New Zealand Maori Art and Culture

Maori are the tangata whenua (indigenous people of the land) of New Zealand and their Maori culture and art in New Zealand is an integral part of New Zealand life. About 15% of the country’s population of 4.1 million is of Maori descent. Maori are tribal people and their tribes are known as Kiwi.

Maori Art
New Zealand has an increasingly lively and multicultural arts scene, and Maori culture and art in New Zealand play a big part in this. New Zealand’s unique brand of creative culture has grown from a fusion of highly distinct cultures – Maori, Polynesian, Asian and every kind of European.

The strength and beauty of Maori art in New Zealand is evident in architectural carving and interior designs of marae, and in ornate whakairo (carvings) in wood, bone or pounamu (greenstone or jade) for pendants and other taonga (treasures). Carving and weaving skills arose from the practical requirements of traditional Maori lifestyle.

Fibre for clothing, ropes and other uses was created by weaving flax and other natural fibres. Hard New Zealand pounamu (greenstone or jade) was originally made into weapons and carving implements. Native wood was carved into spiritual objects that adorned Maori meeting houses (wharenui) and canoes.

The modern outlet for the creation of such traditional objects comes through Maori art in New Zealand, many of which are highly sought after in the art world.

New Zealand offers many different handmade Maori arts and crafts. Souvenir stores, museum shops and specialty outlets often sell beautiful carvings, weaving and jewellery incorporating the ancient traditions and art forms of New Zealand’s Maori people.

Ancient Maori crafts have become taonga (precious treasures) to modern Maori. Traditional art heirlooms such as carved rakau (walking sticks), hei taonga pounamu (greenstone or jade pendants) and bone carvings are treated with great respect and care, as they are believed to carry the spirit of their original owners and represent them to future generations.
You’ll find excellent examples of Maori art in New Zealand, including the Arts and Craft Institute in Rotorua and at the Kaitaia Arts and Craft Centre in Northland.

It is possible to purchase replicas of artifacts to take back home, as well as recently made crafts in both traditional and modern designs. At the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua visitors have the opportunity to watch highly skilled Maori carvers and weavers at work.

When you are shopping for Maori arts and crafts, it’s a good idea to look for the Toi iho mark. Toi iho means ‘Maori made’. The mark tells you that the artwork you are considering was designed and crafted by a Maori artist, it is not a mass produced item. Buying artwork that carries the Toi iho mark is a way to ensure that you are getting something of real value, not just sentimental value.

Maori Culture
The indigenous Maori people of New Zealand have a rich and fascinating culture, passed on from generation to generation through music, carvings, art, storytelling and reciting genealogies (whakapapa).
Visitors are presented with many opportunities to experience the New Zealand Maori culture first-hand as many marae (meeting places) throughout the country welcome visitors. The best-known of these is the thermal region of Rotorua in the North Island and Nga Hau e Wha in Christchurch. Here tourists can experience Maori kai (food) cooked on hot stones underground as part of a traditional hangi or enjoy a Maori powhiri (welcome ceremony) and kapa haka.
he marriage between the Maori and European traditions in New Zealand has led to some unique cultural events. Rotorua’s Opera in the Pa is an example of the way in which Maori and Pakeha (European) influences have given rise to a fresh Pacific culture.

Maori and Polynesian voices sing the operatic works of Verdi, Puccini and Mozart at the sacred Rotowhio marae, against a backdrop of bush and geysers.
Annual events, such as Pasifika in Auckland, display New Zealand’s cultural diversity, of which New Zealand Maori culture is the foundation.
The festival has been running since 1993 and features traditional arts, music, entertainment and food of the 250,000 Pacific Island people who call Auckland home.

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