M%C4%81ori People
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M%C4%81ori People

Haka performed during US Defense Secretary's visit to New Zealand (1).jpg
M?ori performing a haka (2012)
Regions with significant populations
New Zealand775,836 (2018 census)[1]
Australia142,107 (2016 census)[2]
United Kingdomapprox. 8,000 (2000)[3]
United States3,500 (2000)[4]
Canada2,500 (2016)[5]
Other regionsapprox. 8,000[3]
M?ori, English
Mainly Christian or irreligious
M?ori religions
Related ethnic groups
other Polynesian peoples

The M?ori (,[6] M?ori: ['ma:i] ) are the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand (Aotearoa). M?ori originated with settlers from East Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of waka (canoe) voyages between roughly 1320 and 1350.[7] Over several centuries in isolation, these settlers developed their own distinctive culture, whose language, mythology, crafts, and performing arts evolved independently from those of other eastern Polynesian cultures. Some early M?ori moved to the Chatham Islands where their descendants became New Zealand's other indigenous Polynesian ethnic group, the Moriori.[8]

Initial contact between M?ori and Europeans, starting in the 18th century, ranged from beneficial trade to lethal violence; M?ori actively adopted many technologies from the newcomers. With the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the two cultures coexisted for a generation. Rising tensions over disputed land sales led to conflict in the 1860s, and massive land confiscations, to which M?ori responded with fierce resistance. After the Treaty was declared a legal nullity in 1877, M?ori were forced to assimilate into many aspects of Western society and culture. Social upheaval and epidemics of introduced disease took a devastating toll on the M?ori population, which fell dramatically. By the start of the 20th century, the M?ori population had begun to recover, and efforts have been made, centring on the Treaty of Waitangi, to increase their standing in wider New Zealand society and achieve social justice.

Traditional M?ori culture has thereby enjoyed a significant revival, which was further bolstered by a M?ori protest movement that emerged in the 1960s. However, disproportionate numbers of M?ori face significant economic and social obstacles, and generally have lower life expectancies and incomes compared with other New Zealand ethnic groups. They suffer higher levels of crime, health problems, and educational under-achievement. A number of socio-economic initiatives have been instigated with the aim of "closing the gap" between M?ori and other New Zealanders. Political and economic redress for historical grievances is also ongoing (see Treaty of Waitangi claims and settlements).

In the 2018 census, there were 775,836 people in New Zealand identifying as M?ori, making up 16.5 percent of the national population. They are the second-largest ethnic group in New Zealand, after European New Zealanders ("P?keh?"). In addition, more than 140,000 M?ori live in Australia. The M?ori language is spoken to some extent by about a fifth of all M?ori, representing 3 percent of the total population. M?ori are active in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, with independent representation in areas such as media, politics, and sport.


In the M?ori language, the word m?ori means "normal", "natural", or "ordinary". In legends and oral traditions, the word distinguished ordinary mortal human beings--t?ngata m?ori--from deities and spirits (wairua).[9][i] Likewise, wai m?ori denotes "fresh water", as opposed to salt water. There are cognate words in most Polynesian languages,[10] all deriving from Proto-Polynesian *ma(a)qoli, which has the reconstructed meaning "true, real, genuine".[11][12]

Naming and self-naming

Early visitors from Europe to New Zealand generally referred to the indigenous inhabitants as "New Zealanders" or as "natives".[13] The M?ori used the term M?ori to describe themselves in a pan-tribal sense.[ii] M?ori people often use the term tangata whenua (literally, "people of the land") to identify in a way that expresses their relationship with a particular area of land; a tribe may be the tangata whenua in one area, but not in another.[14] The term can also refer to the M?ori people as a whole in relation to New Zealand (Aotearoa) as a whole.

Who is considered M?ori has not always been clear from a government perspective. For electoral purposes before 1974, the government required documented ancestry to determine the status of "a M?ori person" and only those with at least 50% M?ori ancestry were allowed to choose which seats they wished to vote in. The M?ori Affairs Amendment Act 1974 changed this, allowing individuals to self-identify as to their cultural identity. Similarly, until 1986 the census required at least 50 per cent M?ori 'blood' to claim M?ori affiliation. Currently in all contexts authorities generally require some documentation of ancestry or continuing cultural connection (such as acceptance by others as being of the people); but no minimum "blood" requirement.[15][iii]


Origins from Polynesia

The M?ori settlement of New Zealand represents an end-point of a long chain of island-hopping voyages in the South Pacific.

