of the Cook Islands, see Cook Islanders.

Total population
approx. 750,000
Regions with significant populations
 New Zealand 598,605 (2013 census)[1]
 Australia 155,000 (2011 est.)[2]
 United Kingdom approx. 8,000[3]
 United States < 3,500[4]
 Canada 1,305[5]
Other regions approx. 8,000[3]
Māori, English
Christianity, Māori religions
Related ethnic groups
other Polynesian peoples,
Austronesian peoples

The Māori (/ˈmri/; Māori pronunciation: [ˈmaːɔɾi],  listen)[6] are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. The Māori originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages at some time between 1250 and 1300 CE.[7][8] Over several centuries in isolation, the Polynesian settlers developed a unique culture that became known as the "Māori", with their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and performing arts. Early Māori formed tribal groups, based on eastern Polynesian social customs and organisation. Horticulture flourished using plants they introduced, and later a prominent warrior culture emerged.

The arrival of Europeans to New Zealand starting from the 17th century brought enormous changes to the Māori way of life. Māori people gradually adopted many aspects of Western society and culture. Initial relations between Māori and Europeans were largely amicable, and with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the two cultures coexisted as part of a new British colony. Rising tensions over disputed land sales led to conflict in the 1860s. Social upheaval, decades of conflict and epidemics of introduced disease took a devastating toll on the Māori population, which fell dramatically. By the start of the 20th century, the Māori population had begun to recover, and efforts have been made to increase their standing in wider New Zealand society and achieve social justice. Traditional Māori culture has enjoyed a revival, and a protest movement emerged in the 1960s advocating for Māori issues.

In the 2013 census, there were approximately 600,000 people in New Zealand identifying as Māori, making up roughly 15% of the national population. They are the second-largest ethnic group in New Zealand, after European New Zealanders ("Pākehā"). In addition, more than 120,000 Māori live in Australia. The Māori language (known as Te Reo Māori) is still spoken to some extent by about a fifth of all Māori, representing 3% of the total population. Many New Zealanders regularly use Māori words and expressions, such as "kia ora", while speaking English. Māori are active in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, with independent representation in areas such as media, politics and sport.

Disproportionate numbers of Māori face significant economic and social obstacles, with lower life expectancies and incomes compared with other New Zealand ethnic groups. They suffer higher levels of crime, health problems, and educational under-achievement. Socioeconomic initiatives have been implemented aimed at closing the gap between Māori and other New Zealanders. Political redress for historical grievances is also ongoing.


In the Māori language, the word māori means "normal", "natural" or "ordinary". In legends and oral traditions, the word distinguished ordinary mortal human beings—tāngata māori—from deities and spirits (wairua);[9][i] likewise wai māori denoted "fresh water" as opposed to salt water. There are cognate words in most Polynesian languages,[10] all deriving from Proto-Polynesian *ma(a)qoli, which has the reconstructed meaning "true, real, genuine".[11][12]

In English, the name is normally spelled "Maori", without the diacritic. Most major news outlets (for example, Stuff and the New Zealand Herald) all omit the diacritic.

Naming and self-naming

Early visitors from Europe to New Zealand generally referred to the indigenous inhabitants as "New Zealanders" or as "natives." The Māori used the term Māori to describe themselves in a pan-tribal sense.[ii]

Māori people often use the term tangata whenua (literally, "people of the land") to identify in a way that expresses their relationship with a particular area of land; a tribe may be the tangata whenua in one area, but not in another. The term can also refer to the Māori as a whole in relation to New Zealand (Aotearoa) as a whole.

The Maori Purposes Act of 1947 required the use of the term "Māori" rather than "Native" in official usage. The Department of Native Affairs was renamed as the Department of Māori Affairs. It is now known as Te Puni Kōkiri, or the Ministry for Māori Development.

Before 1974, the government required documented ancestry to determine the legal definition of "a Māori person". For example, bloodlines or percentage of Māori ancestry was used to determine whether a person should enroll on the general electoral roll or the separate Māori roll. In 1947, the authorities determined that a man who was five-eighths Māori had improperly voted in the general parliamentary electorate of Raglan.[13]

The Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1974 changed the definition, allowing individuals to self-identify as to their cultural identity. In matters involving financial benefits provided by the government to people of Māori ethnicity, for example scholarships or Waitangi Tribunal settlements, authorities generally require some documentation of ancestry or continuing cultural connection, such as acceptance by others as being of the people, but no minimum "blood" requirement exists as determined by the government.[14][iii]



The Māori settlement of New Zealand represents an end-point of a long chain of island hopping voyages in the South Pacific.

The most current reliable evidence strongly indicates that initial settlement of New Zealand occurred around 1280 CE at the end of the medieval warm period. Previous dating of some kiore (Polynesian rat) bones at 50–150 CE has now been shown to have been unreliable; new samples of bone (and now also of unequivocally rat-gnawed woody seed cases) match the 1280 date of the earliest archaeological sites and the beginning of sustained deforestation by humans.[15] Māori oral history describes the arrival of ancestors from Hawaiki (the mythical homeland in tropical Polynesia), in large ocean-going waka. Migration accounts vary among tribes (iwi), whose members may identify with several waka in their genealogies (whakapapa). In the last few decades mitochondrial DNA research has allowed an estimate to be made of the number of women in the founding population - between 50 and 100.[16][17] There is limited evidence of return, or attempted return voyages, from archaeological evidence in the Kermadec Islands.

Evidence from archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology indicates that the first settlers came from east Polynesia and became the Māori. Language evolution studies[18] and mitochondrial DNA evidence[19] suggest that most Pacific populations originated from Taiwanese aborigines around 5,200 years ago (suggesting prior migration from the Asian or Chinese mainland).[20] These ancestors moved down through Southeast Asia and Indonesia.[21]

Archaic period (1280–1500)

The earliest period of Māori settlement is known as the "Archaic", "Moahunter" or "Colonisation" period. The eastern Polynesian ancestors of the Māori arrived in a forested land with abundant birdlife, including several now extinct moa species weighing from 20 to 250 kilograms (40 to 550 lb). Other species, also now extinct, included a swan, a goose and the giant Haast's eagle, which preyed upon the moa. Marine mammals, in particular seals, thronged the coasts, with evidence of coastal colonies much further north than exist today.[22] At the Waitaki River mouth, huge numbers of moa bones, estimated at 29,000 to 90,000 birds, have been located. Further south, at the Shag River mouth, at least 6,000 moa were slaughtered by humans over a relatively short period.[23]

Archaeology has shown that the Otago region was the node of Māori cultural development during this time, and the majority of archaic settlements were on or within 10 km (6 mi) of the coast. It was common for the people to establish small temporary camps far inland for seasonal hunting. Settlements ranged in size from 40 people (e.g., Palliser Bay in Wellington) to 300–400 people, with 40 buildings (e.g. Shag River (Waihemo)).

The best known and most extensively studied Archaic site is at Wairau Bar in the South Island.[24][25] The site is similar to eastern Polynesian nucleated villages. Radio carbon dating shows it was occupied from about 1288 to 1300. Due to tectonic forces, some of the Wairau Bar site is now underwater. Work on the Wairau Bar skeletons in 2010 showed that life expectancy was very short, the oldest skeleton being 39 and most people dying in their 20s. Most of the adults showed signs of dietary or infection stress. Anemia and arthritis were common. Infections such as tuberculosis (TB) may have been present, as the symptoms were present in several skeletons. On average the adults were taller than other South Pacific people, at 175 cm for males and 161 cm for females.

The Archaic period is remarkable for the lack of weapons and fortifications so typical of the later "Classic" Māori,[26] and for its distinctive "reel necklaces".[27] From this period onward, some 32 species of birds became extinct, either through over-predation by humans and the kiore (rat) and kurī (dog) they introduced;[28] repeated burning of the grassland that changed their habitat, or climate cooling, which appears to have occurred from about 1400–1450. The early Māori enjoyed a rich, varied diet of birds, fish, seals and shellfish. Moa were also an important source of meat. According to Professor Allan Cooper, the people slaughtered to extinction most of the various lost species within 100 years .[29]

Work by Helen Leach shows that Māori were using about 36 different food plants, although many required detoxification and long periods (12–24 hours) of cooking. D. Sutton's research on early Māori fertility found that first pregnancy occurred at about 20 years and the mean number of births was low, compared with other neolithic societies. The low number of births may have been due to the very low average life expectancy of 31–32 years.[29] Analysis of skeletons at Wairau Bar showed signs of a hard life, with many having had broken bones that had healed. This suggests that the people ate a balanced diet and enjoyed a supportive community that had the resources to support severely injured family members.

Classic period (1500–1642)

Model of a fortified , built on a headland. Fortified pā proliferated as competition and warfare increased among a growing population.

The cooling of the climate, confirmed by a detailed tree ring study near Hokitika, shows a significant, sudden and long-lasting cooler period from 1500. This coincided with a series of massive earthquakes in the South Island Alpine fault, a major earthquake in 1460 in the Wellington area,[30] tsunamis that destroyed many coastal settlements, and the extinction of the moa and other food species. These were likely factors that led to sweeping changes in the Māori culture, which developed into the most well-known "Classic" period[31] that was in place at the time of European contact.

This period is characterised by finely made pounamu weapons and ornaments, elaborately carved canoes – a tradition that was later extended to and continued in elaborately carved meeting houses (wharenui),[32] and a fierce warrior culture. They developed fortified hillforts known as , practiced cannibalism[33][34][35] and built some of the largest war canoes ever.

Around 1500 CE a group of Māori migrated east to the Chatham Islands, where, by adapting to the local climate and the availability of resources, they developed a culture known as the "Moriori." This was related to but distinct from Māori culture in mainland New Zealand. A notable feature of the Moriori culture was an emphasis on pacifism. When a party of invading North Taranaki Māori arrived in 1835, few of the estimated Moriori population of 2,000 survived; they were killed outright and many were enslaved.[36]

The largest battle ever fought in New Zealand, the Battle of Hingakaka, occurred around 1780–90, south of Ohaupo on a ridge near Lake Ngaroto. The battle was fought between about 7,000 warriors from a Taranaki-led force and a much smaller Waikato force under the leadership of Te Rauangaanga.

Early European contact (1642–1840)

The first European impression of Māori, at Murderers' Bay in Abel Tasman's travel journal (1642).

European settlement of New Zealand occurred in relatively recent historical times. New Zealand historian Michael King in The Penguin History Of New Zealand describes the Māori as "the last major human community on earth untouched and unaffected by the wider world." Early European explorers, including Abel Tasman (who arrived in 1642) and Captain James Cook (who first visited in 1769), recorded their impressions of Māori. Initial contact between Māori and Europeans proved problematic, sometimes fatal, with several accounts of Europeans being cannibalised.[37]

From the 1780s, Māori encountered European and American sealers and whalers; some Māori crewed on the foreign ships, with many crewing on whaling and sealing ships that operated in New Zealand waters. Some of the South Island crews were almost totally Māori. Between 1800 and 1820, there were 65 sealing voyages and 106 whaling voyages to New Zealand, mainly from Britain and Australia.[38] A trickle of escaped convicts from Australia and deserters from visiting ships, as well as early Christian missionaries, also exposed the indigenous population to outside influences. In the Boyd Massacre in 1809, Māori took hostage and killed 66 members of the crew and passengers in apparent revenge for the captain's whipping the son of a Māori chief. Given accounts of cannibalism in this attack, shipping companies and missionaries kept a distance and significantly reduced contact with the Māori for several years.

1846: Hone Heke, holding a musket, with his wife Hariata and his uncle Kawiti, holding a taiaha.

By 1830, estimates placed the number of Europeans living among the Māori as high as 2,000. The runaways had varying status-levels within Māori society, ranging from slaves to high-ranking advisors. Some runaways remained little more than prisoners, while others abandoned European culture and identified as Māori. These Europeans "gone native" became known as Pākehā Māori. Many Māori valued them as a means to acquire European knowledge and technology, particularly firearms. When Whiria (Pomare II)[39] led a war-party against Titore in 1838, he had 131 Europeans among his warriors.[40] Frederick Edward Maning, an early settler, wrote two lively accounts of life in these times, which have become classics of New Zealand literature: Old New Zealand and History of the War in the North of New Zealand against the Chief Heke.

