Five things you didn’t know about Māori culture in NZ

There’s so much more to Maori Culture in NZ than the Haka. Here are a few of the most fascinating.

We greet people by pressing our noses and foreheads together.

Forget handshakes or hugs – our traditional greeting is known as the Hongi, which is done by two people briefly pressing noses and foreheads together at the same time. During the Hongi, the ha – or breath of life – is exchanged between the two people. The sharing of the breath of life can be compared to both parties’ souls intermingling together. Our Hongi is definitely a little more interesting compared to a handshake.

Traditionally, the Māori language was never written down.

Te Reo, the Māori language, evolved in New Zealand over hundreds of years, and was traditionally only Oral – it was never written down. Instead of books and literature, we passed our stories down through the generations by song (Waiata) and used a lot of symbolism in carving, knots and weaving.

We cook our food under the ground.

The Hangi (not to be confused with the Hongi!) is a feast cooked within an earth oven for several hours. We heat stones in the embers of a fire, and dig a pit where the hot stones are placed along with wet sacking. Then, we place our food on top – think chicken, lamb, pork and vegetables – before covering it with earth to trap the heat. The Hangi is an awesome way to feed a large group of people, and the smoky, earthy fragrance of the food is delicious. It’s quite different to your typical summer BBQ!

Our culture is one of the youngest in the world.

In the 13th century, the first Māori voyaged from East Polynesia in large canoes to discover New Zealand. Those first fleets settled around the East Coast of New Zealand, and legend has it that the very first landing was in the Hokianga Harbour in the far north. The Māori culture originated with these first voyagers 700 years ago, making our culture one of the youngest in the world.

You can tell social status and family history through a Māori Tattoo.

Maori culture NZ - Māori warriors dressed in traditional attire with one man lying down getting a facial tattoo applied

Traditional Ta Moko used chisels & knives made from sharpened shark teeth

Each Ta Moko (Māori Tattoo) is incredibly unique, communicating tribal messages from ancestors around things like family, tribal affiliations and the wearer’s social standing. Moko is a type of visual language connecting the wearer to their family tree. Often, Ta Moko was applied to the face; because the head is seen as the most sacred part of the body, to wear Ta Moko on the face is a very strong declaration of who you are as a Māori. Traditionally, Māori would use chisels and knives made from sharpened shark teeth, and ink made from burnt wood, gum or other natural products.

Itching to delve deeper? You’ll learn about all these fascinating elements, and more, at our highly engaging Evening Experience.