No credible evidence exists of pre-M?ori settlement of New Zealand; on the other hand, compelling evidence from archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology indicates that the first settlers migrated from Polynesia and became the M?ori.[16][17] Evidence indicates that their ancestry (as part of the larger group of Austronesian peoples) stretches back 5,000 years, to the indigenous peoples of Taiwan. Polynesian people settled a large area encompassing Samoa, Tahiti, Hawai?i, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) - and finally New Zealand.[18]

There may have been some exploration and settlement before eruption of Mount Tarawera in about 1315, based on finds of bones from Polynesian rats and rat-gnawed shells,[19] and evidence of widespread forest fires in the decade or so earlier;[20][21] but the most recent evidence points to the main settlement occurring as a planned mass migration somewhere between 1320 and 1350.[16] This broadly aligns with analyses from M?ori oral traditions, which describe the arrival of ancestors in a number of large ocean-going canoes (waka) in around 1350.[22][23]

Early history

Early Archaic period objects from the Wairau Bar archaeological site, on display at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch

The earliest period of M?ori settlement, known as the "Archaic", "Moahunter" or "Colonisation" period, dates from c. 1300 to c. 1500. The early M?ori diet included an abundance of moa and other large birds and fur seals that had never been hunted before. This Archaic period is known for its distinctive "reel necklaces",[24] and also remarkable for the lack of weapons and fortifications typical of the later "Classic" M?ori.[25] The best-known and most extensively studied Archaic site, at Wairau Bar in the South Island,[26] shows evidence of occupation from early-13th century to the early-15th century.[27] It is the only known New Zealand archaeological site containing the bones of people who were born elsewhere.[27]

Model of a p? (hillfort) built on a headland. P? proliferated as competition and warfare increased among a growing population.

Factors that operated in the transition to the Classic period (the culture at the time of European contact) include a significantly cooler period from 1500,[28] and the extinction of the moa and of other food species.[29][30][31][32][33]

The Classic period is characterised by finely-made pounamu (greenstone) weapons and ornaments; elaborately carved war canoes and wharenui (meeting houses).[34] A fierce warrior culture included hillforts known as p?[35] and cannibalism.[36][37][38]

Around the year 1500 a group of M?ori migrated east to the Chatham Islands and developed into a people known as the Moriori,[39] with pacifism a key part of their culture.[40]

Contact with Europeans

The first European impression of M?ori, at Murderers' Bay in Abel Tasman's travel journal (1642)

The first European explorers to New Zealand were Abel Tasman, who arrived in 1642; Captain James Cook, in 1769; and Marion du Fresne in 1772. Initial contact between M?ori and Europeans proved problematic and sometimes fatal, with Tasman having four of his men killed and probably killing at least one M?ori - without ever landing.[41] Cook's men shot at least eight M?ori within three days of his first landing,[42][43] although he later had good relations with M?ori. Three years later, after a promising start, du Fresne and 26 men of his crew were killed. From the 1780s, M?ori also increasingly encountered European and American sealers, whalers and Christian missionaries. Relations were mostly peaceful, although marred by several further violent incidents, the worst of which was the Boyd massacre and subsequent revenge attacks.[44]

European settlement in New Zealand began in the early 19th century, leading to an extensive sharing of culture and ideas. Many M?ori valued Europeans, whom they called "P?keh?", as a means to acquire Western knowledge and technology. M?ori quickly adopted writing as a means of sharing ideas, and many of their oral stories and poems were converted to the written form.[45] The introduction of the potato revolutionised agriculture, and the acquisition of muskets[46] by M?ori iwi led to a period of particularly bloody intertribal warfare known as the Musket Wars, in which many groups were decimated and others driven from their traditional territory.[47] The pacifist Moriori in the Chatham Islands similarly suffered massacre and subjugation in an invasion by some Taranaki iwi.[48] At the same time, the M?ori suffered high mortality rates from Eurasian infectious diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles, which killed an estimated 10 to 50 per cent of M?ori.[49][50]

Depiction of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, bringing New Zealand and the M?ori into the British Empire

By 1839, estimates placed the number of Europeans living in New Zealand as high as 2,000,[51] and the British Crown acceded to repeated requests from missionaries and some M?ori chiefs (rangatira) to intervene. The British government sent Royal Navy Captain William Hobson to negotiate a treaty between the British Crown and the M?ori, which became known as the Treaty of Waitangi. Starting from February 1840, this treaty was signed by the Crown and 500 M?ori chiefs from across New Zealand.[52][53] The Treaty gave M?ori the rights of British subjects and guaranteed M?ori property rights and tribal autonomy, in return for accepting British sovereignty and the annexation of New Zealand as a colony in the British Empire.[54] However, disputes continue over aspects of the Treaty of Waitangi, including wording differences in the two versions (in English and M?ori), as well as misunderstandings of different cultural concepts.[55]

Nevertheless, relations between M?ori and Europeans during the early colonial period were largely peaceful. Many M?ori groups set up substantial businesses, supplying food and other products for domestic and overseas markets. When violence did break out, as in the Wairau Affray, Flagstaff War, Hutt Valley Campaign and Wanganui Campaign it was generally limited and concluded with a peace treaty. However, by the 1860s rising settler numbers and tensions over disputed land purchases led to the later New Zealand wars, fought by the colonial government against numerous M?ori iwi using local and British Imperial troops, and some allied iwi. These conflicts resulted in the colonial government confiscating tracts of M?ori land as punishment for what were called "rebellions". P?keh? (European) settlers would occupy the confiscated land.[56] Several minor conflicts also arose after the wars, including the incident at Parihaka in 1881 and the Dog Tax War from 1897 to 1898. The Native Land Court was also established to transfer M?ori land from communal ownership into individual title as a means to assimilation and to facilitate greater sales to European settlers.[57]

Decline and revival

Members of the 28th (M?ori) Battalion performing a haka, Egypt (July 1941)

By the late 19th century a widespread belief existed amongst both P?keh? and M?ori that the M?ori population would cease to exist as a separate race or culture, and become assimilated into the European population.[58] In the 1896 census, New Zealand had a M?ori population of 42,113, by which time Europeans numbered more than 700,000.[59]

However, the decline did not continue and the M?ori population continued to recover in the 20th centuries. Influential M?ori politicians such as James Carroll, ?pirana Ngata, Te Rangi H?roa and Maui Pomare aimed to revitalise the M?ori people after the devastation of the previous century. They believed the future path called for a degree of assimilation,[60] with M?ori adopting European practices such as Western medicine and education (especially learning English), while also retaining traditional cultural practices. M?ori also fought during both World Wars in specialised battalions (the M?ori Pioneer Battalion in WWI and the 28th (M?ori) Battalion in WWII). M?ori were also badly hit by the 1918 influenza epidemic, with death rates for M?ori being 4.5 times higher than for P?keh?. After World War II, te reo M?ori use declined steeply in favour of English.

Whina Cooper leading the M?ori Land March in 1975, seeking redress for historical grievances

Since the 1960s, M?oridom has undergone a cultural revival[61] concurrent with activism for social justice and a protest movement.[62] K?hanga reo (M?ori language pre-schools) were established in 1982 to promote M?ori language use and halt the decline in its use.[63] Two M?ori language television channels broadcast content in the M?ori language,[64][65] while words such as "kia ora" have entered widespread use in New Zealand English.[66]

Government recognition of the growing political power of M?ori and political activism have led to limited redress for historic land confiscations. In 1975 the Crown set up the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate historical grievances,[67] and since the 1990s the New Zealand government has negotiated and finalised treaty settlements with many iwi across New Zealand. By June 2008 the government had provided over NZ$900 million in settlements, much of it in the form of land deals.[68] There is a growing M?ori leadership who are using these settlements as an investment platform for economic development.[69]

Despite a growing acceptance of M?ori culture in wider New Zealand society, treaty settlements have generated significant controversy. Some M?ori have argued that the settlements occur at a level of between 1 and 2.5 cents on the dollar of the value of the confiscated lands, and therefore do not represent adequate redress. Conversely, some non-M?ori denounce the settlements and socioeconomic initiatives as amounting to race-based preferential treatment.[70] Both of these sentiments were expressed during the New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004.[71][72]


Under the M?ori Affairs Amendment Act 1974, a M?ori is defined as "a person of the M?ori race of New Zealand; and includes any descendant of such a person".[73] The M?ori population around the late 18th century was estimated by James Cook at 100,000. Historian Michael King suggests a slightly higher figure of 110,000 is more likely.[74] Their numbers declined during the 19th century, to as low as 42,000; the decline has been attributed to the impact of European colonisation, including new diseases.[75] Thereafter the population grew rapidly.

There were 775,836 people identifying as being part of the M?ori ethnic group at the 2018 New Zealand census, making up 16.5% of New Zealand's population. This is an increase of 177,234 people (29.6%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 210,507 people (37.2%) since the 2006 census. The large increase between the 2013 and 2018 census was mainly due to Statistics New Zealand adding ethnicity data from other sources (previous censuses, administrative data, and imputation) to the 2018 census data to reduce the number of non-responses.[76]

There were 383,019 males and 392,820 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.975 males per female. The median age was 25.4 years (compared with 37.4 years for New Zealand as a whole), with 248,784 people (32.1%) aged under 15 years, 193,146 (24.9%) aged 15 to 29, 285,657 (36.8%) aged 30 to 64, and 48,252 (6.2%) aged 65 or older.[77]

In terms of population distribution, 85.7% of M?ori live in the North Island and 14.2% live in the South Island. The Chatham Islands has the highest concentration of M?ori people at 66.1%, followed by the Wairoa District (65.7%), ?p?tiki District (63.7%), Kawerau District (61.7%) and Gisborne District (52.9%). The Upper Harbour local board area in Auckland has the lowest concentration of M?ori people at 5.1%, followed by the Queenstown-Lakes District at 5.3%.[78]

Of those identifying as M?ori at the 2018 census, 352,755 people (45.5%) identified as of sole M?ori ethnicity while 336,174 people (43.3%) identified as of both European and M?ori ethnicity, due to the high rate of intermarriage between the two cultures.[79]

The largest iwi by population at the 2013 census was Ng?puhi (125,601), followed by Ng?ti Porou (71,049), Ng?i Tahu (54,819) and Waikato (40,083). However, over 110,000 people of M?ori descent could not identify their iwi.[80]

Outside of New Zealand, a large M?ori population exists in Australia, estimated at 155,000 in 2011.[81] In 2007 the M?ori Party suggested a special seat should be created in the New Zealand parliament representing M?ori in Australia.[82] Smaller communities also exist in the United Kingdom (approx. 8,000), the United States (up to 3,500) and Canada (approx. 1,000).[3][83][84]


Wharenui (meeting house) at ?hinemutu village, Rotorua (tekoteko on the top)

M?ori culture forms a distinctive part of New Zealand culture and, due to a large diaspora and the incorporation of M?ori motifs into popular culture, is found throughout the world.[85][86] Contemporary M?ori culture comprises traditional as well as 20th-century influences.

Traditional culture

A M?ori chief with tattoos (moko) seen by James Cook and his crew

Julius von Haast incorrectly interpreted the earliest archaeological remains as belonging to a pre-M?ori Paleolithic people; later researchers, notably Percy Smith, magnified such theories into an elaborate scenario with a series of sharply-defined cultural stages which had M?ori arriving in a Great Fleet in 1350 and replacing the so-called "moa-hunter" culture with a "classic M?ori" culture based on horticulture.[87] However, the archaeological record indicates a gradual evolution of culture.[88] In the course of a few centuries, the growing population led to competition for resources and an increase in warfare and an increased frequency of fortified p?. Various systems also arose aimed to conserve resources; most of these, such as tapu and r?hui, used religious or supernatural threats to discourage people from taking species at particular seasons or from specified areas.