The Māori language was first written down by Thomas Kendall in 1815, followed 5 years later by A Grammar and Vocabulary of the New Zealand Language, compiled by Professor Samuel Lee helped by Kendall, Waikato and Hongi Hika, on a visit to England in 1820. The Māori were quick to adopt literacy, generally taught by Christian missionaries. Between February 1835 and January 1840 William Colenso printed 74,000 Māori-language booklets from his press at Pahia. In 1843 the government distributed free gazettes to Māori called Ko Te Karere O Nui Tireni. It contained information about law and crimes, with explanations and remarks about European customs.

Margaret en Maori A Study of a Māori lady in traditional dress by a western visitor written in 20 October 1863

During the period from 1805 to 1840, the acquisition of muskets by tribes in close contact with European visitors upset the balance of power among Māori tribes. This led to a period of bloody intertribal warfare, known as the Musket Wars, which resulted in the decimation of several tribes and the driving of others from their traditional territory.[41] During the Musket wars, it has been estimated that the total number of the Māori population dropped from about 100,000 in 1800 to between 50,000 and 80,000 at the end of the wars in 1843. The 1856–1857 census of Māori, which gives a figure of 56,049, suggests the lower number of around 50,000 is perhaps more accurate. The 1850s were a decade of relative stability and Māori economic growth.

The picture is confused by uncertainty over how or if Pakeha Māori were counted and the severe dislocation of many of the less powerful iwi and hapu during the wars. The smashing of normal society by the four decades of wars and the driving of peaceful tribes from their productive turangawaewae, such as the Moriori in the Chatham Islands by invading forces from North Taranaki, had a catastrophic effect on these conquered tribes.

At the same time, the Māori suffered high mortality rates for new Eurasian infectious diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles, which killed an unknown number of Māori: estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.[42][43] The spread of epidemics resulted largely from the Māori lacking acquired immunity to the new diseases. A huge influx of European settlers in the 1870s increased contact among many of the indigenous people with the newcomers.

Te Rangi Hīroa documents an epidemic caused by a respiratory disease that Māori called rewharewha. It "decimated" populations in the early 19th century and "spread with extraordinary virulence throughout the North Island and even to the South... Measles, typhoid, scarlet fever, whooping cough and almost everything, except plague and sleeping sickness, have taken their toll of Māori dead."[44]

Economic changes also took a toll: migration of Māori workers into unhealthy swamplands to produce and export flax led to further mortality.[45]

British Treaty with the people of New Zealand

Main article: New Zealand Wars
Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, a member of the Kotahitanga movement in the 1890s, who argued that women should have equal voting rights in the Māori Parliament

With increasing Christian missionary activity and growing European settlement in the 1830s, and with growing lawlessness in New Zealand, the British Crown acceded to repeated requests from missionaries and some chiefs to intervene. Some freewheeling escaped convicts and seamen, as well as gunrunners and Americans actively worked against the British government by spreading rumours amongst the Māori that the government would oppress and mistreat them. Tamati Waka Nene, a pro-government chief, was angry that the government had not taken active steps to stop gunrunners selling weapons to rebels in Hokianga. In addition, the French were showing imminent interest in acquiring New Zealand to add to their stake in Polynesia. British immigrants believed that the French Catholic missionaries were spreading anti-British feeling. All of the chiefs who spoke against the Treaty on 5 February 1840 were Catholic. Years after the treaty was signed, Pompallier admitted that all the Catholic chiefs and especially Rewa, had consulted him for advice.[46]

Ultimately, Queen Victoria sent Royal Navy Captain William Hobson with instructions to negotiate a treaty between Britain and the people of New Zealand. Soon after arrival in New Zealand in February 1840, Hobson negotiated a treaty with North Island chiefs, later to become known as the Treaty of Waitangi. In the end, 500 tribal chiefs and a small number of Europeans signed the Treaty, while some chiefs — such as Te Wherowhero in Waikato, and Te Kani-a-Takirau from the east coast of the North Island — refused to sign. The Treaty gave Māori the rights of British subjects and guaranteed Māori property rights and tribal autonomy, in return for accepting British sovereignty.

Considerable dispute continues over aspects of the Treaty of Waitangi. The original treaty was written mainly by Busby and translated into Māori by Henry Williams, who was moderately proficient in Māori, and his son William, who was more skilled.[47] They were handicapped by their imperfect Māori and the lack of exactly similar words in Māori, as well as by deep differences among the peoples on concepts of property rights and sovereignty, for example. At Waitangi the chiefs signed the Māori translation.

Despite the different understandings of the treaty, relations between Māori and Europeans during the early colonial period were largely peaceful. Many Māori groups set up substantial businesses, supplying food and other products for domestic and overseas markets. Among the early European settlers who learnt the Māori language and recorded Māori mythology, George Grey, Governor of New Zealand from 1845–1855 and 1861–1868, stands out.

A portrait of Māori man, by Gottfried Lindauer, 1882

However, rising tensions over disputed land purchases and attempts by Māori in the Waikato to establish what some saw as a rival to the British system of royalty led to the New Zealand wars in the 1860s. These conflicts started when rebel Māori attacked isolated settlers in Taranaki but were fought mainly between Crown troops –from both Britain and new regiments raised in Australia, aided by settlers and some allied Māori (known as kupapa) – and numerous Māori groups opposed to the disputed land sales, including some Waikato Māori.

While these conflicts resulted in few Māori (compared to the earlier Musket wars) or European deaths, the colonial government confiscated tracts of tribal land as punishment for what were called rebellions. In some cases the government confiscated land from tribes that had taken no part in the war, although this was almost immediately returned. Some of the confiscated land was returned to both kupapa and "rebel" Māori. Several minor conflicts also arose after the wars, including the incident at Parihaka in 1881 and the Dog Tax War from 1897–98.

