Maori Culture Throughout History


New Zealand’s Maoris are the indigenous people that originated from Eastern Polynesia and inhabited the archipelago in waves from 1250 through 1300 AD. The relationships between the indigenous Maori and the European settlers have always been turbulent and complicated. To this day, there is still a certain tension that has yet to be relieved. In light of the social justice movement, Maori culture experiences upheaval and increases its social standing.

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A Brief History

The early history of the Maori includes the Archaic (1280-1500) and Classic (1500-1640) periods that are characterized by the absence of weapons and fortifications. In the 18th century, the Maori were exposed to runaway convicts from neighboring Australia, many of whom took shelter in New Zealand (Ward, 2015). Today, Maoris are seeking to embrace their lost identity and revive their culture. While they do not constitute a strong diaspora in the US, they are successfully promoting their art, which finds public approval. For example, in 2017, the West Coast welcomed Tuku Iho exhibition that compelled many Americans to visit New Zealand (“USA’s West Coast,” 2017).

Culture Representation

In the United States, the Maori culture as a part of the New Zealand Diaspora is represented by a comparatively small population. Although the number of people that define themselves as Maori is quite small, being currently limited to 1,994, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau (2010), they have been keeping the Maori culture alive for decades. Although the impact of the dominant American culture is very strong in the U.S., the fascination with the culture of Maori people has allowed shedding more light on the subject matter (“USA’s West Coast,” 2017). Therefore, people should be made aware of the challenges that Maori people face in American society.

Collectivism and Other Values

Maoris are a collectivistic people living in an outstandingly individualistic country. As opposed to New Zealanders of European descent, Maori follow non-materialistic values and put kinship ties before their personal interests. These tendencies gather conflicting feedback: for instance, Collins (2015) argues that Maori’s collectivism stifles their economic potential. On the other hand, Maoris who prefer collectivism in the workplace showed a lower level of depression as opposed to those who proclaimed themselves individualistic (Collins, 2015).

Maori Art

Artistic self-expression has always been an integral part of Maori culture. The most common forms of art include music, storytelling, drawing, sculpture, and architecture. Carving and weaving were some of the necessities of living as a Maori. The nation has reached such a level of mastery in these two trades that it turned them into literal art. For instance, Maori carved beautiful native woods into a spiritual object that embellished their traditional meeting houses (Mead, 2016). Even everyday objects such as canoes could be canvas – they were also adorned with carved patterns.


The Maori culture incorporates numerous values associated with unity. For example, the idea of connectivity within a community allows for the social support. Other essential Maori cultural values include utmost respect for parents regardless of their faults (Mead, 2016). For instance, senior citizens are viewed as the source of wisdom in the Maori culture. Lastly, many Maoris express their concern for environmental issues and believe that the government should tackle them even if it means slower economic growth (Collins, 2015). For example, the focus on wildlife preservation is quite prominent in the Maori culture.


Traditional Maori religion teaches that all things have the same descent and are possessed with eternal energy. Thus, all objects, including inanimate, were considered living things that, however, varied in their importance. The key concept of Maori religious teaching was tapu – an object or a person that was seen as sacred by spiritual leaders (Mead, 2016). Assigning an object the status of tapu imposed certain restrictions – other people could not touch it or sometimes even approach it.

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Gender Roles

In the Maori culture, men were considered the defenders and providers, while women were assigned the role of housewives and mothers. For example, the image of a mother as the child bearer has been supported in the Maori culture, defining the role of women in the Maori society. However, although women were praised and appreciated for their child-bearing ability, they still had a lower standing in Maori society (Mead, 2016).

Nowadays, the nation is changing its outlook on men and women and their rights and responsibilities. Maori are becoming more impacted by the mainstream culture that perpetuates liberal values and gender equality. For example, the idea of a woman assuming other roles than the one of a parent and a housewife has been accepted by Maori people (Mead, 2016). Similarly, the notion of gender has been quite pliable in the Maori culture due to the introduction of Takatāpui, or gender fluidity, into the Maori culture in the 21st century.

Assimilating to Maori Culture

Seamless integration into Maori society would require a great deal of sensitivity and genuine curiosity. A stranger to Maori culture should abstain from taking customs and traditions at their face value and make quick judgments. Instead, he or she should ask politely about the meaning behind Maori rituals without making any disparaging comments. The second recommendation would include acknowledging Maori’s struggles with colonialism and the remaining ethnic tension.


While nowadays, many Maoris adopted the Western lifestyle, their authentic culture and its key elements remain an important part of their daily life. Traditionally, Maori have always valued family ties and prioritized them before business deals. They believed in patriarchal gender roles and put more value on men than on women. Maori’s unique history should be acknowledged as well as their current struggles and challenges.


Collins, S. (2015). Collectivist beliefs ‘may hold back Maori success’ – Economists. NZ Herald. Web.

Mead, H. M. (2016). Tikanga Maori: Living by Maori values. Wellington, NZ: Huia publishers.

USA’s West Coast wowed by Maori culture. (2017). Tourism New Zealand. Web.

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U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). First, second, and total responses to the ancestry question by detailed ancestry code: 2000. Web.

Ward, A. (2015). An unsettled history: Treaty claims in New Zealand today. Wellington, NZ: Bridget Williams Books.

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