Maori are the first inhabitants of Aotearoa – the most widely known Maori name for New Zealand, which means “the land of the long white cloud.” Their ancestors were the East Polynesian people; they were hunters, fishers and gardeners. Maoris were very diligent people, and much of their work demanded common labour. During the daytime the men went to fishing, chopping trees, making weapons, axes, paddles, ropes, building houses and canoes, etc. The women prepared food, brought firewood, wove baskets and mats, and worked in cultivations. The long and distinctive history has made them as one of the most daring and resourceful adventurers of all time. A proud spirit, warmth, quick humor, great art and a deep sense of history – these qualities are gathered in Maori culture, which was isolated from the rest of the world for a long time.
There are number of theories about the origins of the Maori. Legends say that they came from “Hawaiki” about 1000 years ago. The word “Hawaiki” features in the mythology as the homeland of the Maori, before they traveled across the sea to New Zealand. The most popular mass migration theory is called “The Great Fleet”. In 1350 these group of Polynesians took a fleet of several canoes to get to New Zealand and according to legend, this fleet arrived from the mythical home of Hawaiki. Some believe that the first settlers found Aotearoa probably by chance or mistake as they could have been blown off course in one of their navigation. Most of historians affirm that Maori ancestors migrated from China, traveled via Taiwan, the Philippines to Indonesia, onto Melanesia, reaching Fiji, from there to Samoa and on to the Marquesas, then turned South West to Tahiti, then to the Cook Island and finally to New Zealand while anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl claims that they arrived via America.
Maori People and Culture
Before the coming of the white men, also called Pakeha, everything was passed orally onto generations, which included legends, beliefs, rituals, songs, dances etc. The most recognized tradition today is the “Haka” – a war dance and a traditional genre of Maori dance. The Haka was performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength. Every part of the body like hands, arms, legs or even eyes and tongue represent many instruments to show different feelings which are connected to the purpose of the occasion. Nowadays the All Blacks – New Zealand’s Rugby Team – modified Haka and perform this dance before every game. Another original tradition is their welcome, which is called a Powhiri – a greeting that includes pressing noses instead of a kiss. Defining aspects of Maori culture also include traditional arts such as carving, weaving and Moko (full faced tattoos) – which was mainly a male activity. Forms of female moko were allowed to the chin area, the upper lip and the nostrils. Today the Moko still lives on; as does Marae (special place used for social and religious events). The native language – Te reo Maori has the status of an official language in New Zealand.
Missionaries and traders, strange customs, new way of life, different clothing, guns and many diseases, all had some impact on native culture. With occasional visits from explorers accompanied by bloody retaliations, the years went on until, in 1814, the Reverend Samuel Marsden landed in New Zealand and began the conversion of the Maori people to Christianity. He met Hongi Hika, the chief of the Ngapuhi tribe, who controlled the region around the Bay of Islands. He was the first leader to obtain firearms and 300 muskets. However, not every attempt was successful and pleasing for the Pakeha. During the period of internal wars the Europeans had been increasingly pushing on settlement, and the British Government had chosen a Resident at the Bay of Islands. The first settlers had arrived at Wellington, or Port Nicholson as it was called at that time. The ten years’ period from 1860 to 1870 was the dimmest time in the history of New Zealand settlement. The late 1870s was the beginning of the Long Depression which lasted until the mid-1880s. This caused extensive hardship among Maori and the new migrants. Maori became keen sellers of land in this period. Since then there has been nothing of importance to vitally affect the position of the Maori people.
Throughout the centuries of inter-tribal wars, the arrival of Europeans and the discrimination of the native people, the Maori have managed to keep their culture and traditions intact.