The Native Land Acts of 1862 and 1865 established the Native Land Court, which was intended to transfer Māori land from communal ownership into individual household title as a means to assimilation and to facilitate greater sales to European immigrants. Māori land under individual title became available to be sold to the colonial government or to settlers in private sales. Between 1840 and 1890, Māori sold 95 percent of their land (63,000,000 of 66,000,000 acres (270,000 km2) in 1890). In total 4% of this was confiscated land, although about a quarter of this was returned. 300,000 acres was returned to Kupapa Māori mainly in the lower Waikato River Basin area. Individual Māori titleholders received considerable capital from these land sales, with some lower Waikato Chiefs being given 1000 pounds each. Disputes later arose over whether or not promised compensation in some sales was fully delivered. Some claim that later, the selling off of Māori land and the lack of appropriate skills hampered Māori participation in developing the New Zealand economy, eventually diminishing the capacity of many Māori to sustain themselves.

The Māori MP Henare Kaihau, from Waiuku, who was executive head of the King Movement, worked alongside King Mahuta to sell land to the government. At that time the king sold 185,000 acres per year. In 1910 the Māori Land Conference at Waihi discussed selling a further 600,000 acres. King Mahuta had been successful in getting restitution for some blocks of land previously confiscated, and these were returned to the King in his name. Henare Kaihau invested all the money- 50,000 pounds- in an Auckland land company which collapsed; all 50,000 pounds of the kingitanga money was lost.[48]

Man, woman and baby in front of ornamented Māori house, 1895

In 1884 King Tāwhiao withdrew money from the kingitanga bank, Te Peeke o Aotearoa[49][50] to travel to London to see Queen Victoria to try and persuade her to honour the Treaty between their peoples. He did not get past the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who said it was a New Zealand problem. Returning to New Zealand, the Premier Robert Stout insisted that all events happening before 1863 were the responsibility of the Imperial Government.[51]

By 1891 Māori comprised just 10% of the population but still owned 17% of the land, although much of it was of poor quality.[52]

Decline and revival

Bella, a Māori woman with her husband, child and two dogs in front of their home at Whakarewarewa, 1895
Māori woman and children playing cards on doorstep of their home, Whakarewarewa, 1895
Sir Apirana Ngata became instrumental in the revival of traditional arts such as kapa haka and carving.

By the late 19th century a widespread belief existed amongst both Pākehā and Māori that the Māori population would cease to exist as a separate race or culture, and become assimilated into the European population.[53] In 1840, New Zealand had a Māori population of about 50,000 to 70,000 and only about 2,000 Europeans. By 1860 the Europeans had increased to 50,000. The Māori population had declined to 37,520 in the 1871 census, although Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Buck) believed this figure was too low.[54] The figure was 42,113 in the 1896 census, by which time Europeans numbered more than 700,000.[55] Professor Ian Poole noticed that as late as 1890, 40% of all female Māori children who were born died before the age of one, a much higher rate than for males.[56]

The decline of the Māori population did not continue, and levels gradually stabilized and began to recover. By 1936 the Māori figure was 82,326, although the sudden rise in the 1930s was probably due to the introduction of the family benefit − payable only when a birth was registered, according to Professor Poole. Despite a substantial level of intermarriage between the Māori and European populations, many ethnic Māori retained their cultural identity. A number of discourses developed as to the meaning of "Māori" and to who counted as Māori or not.

The parliament instituted four Māori seats in 1867, giving all Māori men universal suffrage,[57] 12 years ahead of their European New Zealand counterparts. Until the 1879 general elections, men had to satisfy property requirements of landowning or rental payments to qualify as voters.[58] New Zealand was thus the first neo-European nation in the world to give the vote to its indigenous people.[59] While the Māori seats encouraged Māori participation in politics, the relative size of the Māori population of the time vis à vis Pākehā would have warranted approximately 15 seats. The Māori have the option of voting in either Māori or general electorates, giving them a choice.

From the late 19th century, successful Māori politicians such as James Carroll, Apirana Ngata, Te Rangi Hīroa and Maui Pomare, were influential in politics. At one point Carroll became Acting Prime Minister. The group, known as the Young Māori Party, cut across voting-blocs in Parliament and aimed to revitalise the Māori people after the devastation of the previous century. They believed the future path called for assimilation, with Māori adopting European practices such as Western medicine and education, especially learning English. However, Ngata in particular also wished to preserve traditional Māori culture, especially the arts.

Ngata acted as a major force behind the revival of arts such as kapa haka and carving. He also enacted a programme of land development, which helped many iwi retain and develop their land. Ngata became very close to Te Puea, the Waikato kingite leader, who was supported by the government in her attempt to improve living conditions for Waikato. Ngata transferred four blocks of land to Te Puea and her husband and arranged extensive government grants and loans. Ngata sacked the pakeha farm development officer and replaced him with Te Puea. He arranged for her to have a car to travel around the various farms. Te Puea's husband was also given a large farm at Tikitere near Rotorua. The public, media and parliament became alarmed at the flow of funds from government to Te Puea during the recession. A Royal Commission was held in 1934 that found Ngata guilty of maladministration and misappropriation of funds to the value of 500,000 pounds. Ngata was forced to resign.[60]

During World War One, a Māori pioneer force was taken to Egypt but quickly was turned into a successful combat infantry battalion; in the last years of the war it was known as the Māori battalion. The battalion mainly comprised Arawa, Ngati Porou, NgaPuhi and later many Cook Islanders. The Waikato and Taranaki tribes refused to enlist or be conscripted. The Maniapoto tribe, which had been at the heart of the 1863 Māori rebellion, supplied many soldiers. The leader of the Māori king movement during WW1, Te Puea, still harbouring grievances over defeat and loss of land in 1863, worked covertly to undermine the government's attempts to unify Māori behind the war. Her brother was one of many Waikato conscripts arrested and jailed after refusing to serve their country. The actions of Te Puea led to Waikato tribes being ostracized to some extent by the government after the war. Te Puea's stand caused huge difficulties for Waikato Māori MP Maui Pomare, who was an avid supporter of Māori involvement in WW1.

