Environmental

5 Concepts of New Zealand’s Māori Society We Should All Consider

Whitney Kirkpatrick is a student at Berry College and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Kia ora! This is the Māori greeting that translates into “to be well/healthy” and is used as an informal hello. Learning about and interacting with a country’s indigenous people can be one of the most culturally impactful aspects about studying abroad, and I have had the chance to learn about New Zealand’s Māori people this semester by taking the MAOR102: Māori Society paper at the University of Otago and by visiting local marae (community meeting grounds) with ISA. Māori are the creators of the famous haka (ceremonial dance), which can be seen at the beginning of an All Black’s rugby game, and they have an interesting history based around a set of creation narratives. However, when you look deeper than the woodcarvings and greenstone, you will find some core aspects of Māori culture that we should all consider.

Dunedin ISA group with the whānau at the Araiteuru Marae for our overnight marae excursion

Dunedin ISA group with the whānau at the Araiteuru Marae for our overnight marae excursion

  1. Whakapapa (genealogy)

Whakapapa is at the core of Māori society. Māori trace their ancestry all the way back to the beginning of creation, and whakapapa links the spiritual and physical worlds. It is a cultural tradition for Māori to be able to recite their whakapaka lines to understand who they are and where they come from. They place an importance on those who have come before them and are aware of their place in the bigger picture rather than promoting their own individualism.

  1. Whānau (family)

Traditional Māori society is divided into three major groups: iwi (tribe), hapū (sub-tribe), and whānau (family). The whānau is the most basic level and is an extended family group consisting of three or four generations. They put family first, and each person has their own role in family matters. Children learn from their parents and grandparents so that they can ultimately replace their roles. They stick together and experience life as a family.

Entrance to the Araiteuru Marae in Dunedin, New Zealand featuring traditional Māori carvings

Entrance to the Araiteuru Marae in Dunedin, New Zealand featuring traditional Māori carvings

  1. Tūrangawaewae (place of standing)

Tūrangawaewae translates to a place to stand and is defined as a place where one has rights of residence and belonging through kinship and whakapapa. These are the places where people feel an empowered connection and are the foundations of home. It is a special thing to have a place in the world to call your own.

  1. Manaaki (generosity and care for others)

When visiting a marae, one is sure to feel at home due to the hospitality of the people. Visitors to a marae go through a pōwhiri process, which is a formal welcoming ceremony. Once you are welcomed onto the marae, you are a part of their family and are welcomed back forever. There is a meal to conclude pōwhiri, and they make sure that you are well fed and taken care of throughout your time with them. My ISA program recently stayed overnight at a local marae, and we were overwhelmed by the way they cared for us and accepted us into their home and family.

Tekoteko (figurehead on a meeting house) and koruru (carved face representing ancestor after which the house is named) at the Te Hana Te Ao Marama Māori Cultural Centre

Tekoteko (figurehead on a meeting house) and koruru (carved face representing ancestor after which the house is named) at the Te Hana Te Ao Marama Māori Cultural Centre

  1. Kaitiakitanga (environmental stewardship)

Māori believe that humans are a part of the natural environment rather than being superior to it. Whenua is the Māori word for land, and it also translates into placenta because it is ultimately the giver of life. There is no life without the land. People obtain resources from the land and are therefore responsible for protecting and caring for it.

Learning about those who are different from us can be a great way to learn more about ourselves and our own values. Exploring Māori society has given me a new outlook on my place in the world. What could you learn about yourself by experiencing another culture?

Carvings at the Te Hana Te Ao Marama Māori Cultural Centre near Auckland, New Zealand- We visited here during our Bridging Cultures Program at the beginning of the semester

Carvings at the Te Hana Te Ao Marama Māori Cultural Centre near Auckland, New Zealand- We visited here during our Bridging Cultures Program at the beginning of the semester

The World Awaits…Discover it.