Warfare between tribes was common, and M?ori would sometimes eat their conquered enemies.[89] Performing arts such as the haka developed from their Polynesian roots, as did carving and weaving. Regional dialects arose, with differences in vocabulary and in the pronunciation of some words but the language retained enough similarities to other Eastern Polynesian languages for Tupaia, the Tahitian navigator on James Cook's first voyage in the region to act as an interpreter between M?ori and the crew of the Endeavour.

Belief and religion

Religious affiliation[90]
No religion
M?ori religions
Other religion

Traditional M?ori beliefs have their origins in Polynesian culture. Polynesian concepts such as tapu (sacred), noa (non-sacred), mana (authority/prestige) and wairua (spirit) governed everyday M?ori living and there were many M?ori deities. Today, M?ori follow many Christian faiths including Presbyterianism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), M?ori Christian groups such as R?tana and Ringat?",[91] and also Catholic, Anglican and Methodist denominations.[92][93] At the 2018 New Zealand census, 7.7 per cent of M?ori were affiliated with M?ori Christian denominations and 29.9 per cent with other Christian denominations; 53.5 per cent of M?ori claimed no religion. Proportions of Christian and irreligious M?ori are comparable with European New Zealanders.[90]

M?ori woman with a representation of the Waikato Ancestress "Te Iringa"

Many M?ori people still observe spiritual traditions such as tapu and noa. Certain objects, areas, or buildings are tapu (spiritually restricted), and must be made noa (unrestricted) by ceremonial action.[94] It is common practice, for instance, to remove one's shoes before entering a wharenui (meeting-house) in token of respect for the ancestors who are represented and spiritually present within the wharenui.[95] Another spiritual ritual is hurihanga takapau (purification), practised when fishing to ensure there is no tapu on the fish.[96]

Performing arts

Cultural performance of waiata (song), haka (dance), tauparapara (chants) and m?teatea (poetry) are used by M?ori to express and pass on knowledge and understanding about history, communities, and relationships.[97] Kapa haka is a M?ori performance art[98] that originated in the 1880s to perform to tourists including some groups travelling out of New Zealand to perform.[99] It was used in the First World War to raise money for the Maori Soldiers' Fund encouraged by Apirana Ngata.[99] A haka is often performed in a p?whiri (welcoming ceremony).[100]

A young man performing in a kapa haka group at a Rotorua tourist venue

Since 1972 there has been a regular national kapa haka competition, the Te Matatini National Festival, organised by the Aotearoa Traditional M?ori Performing Arts Society. There are kapa haka groups in schools, tertiary institutions, and workplaces, and it is performed at tourist venues across the country.[101][102]

Whare tapere (entertainment houses) were a site of story-telling, dance, and puppetry in pre-European M?ori culture.[103][104] M?ori theatre and contemporary dance flourished in the 1970s and 1980s with groups such as Te Ohu Whakaari, Te Ika a Maui Players and Taki Rua. Contemporary M?ori stage writers, actors and directors include George Henare, Riwia Brown, Hone Kouka, Nancy Brunning, Jim Moriarty, Briar Grace-Smith, and many others.[105] Contemporary performing arts include theatre companies Taki Rua,[106] Tawata Productions who run an annual playwriting festival for indigenous writers called Breaking Ground,[107][108] and dance companies, Atamira Dance Company and Okareka Dance Company.[109] In Auckland is Te Pou 'a kaupapa M?ori performing arts venue' a place that develops and partners with M?ori theatre makers.[110]

Traditional M?ori instruments are taonga p?oro. They fulfilled various roles including storytelling, religious traditions and also daily functions such as the beginning of a new day.[111] Taonga p?oro fall into two areas, melodic instruments such as the flute and rhythmic instruments such as poi "balls of dried flax on string that are swung and tapped".[112]

Literature and media

Like other cultures, oral folklore was used by M?ori to preserve their stories and beliefs across many centuries. In the 19th century, European-style literacy was brought to the M?ori, which led to M?ori history documentation in books, novels and later television. M?ori language use began to decline in the 20th century with English as the language through which M?ori literature became widespread.

Notable M?ori novelists include Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera and Alan Duff. Once Were Warriors, a 1994 film adapted from a 1990 novel of the same name by Alan Duff, brought the plight of some urban M?ori to a wide audience. It was the highest-grossing film in New Zealand until 2006,[113][114] and received international acclaim, winning several international film prizes.[115] While some M?ori feared that viewers would consider the violent male characters an accurate portrayal of M?ori men, most critics praised it as exposing the raw side of domestic violence.[116]

Prominent M?ori film actors include Jemaine Clement, Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis, Lawrence Makoare, Manu Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes, and Julian Dennison. They appear in films such as Whale Rider, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, The Matrix, King Kong, River Queen, The Lord of The Rings, Rapa Nui, Godzilla vs. Kong, Deadpool 2, and others, and famous television series like Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, The Lost World and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In most cases their roles in Hollywood productions have them portraying ethnic groups other than M?ori.

In the 2010s M?ori actor-director Taika Waititi rose to global fame with the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Thor: Ragnarok, in which he played an alien named Korg,[117] and the Academy Award-winning Jojo Rabbit,[118] in which he played Adolf Hitler as imagined by a ten-year-old Hitler Youth member. Waititi's previous films include Boy[119] and Hunt for the Wilderpeople,[120] both of which feature young M?ori protagonists.


M?ori participate fully in New Zealand's sporting culture, and are well-represented in rugby union, rugby league and netball teams at all levels. As well as participation in national sports teams, there are M?ori rugby union, rugby league and cricket representative teams that play in international competitions.

At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, 41 of the 199 competitors (20.5 per cent) were of M?ori descent in the New Zealand delegation, with the rugby sevens squads alone having 17 M?ori competitors (out of 24). There were also three competitors of M?ori descent in the Australian delegation.[121]

Rugby team wearing all black, facing the camera, knees bent, and facing toward a team wearing white
A haka performed by the national rugby union team before a game

The New Zealand national rugby union team and many other New Zealand sports people perform a haka, a traditional M?ori challenge, before events.[122][123]

Ki-o-rahi and tapawai are two ball sports of M?ori origin. Ki-o-rahi received an unexpected boost when McDonald's chose it to represent New Zealand.[124] Waka ama (outrigger canoeing) has also experienced a resurgence of interest in New Zealand since the 1980s.[125]


Map of New Zealand showing the percentage of people in each census area unit who speak M?ori. Areas of the North Island exhibit the highest M?ori proficiency.
Speakers of M?ori according to the 2013 census[126]
  Less than 5%
  More than 5%
  More than 10%
  More than 20%
  More than 30%
  More than 40%
  More than 50%

The M?ori language, also known as te reo M?ori (pronounced ['ma:o?i, te '?eo 'ma:o?i]) or simply Te Reo ("the language"), has the status of an official language. Linguists classify it within the Eastern Polynesian languages as being closely related to Cook Islands M?ori, Tuamotuan and Tahitian. Before European contact M?ori did not have a written language and "important information such as whakapapa was memorised and passed down verbally through the generations".[127] M?ori were familiar with the concept of maps and when interacting with missionaries in 1815 could draw accurate maps of their rohe (iwi boundaries), onto paper, that were the equal of European maps. Missionaries surmised that M?ori had traditionally drawn maps on sand or other natural materials.[128]

From about 1890, M?ori members of Parliament realised the importance of English literacy to M?ori and insisted that all M?ori children be taught in English.[] Missionaries, who still ran many M?ori schools, had been teaching exclusively in M?ori but the M?ori MPs insisted this should stop. However attendance at school for many M?ori was intermittent. In many areas of New Zealand, M?ori lost its role as a living community language used by significant numbers of people in the post-war years. In tandem with calls for sovereignty and for the righting of social injustices from the 1970s onwards, New Zealand schools now teach M?ori culture and language as an option, and pre-school kohanga reo ("language-nests") have started, which teach tamariki (young children) exclusively in M?ori. These now extend right through secondary schools (kura tuarua). Most preschool centres teach basics such as colours, numerals and greetings in M?ori songs and chants.[129]