Māori were badly hit by the 1918 influenza epidemic when the Māori battalion returned from the Western Front. The death rate from influenza for Māori was 4.5 times higher than for Pakeha. Many Māori, especially in the Waikato, were very reluctant to visit a doctor and went to a hospital only when the patient was nearly dead. To cope with isolation, Waikato Māori, under Te Puea's leadership, increasingly returned to the old Pai Marire (Hau hau) cult of the 1860s.[61]

Until 1893, 53 years after the Treaty of Waitangi, Māori did not pay tax on land holdings. In 1893 a very light tax was payable only on leasehold land, and it was not till 1917 that Māori were required to pay a heavier tax equal to half that paid by other New Zealanders.[62]

During WW2 the government decided to exempt Māori from the conscription that applied to other citizens. The Māori volunteered in large numbers, forming the 28th or Māori Battalion, which performed creditably, notably in Crete, North Africa and Italy. Altogether 16,000 Māori took part in the war. 3,600 served in the Māori Battalion, the remainder serving in artillery, pioneers, home guard, infantry, airforce, and navy. 204,000 New Zealanders served during WW2. Māori, including Cook Islanders, made up 12% of the total force.

Whina Cooper leads the Māori Land March through Hamilton in 1975, seeking redress for historical grievances.

Many Māori migrated to larger rural towns and cities during the Depression and post-WWII periods in search of employment, leaving rural communities depleted and disconnecting many urban Māori from their traditional ways of life. Yet while standards of living improved among Māori during this time, they continued to lag behind Pākehā in areas such as health, income, skilled employment and access to higher levels of education. Māori leaders and government policymakers alike struggled to deal with social issues stemming from increased urban migration, including a shortage of housing and jobs, and a rise in urban crime, poverty and health problems.[63]

Recent history

Since the 1960s, Māoridom has undergone a cultural revival[64] concurrent with activism for social justice and a protest movement.[65] Government recognition of the growing political power of Māori and political activism have led to limited redress for confiscation of land and for the violation of other property rights. In 1975 the Crown set up the Waitangi Tribunal, a body with the powers of a Commission of Enquiry, to investigate and make recommendations on such issues, but it cannot make binding rulings. The Government need not accept the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, and has rejected some of them.

Since 1976, people of Māori descent may choose to enroll on either the general or Māori roll, and vote in either the Māori only or general electorates, but not both. After the 1993 introduction of the MMP electoral system, the number of electorates floats. The electoral population of a Māori seat (there are currently seven), can remain roughly equivalent to that of a general seat.

During the 1990s and 2000s, the government negotiated with Māori to provide redress for breaches by the Crown of the guarantees set out in the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. By 2006 the government had provided over NZ$900 million in settlements, much of it in the form of land deals. The largest settlement, signed on 25 June 2008 with seven Māori iwi, transferred nine large tracts of forested land to Māori control.[66] As a result of the redress paid to many iwi, Māori now have significant interests in the fishing and forestry industries. There is a growing Māori leadership who are using the treaty settlements as an investment platform for economic development.[67]

Despite a growing acceptance of Māori culture in wider New Zealand society, the settlements have generated controversy on both sides. Some Māori have complained that the settlements occur at a level of between 1 and 2.5 cents on the dollar of the value of the confiscated lands; conversely, some non-Māori denounce the settlements and socioeconomic iniatives as amounting to race-based preferential treatment. Both of these sentiments were expressed during the New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004.


Main article: Māori culture
Late 20th-century carving depicting the mythological navigator Kupe fighting two sea creatures.

Traditional culture

A Māori chief with tattoos (moko) seen by James Cook and his crew.

The ancestors of the Māori arrived from eastern Polynesia during the 13th century, bringing with them Polynesian cultural customs and beliefs. Early European researchers, such as Julius von Haast, a geologist, incorrectly interpreted archaeological remains as belonging to a pre-Māori Paleolithic people; later researchers, notably Percy Smith, magnified such theories into an elaborate scenario with a series of sharply-defined cultural stages which had Māori arriving in a Great Fleet in 1350 CE and replacing the so-called "moa-hunter" culture with a "classical Māori" culture based on horticulture.[68] The development of Māori material culture has been similarly delineated by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa into "cultural periods", from the earlier "Ngā Kakano" stage to the later "Te Tipunga" period, before the "Classic" period of Māori history.[27][iv][69]

However, the archaeological record indicates a gradual evolution of a neolithic culture that varied in pace and extent according to local resources and conditions.[70] In the course of a few centuries, the growing population led to competition for resources and an increase in warfare. The archaeological record reveals an increased frequency of fortified , although debate continues about the amount of conflict. Various systems arose which aimed to conserve resources; most of these, such as tapu and rāhui, used religious or supernatural threats to discourage people from taking species at particular seasons or from specified areas.

Warfare between tribes was common, generally over land conflicts or to restore mana. Fighting was carried out between subtribes (hapū). Although not practised during times of peace, Māori would sometimes eat their conquered enemies.[71] As Māori continued in geographic isolation, performing arts such as the haka developed from their Polynesian roots, as did carving and weaving. Regional dialects arose, with differences in vocabulary and in the pronunciation of some words. In 1819 two young northern chiefs, Tuai and Titere,[72] who had learnt to speak and write English, went to London, where they met the language expert Samuel Lee. They stayed with a school teacher, Hall, who they told that even in Northern New Zealand there were "different languages and dialects".[73] The language retained enough similarities to other Eastern Polynesian languages, to the point where a Tahitian chief on James Cook's first voyage in the region acted as an interpreter between Māori and the crew of the Endeavour.

Belief and religion

Traditional Māori beliefs have their origins in Polynesian culture. Many stories from Māori mythology are analogous with stories across the Pacific Ocean. Polynesian concepts such as tapu (sacred), noa (non-sacred), mana (authority/prestige) and wairua (spirit) governed everyday Māori living. These practices remained until the arrival of Europeans, when much of Māori religion and mythology was supplanted by Christianity. Today, Māori "tend to be followers of Presbyterianism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), or Māori Christian groups such as Rātana and Ringatū",[74] but with Catholic, Anglican and Methodist groupings also prominent.[75][76] There is also a very small community of Māori Muslims.

