Guide to Māori Culture and Customs

Posted by:
3 Oct 2018

Māori culture carries a strong sense of family (whanau) and pride in history and iwi (tribe) links. Important myths and legends are passed down through generations by way of oral storytelling and observing cultural and special customs. Here we look at some key aspects of the culture and the customs that define Māoridom.

Respecting Tikanga (Māori Customs)

Tikanga are traditional Māori customary practices, behaviours and values. They are considered a guideline for day-to-day life and need to be observed during interaction with the Māori culture. The concepts of Tikanga are constant but the practices do differ between iwi and hapu (sub-tribe).

It is important to be aware of two key aspects of Tikanga — Manaakitanga and Kaitiatikanga:

  • Manaakitanga Manaakitanga means ‘to care for’ and it generally refers to the welcoming and care of guests and the kindness and generosity that surrounds that i.e. hospitality. It is a core value of Māoridom that also includes the respect that is given to elders as they are responsible for the Manaakitanga of the entire group connected to the marae. 
  • Kaitiatikanga Means guardianship and protection and relates to the management of our environment. It does not focus on ownership but rather authority and responsibility and its key role is one of sustainability of the environment and the utilisation of its benefits. A local iwi will entrust the care of an area (such as a lake or forest) to a Kaitiaki (guardian), which can either be one person or a group of people. Key concepts within Kaitiatikanga include Mana (spiritual power — shown through abundance), Tapu (spiritual restriction where rahui (restrictions) might be enforced to allow Mana to come forth) and Mauri (life force — which must be protected to allow Mana to flow).

Visiting a Marae

If you are studying in New Zealand, a trip to a Māori marae or wharenui (meeting house) and taking part in a powhiri (welcome ceremony) is highly recommended during your stay. Particular protocol must be followed when on a Pa (village), in a marae and during a powhiri. Check out our post that takes you step-by-step through the powhiri and provides guidelines for expected behaviour on a marae.

Practising Te Reo

Now that you’ve read about tikanga Māori and visiting a marae, you might like to take some time to learn about Te Reo — the Māori language. For a short guide to Māori words and their meaning you can check out our post here. You could also take a look at this guide to place name pronunciation and use this Māori dictionary to help with your translation and pronunciation. To learn more you can read about where to experience Māori culture first-hand, right here. Haere ra, kia kaha!

Images:
By GPS 56 from New Zealand (Whenua Ranratira, Orakei Marae) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons