Māori culture & customs
Where can I find information about traditional Māori culture and customs?
Entry last updated: 16/08/21
Māori were the first people to settle in New Zealand.They were known to have their own unique tikanga (customs). However the coming of the European settlers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries had a huge impact on the customs and tradition of Māori.
Pre-European Māori refers to the time when Māori first arrived in Aotearoa till the arrival of James Cook in 1769.
Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
Each of the Sections on the home page has some information on the early Māori life. For example:
- Scroll down the page to Sections and select Māori New Zealanders.
- Then select Māori origins and arrivals.
- Explore First peoples in Māori tradition or Māori creation traditions to learn about the origins of Māori, Māori gods and their creation story.
In the same way:
- The Section on Daily Life, Sport and Recreation has information on early Māori housing - te noho whare.
- The Bush has information on Rongoā or Māori medicinal use of plants.
Tips: Te Ara is bilingual which means you can read this site in in Māori or English. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
New Zealand's national museum in Wellington has lots of information on Māori history and culture that can be read online.
- Select Discover The Collections from the top of the page and then select Read, watch, play.
- Scroll down the page and go to Māori. You will find here pages on the history and uses of Māori musical instruments and Māori gardening tools.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.
Colonial New Zealand
Colonial New Zealand is the period between the arrival of James Cook in 1769 until 1914. The websites below will help you understand the impact early European settlers had on various aspects of Māori life such as religion, agriculture, food and land ownership.
The area called Sections has many links that explore the influence colonisation had on Māori life.
- try Social Connections then Religion to find stories on Ngā hāhi - Māori and Christian denomination and Māori converts
- go to Settled Landscape, then Claiming the land to read about changes to Ahuwhenua – Māori land and agriculture
- use a variety of search words or keywords to find other information on this topic.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our topic search. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, e.g Māori agriculture, Māori religion. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.
NZHistory is a great website for information about events, people and places in New Zealand's history. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
Each of the three sections leads to information on Māori life in colonial New Zealand.
- Look at Culture and Society and explore Pre - 1840 contact to read about the influence of missionaries, and whalers and sealers on Māori community and work.
- Politics and Government has information on the Treaty of Waitangi and Māori leadership.
- Go to New Zealand at War to read about the musket wars and other wars fought between the early European settlers and Māori, and Pai Mārire the new Māori religious faith.
Tips: We like sites that are from government or other reputable organisations, because we can trust the information. You can sometimes tell these sites by their web address – they might have .govt or .edu in their address – or by looking at their About us or Contact pages.
Maori culture today
Māori culture and customs are very much alive today. We experience it in the haka, Maori food, language and waiata sung on special occasions.
This website that belongs to the Christchurch City Council. It has a page of useful links that relate to Māori customs, tradition and celebration.
- Open the tab called Explore and find the link called Te Ao Māori under Subject Guides.
- Select the link Te Ao Māori for tamariki and explore links such as Crafts, Waiata and food and kai to understand what they mean in Māori culture.
Tips: Many web pages have links to further information or to other recommended sites. Following these links is a great way to find out more. This searching method is called “pearl growing” because you are picking up pieces of sand to make a beautiful pearl!
This website from Immigration New Zealand is to help people live and work in New Zealand. It has some useful information on Māori culture and customs.
- Type 'Maori food' into the search box and try the link Māori food and recipes and learn about hangi and it's preparation.
- In the same way, type other search words like 'Māori culture' or 'Māori customs' to explore other useful content on this site.
Many books have been written on Māori culture and customs and the following are a very small selection. Check with your local public and school libraries for a bigger range of titles.
Some interesting titles:
- Māori by Leslie Strudwick
- The Treaty of Waitangi by Toby Morris, Ross Calman, Piripi Walker, Mark Derby
- Introducing Māori Culture by Donald Murray
- Māori customs and crafts by Alan Armstrong.