At the 2013 New Zealand Census, 8.8 percent of Māori were affiliated with Māori Christian denominations and 39.6 percent with other Christian denominations; 46.3 percent of Māori claimed no religion. Proportions of Christian and irreligious Māori are comparable with European New Zealanders.[77]

A young man performs in a kapa haka group at a Rotorua tourist venue.

Performing arts

Kapa haka (literally "haka team") is a traditional Māori performance art, encompassing many forms, that is still popular today. It includes haka (posture dance), poi (dance accompanied by song and rhythmic movements of the poi, a light ball on a string), waiata-ā-ringa (action songs) and waiata koroua (traditional chants). From the early 20th century kapa haka concert parties began touring overseas.

Since 1972 there has been a regular competition, the Te Matatini National Festival, organised by the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Society. Māori from different regions send representative groups to compete in the biannual competition. There are also kapa haka groups in schools, tertiary institutions and workplaces. It is also performed at tourist venues across the country.[78][79]

Literature and media

Like other cultures, oral folklore was used by Māori to preserve their stories and beliefs across many centuries. In the 19th century, European-style literacy was brought to the Māori, which led to Māori history documentation in books, novels and later television. Māori language use began to decline in the 20th century with English as the language through which Māori literature became widespread.

Notable Māori novelists include Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera and Alan Duff. Once Were Warriors, a 1994 film adapted from a 1990 novel of the same name by Alan Duff, brought the plight of some urban Māori to a wide audience. It was the highest-grossing film in New Zealand until 2006,[80][81] and received international acclaim, winning several international film prizes.[82] While some Māori feared that viewers would consider the violent male characters an accurate portrayal of Māori men, most critics praised it as exposing the raw side of domestic violence.[83] Some Māori opinion, particularly feminist, welcomed the debate on domestic violence that the film enabled.

Well-known Māori actors and actresses include Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis, Lawrence Makoare, Manu Bennett and Keisha Castle-Hughes. They are in films like Whale Rider, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, The Matrix, King Kong, The River Queen, The Lord of The Rings, Rapa Nui, and others, and famous television series like Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, The Lost World and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In most cases their roles in Hollywood productions have them portraying ethnic groups other than Māori.


Māori participate fully in New Zealand's sporting culture, and are well-represented in rugby union, rugby league and netball teams at all levels. There are also Māori rugby union, rugby league and cricket representative teams that play in international competitions. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, 41 of the 199 competitors (20.5 percent) were of Māori descent in the New Zealand delegation, with the rugby sevens squads alone having 17 Māori competitors (out of 24). There were also three competitors of Māori descent in the Australian delegation.[84]

Ki-o-rahi and tapawai are two sports of Māori origin. Ki-o-rahi got an unexpected boost when McDonald's chose it to represent New Zealand.[85] Waka ama (outrigger canoeing) is also popular with Māori.


Main article: Māori language

From about 1890, Māori MPs realised the importance of English literacy to Māori and insisted that all Māori children be taught in English. Missionaries, who still ran many Māori schools, had been teaching exclusively in Māori but the Māori MPs insisted this should stop. However attendance at school for many Māori was intermittent. The Māori language, also known as te reo Māori (pronounced [ˈmaːoɾi, te ˈɾeo ˈmaːoɾi]) or simply te reo ("the language"), has the status of an official language. Linguists classify it within the Eastern Polynesian languages as being closely related to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan and Tahitian; somewhat less closely to Hawaiian and Marquesan; and more distantly to the languages of Western Polynesia, including Samoan, Tokelauan, Niuean and Tongan. Before European contact Māori did not have a written language and "important information such as whakapapa was memorised and passed down verbally through the generations".[86] Māori were familiar with the concept of maps and when interacting with missionaries in 1815 could draw accurate maps of their rohe, onto paper, that were the equal of European maps. Missionaries surmised that Māori had traditionally drawn maps on sand or other natural material.[87]

In many areas of New Zealand, Māori lost its role as a living community language used by significant numbers of people in the post-war years. In tandem with calls for sovereignty and for the righting of social injustices from the 1970s onwards, New Zealand schools now teach Māori culture and language as an option, and pre-school kohanga reo ("language-nests") have started, which teach tamariki (young children) exclusively in Māori. These now extend right through secondary schools (kura tuarua). Most preschool centres teach basics such as colours, numerals and greetings in Māori songs and chants.

In 2004 Māori Television, a government-funded channel committed to broadcasting primarily in te reo, began. Māori is an official language de jure, but English is de facto the national language. At the 2006 Census, Māori was the second most widely spoken language after English, with four percent of New Zealanders able to speak Māori to at least a conversational level. No official data has been gathered on fluency levels.


Historical development

19th-century village life
A 19th-century depiction of village life.

Polynesian settlers in New Zealand developed a distinct society over several hundred years. Social groups were tribal, with no unified society or single Māori identity until after the arrival of Europeans. Nevertheless, common elements could be found in all Māori groups in pre-European New Zealand, including a shared Polynesian heritage, a common basic language, familial associations, traditions of warfare, and similar mythologies and religious beliefs.[88]

Most Māori lived in villages, which were inhabited by several whānau (extended families) who collectively formed a hapū (clan or subtribe). Members of a hapū cooperated with food production, gathering resources, raising families and defence. Māori society across New Zealand was broadly stratified into three classes of people: rangatira, chiefs and ruling families; tūtūā, commoners; and mōkai, slaves. Tohunga also held special standing in their communities as specialists of revered arts, skills and esoteric knowledge.[89][90]

Shared ancestry, intermarriage and trade strengthened relationships between different groups. Many hapū with mutually-recognised shared ancestry formed iwi, or tribes, which were the largest social unit in Māori society. Hapū and iwi often united for expeditions to gather food and resources, or in times of conflict. In contrast, warfare developed as an integral part of traditional life, as different groups competed for food and resources, settled personal disputes, and sought to increase their prestige and authority.[89]

Māori whānau from Rotorua in the 1880s
Māori whānau from Rotorua in the 1880s. Many aspects of Western life and culture, including European clothing and architecture, became incorporated into Māori society during the 19th century.

The arrival of Europeans to New Zealand dates back to the 17th century, although it was not until the expeditions of James Cook over a hundred years later that any meaningful interactions occurred between Europeans and Māori. For Māori, the new arrivals brought opportunities for trade, which many groups embraced eagerly. Early European settlers introduced tools, weapons, clothing and foods to Māori across New Zealand, in exchange for resources, land and labour. Māori began selectively adopting elements of Western society during the 19th century, including European clothing and food, and later Western education, religion and architecture.[91]

But as the 19th century wore on, relations between European colonial settlers and different Māori groups became increasingly strained. Tensions led to conflict in the 1860s, and the confiscation of millions of acres of Māori land. Significant amounts of land were also purchased by the colonial government and later through the Native Land Court.

20th century

By the start of the 20th century, a greater awareness had emerged of a unified Māori identity, particularly in comparison to Pākehā, who now overwhelmingly outnumbered the Māori as a whole. Māori and Pākehā societies remained largely separate – socially, culturally, economically and geographically – for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries.[92] The key reason for this was that Māori remained almost exclusively a rural population, whereas increasingly the European population was urban especially after 1900. Nevertheless, Māori groups continued to engage with the government and in legal processes to increase their standing in – and ultimately further their incorporation into – wider New Zealand society.[93] The main point of contact with the government were the four Māori Members of Parliament.

Many Māori migrated to larger rural towns and cities during the Depression and post-WWII periods in search of employment, leaving rural communities depleted and disconnecting many urban Māori from their traditional social controls and tribal homelands. Yet while standards of living improved among Māori, they continued to lag behind Pākehā in areas such as health, income, skilled employment and access to higher levels of education. Māori leaders and government policymakers alike struggled to deal with social issues stemming from increased urban migration, including a shortage of housing and jobs, and a rise in urban crime, poverty and health problems.[63]

In regards to housing, a 1961 census revealed significant differences in the living conditions of Māori and Europeans. That year, out of all the (unshared) non-Māori private dwellings in New Zealand, 96.8% had a bath or shower, 94.1% a hot water service, 88.7% a flush toilet, 81.6% a refrigerator, and 78.6% an electric washing machine. By contrast, for all (unshared) Māori private dwellings that same year, 76.8% had a bath or shower, 68.9% a hot water service, 55.8% a refrigerator, 54.1% a flush toilet, and 47% an electric washing machine.[94]

While the arrival of Europeans had a profound impact on the Māori way of life, many aspects of traditional society have survived into the 21st century. Māori participate fully in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, leading largely Western lifestyles while also maintaining their own cultural and social customs. The traditional social strata of rangatira, tūtūā and mōkai have all but disappeared from Māori society, while the roles of tohunga and kaumātua are still present. Traditional kinship ties are also actively maintained, and the whānau in particular remains an integral part of Māori life.[95]

Marae, hapū and iwi

Whenuakura Marae in Taranaki
Whenuakura Marae in Taranaki. Marae continue to function as local community centres in modern Māori society.

Māori society at a local level is particularly visible at the marae. Formerly the central meeting spaces in traditional villages, marae today usually comprise a group of buildings around an open space, that frequently host events such as weddings, funerals, church services and other large gatherings, with traditional protocol and etiquette usually observed. They also serve as the base of one or sometimes several hapū.[96]

Most Māori affiliate with one or more iwi (and hapū), based on genealogical descent (whakapapa). Iwi vary in size, from a few hundred members to over 100,000 in the case of Ngāpuhi. Many people do not live in their traditional tribal regions as a result of urban migration.

Iwi are usually governed by rūnanga – governing councils or trust boards, which represent the iwi in consultations and negotiations with the New Zealand government. Rūnanga also manage tribal assets and spearhead health, education, economic and social initiatives to help iwi members.


In the 2013 Census, 598,605 people identified as being part of the Māori ethnic group, accounting for 14.9% of the New Zealand population, while 668,724 people (17.5%) claimed Māori descent.[1] 278,199 people identified as of sole Māori ethnicity, while 291,015 identified as of both European and Māori ethnicity (with or without a third ethnicity), due to a high rate of intermarriage between the two cultures.[97] Under the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1974, a Māori is defined as “a person of the Māori race of New Zealand; and includes any descendant of such a Māori."

According to the 2013 Census, the largest iwi by population is Ngāpuhi (125,601), followed by Ngāti Porou (71,049), Ngāi Tahu (54,819) and Waikato (40,083). However, over 110,000 people of Māori descent could not identify their iwi.[1] Outside of New Zealand, a large Māori population exists in Australia, estimated at 155,000 in 2011.[2] The Māori Party has suggested a special seat should be created in the New Zealand parliament representing Māori in Australia.[98] Smaller communities also exist in the United Kingdom (approx. 8,000), the United States (up to 3,500) and Canada (approx. 1,000).[3][4][5]

Socioeconomic challenges

Māori on average have fewer assets than the rest of the population, and run greater risks of many negative economic and social outcomes. Over 50% of Māori live in areas in the three highest deprivation deciles, compared with 24% of the rest of the population.[99] Although Māori make up only 14% of the population, they make up almost 50% of the prison population.[100]

Māori have higher unemployment-rates than other cultures resident in New Zealand [101] Māori have higher numbers of suicides than non-Māori.[102] "Only 47% of Māori school-leavers finish school with qualifications higher than NCEA Level One; compared to 74% European; 87% Asian."[103] Although New Zealand rates well very globally in the PISA rankings that compare national performance in reading, science and maths "...once you disaggregate the PISA scores, Pakeha students are second in the world and Maori are 34th..."[104] Māori suffer more health problems, including higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse, smoking and obesity. Less frequent use of healthcare services mean that late diagnosis and treatment intervention lead to higher levels of morbidity and mortality in many manageable conditions, such as cervical cancer,[105] diabetes[106] per head of population than non-Māori.[107] Although Māori life expectancy rates have increased dramatically in the last 50 years, they still have considerably lower life-expectancies compared to New Zealanders of European ancestry: in 2004, Māori males lived 69.0 years vs. non-Māori males 77.2 years; Māori females 73.2 yrs vs. non-Māori females 81.9 years.[108] This gap had narrowed by 2013: 72.8 years for men and 76.5 years for women, compared to 80.2 years for non-Māori men and 83.7 years for non-Māori women.[109] Also, a recent study by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse showed that Māori women and children are more likely to experience domestic violence than any other ethnic group.[110]

Race relations

Protest hikoi during the Foreshore and Seabed controversy in 2004
Protest hikoi during the Foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004.

The status of Māori as the indigenous people of New Zealand is recognised in New Zealand law by the term tangata whenua (lit. "people of the land"), which identifies the traditional connection between Māori and a given area of land. Māori as a whole can be considered as tangata whenua of New Zealand entirely; individual iwi are recognised as tangata whenua for areas of New Zealand in which they are traditionally based, while hapū are tangata whenua within their marae. New Zealand law periodically requires consultation between the government and tangata whenua – for example, during major land development projects. This usually takes the form of negotiations between local or national government and the rūnanga of one or more relevant iwi, although the government generally decides which (if any) concerns are acted upon.

New Zealand endorses Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, 2010
New Zealand endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in April 2010.

Māori issues are a prominent feature of race relations in New Zealand. Historically, many Pākehā viewed race relations in their country as being the "best in the world", a view that prevailed until Māori urban migration in the mid-20th century brought cultural and socioeconomic differences to wider attention.[111]

Māori protest movements grew significantly in the 1960s and 1970s seeking redress for past grievances, particularly in regard to land rights. Successive governments have responded by enacting affirmative action programmes, funding cultural rejuvenation initiatives and negotiating tribal settlements for past breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.[112] Further efforts have focused on cultural preservation and reducing socioeconomic disparity.

Nevertheless, race relations remains a contentious issue in New Zealand society. Māori advocates continue to push for further redress claiming that their concerns are being marginalised or ignored. Conversely, critics denounce the scale of assistance given to Māori as amounting to preferential treatment for a select group of people based on race.[113] Both sentiments were highlighted during the foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004, in which the New Zealand government claimed sole ownership of the New Zealand foreshore and seabed, over the objections of Māori groups who were seeking customary title.[114]


The New Zealand Law Commission has started a project to develop a legal framework for Māori who want to manage communal resources and responsibilities. The voluntary system proposes an alternative to existing companies, incorporations, and trusts in which tribes and hapū and other groupings can interact with the legal system. The foreshadowed legislation, under the proposed name of the "Waka Umanga (Māori Corporations) Act", would provide a model adaptable to suit the needs of individual iwi.[115][116] At the end of 2009, the proposed legislation was awaiting a second hearing.[117]

Wider commercial exposure has increased public awareness of the Māori culture, but has also resulted in several notable legal disputes. Between 1998 and 2006, Ngāti Toa attempted to trademark the haka "Ka Mate" to prevent its use by commercial organisations without their permission.[118] In 2001, Danish toymaker Lego faced legal action by several Māori tribal groups (fronted by lawyer Maui Solomon) and members of the on-line discussion forum Aotearoa Cafe for trademarking Māori words used in naming the Bionicle product range – see Bionicle Māori controversy.

Political representation

Main article: Māori politics
The Māori Parliament at Pāpāwai, Greytown in 1897
The opening of the Māori Parliament at Pāpāwai, Greytown in 1897, with Richard Seddon in attendance.
Flag of Māori proposed in 1998[119]

Māori have been involved in New Zealand politics since the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand, before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Māori have had reserved seats in the New Zealand Parliament since 1868: presently, this accounts for seven of the 122 seats in New Zealand's unicameral parliament. The contesting of these seats was the first opportunity for many Māori to participate in New Zealand elections, although the elected Māori representatives initially struggled to assert significant influence. Māori received universal suffrage with other New Zealand citizens in 1893.

Being a traditionally tribal people, no one organisation ostensibly speaks for all Māori nationwide. The Māori King Movement originated in the 1860s as an attempt by several iwi to unify under one leader: in modern times, it serves a largely ceremonial role. Another attempt at political unity was the Kotahitanga Movement, which established a separate Māori Parliament that held annual sessions from 1892 until its last sitting in 1902.[120]

There are seven designated Māori seats in the New Zealand Parliament (and Māori can and do stand in and win general roll seats), and consideration of and consultation with Māori have become routine requirements for councils and government organisations.

Debate occurs frequently as to the relevance and legitimacy of the Māori electoral roll and seats. The National Party announced in 2008 it would abolish the seats when all historic Treaty settlements have been resolved, which it aimed to complete by 2014.[121] However, after the election National reached an agreement with the Māori Party not to abolish the seats until Māori give their approval.[122]

Several Māori political parties have formed over the years to improve the position of Māori in New Zealand society. The present Māori Party, formed in 2004, secured 1.32% of the party vote at the 2014 general election and holds two seats in the 51st New Zealand Parliament, with two MPs serving as Ministers outside Cabinet.


  • ^i : Māori has cognates in other Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian maoli, Tahitian mā'ohi, and Cook Islands Maori māori which all share similar meanings.
  • ^ii : The orthographic conventions developed by the Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori) recommend the use of the macron (ā ē ī ō ū) to denote long vowels. Contemporary English-language usage in New Zealand tends to avoid the anglicised plural form of the word Māori with an "s": Māori generally marks plurals by changing the article rather than the noun, for example: te waka (the canoe); ngā waka (the canoes).
  • ^iii : In 2003, Christian Cullen became a member of the Māori rugby team despite having, according to his father, about 1/64 Māori ancestry.[123]
  • ^iv : Although, as noted elsewhere in this article, evidence is increasingly pointing to 1280 as the earliest date of settlement.


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