M?ori Television, a government-funded channel committed to broadcasting primarily in Te Reo, began in March 2004.[64] The 1996 census reported 160,000 M?ori speakers.[130] At the time of the 2013 census 125,352 M?ori (21.3 per cent) reported a conversational level of proficiency.[131]


Historical development

Polynesian settlers in New Zealand developed a distinct society over several hundred years. Social groups were tribal, with no unified society or single M?ori identity until after the arrival of Europeans. Nevertheless, common elements could be found in all M?ori groups in pre-European New Zealand, including a shared Polynesian heritage, a common basic language, familial associations, traditions of warfare, and similar mythologies and religious beliefs.[132]

Most M?ori lived in villages, which were inhabited by several wh?nau (extended families) who collectively formed a hap? (clan or subtribe). Members of a hap? cooperated with food production, gathering resources, raising families and defence. M?ori society across New Zealand was broadly stratified into three classes of people: rangatira, chiefs and ruling families; t?t, commoners; and m?kai, slaves. Tohunga also held special standing in their communities as specialists of revered arts, skills and esoteric knowledge.[133][134]

Shared ancestry, intermarriage and trade strengthened relationships between different groups. Many hap? with mutually-recognised shared ancestry formed iwi, or tribes, which were the largest social unit in M?ori society. Hap? and iwi often united for expeditions to gather food and resources, or in times of conflict. In contrast, warfare developed as an integral part of traditional life, as different groups competed for food and resources, settled personal disputes, and sought to increase their prestige and authority.[133]

M?ori wh?nau from Rotorua in the 1880s
M?ori wh?nau from Rotorua in the 1880s. Many aspects of Western life and culture, including European clothing and architecture, became incorporated into M?ori society during the 19th century.

Early European settlers introduced tools, weapons, clothing and foods to M?ori across New Zealand, in exchange for resources, land and labour. M?ori began selectively adopting elements of Western society during the 19th century, including European clothing and food, and later Western education, religion and architecture.[135] However, as the 19th century wore on, relations between European colonial settlers and different M?ori groups became increasingly strained. Tensions led to widespread conflict in the 1860s, and the confiscation of millions of acres of M?ori land. Significant amounts of land were also purchased by the colonial government and later through the Native Land Court.

20th century to present

By the start of the 20th century, a greater awareness had emerged of a unified M?ori identity, particularly in comparison to P?keh?, who now overwhelmingly outnumbered the M?ori as a whole. M?ori and P?keh? societies remained largely separate--socially, culturally, economically and geographically--for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries.[136] The key reason for this was that M?ori remained almost exclusively a rural population, whereas increasingly the European population was urban especially after 1900. Nevertheless, M?ori groups continued to engage with the government and in legal processes to increase their standing in (and ultimately further their incorporation into) wider New Zealand society.[137] The main point of contact with the government were the four M?ori Members of Parliament.

Many M?ori migrated to larger rural towns and cities during the Depression and post-WWII periods in search of employment, leaving rural communities depleted and disconnecting many urban M?ori from their traditional social controls and tribal homelands. Yet while standards of living improved among M?ori, they continued to lag behind P?keh? in areas such as health, income, skilled employment and access to higher levels of education. M?ori leaders and government policymakers alike struggled to deal with social issues stemming from increased urban migration, including a shortage of housing and jobs, and a rise in urban crime, poverty and health problems.[138]

In regards to housing, a 1961 census revealed significant differences in the living conditions of M?ori and Europeans. That year, out of all the (unshared) non-M?ori private dwellings in New Zealand, 96.8 per cent had a bath or shower, 94.1 per cent a hot water service, 88.7 per cent a flush toilet, 81.6 per cent a refrigerator, and 78.6 per cent an electric washing machine. By contrast, for all (unshared) M?ori private dwellings that same year, 76.8 per cent had a bath or shower, 68.9 per cent a hot water service, 55.8 per cent a refrigerator, 54.1 per cent a flush toilet, and 47 per cent an electric washing machine.[139]

While the arrival of Europeans had a profound impact on the M?ori way of life, many aspects of traditional society have survived into the 21st century. M?ori participate fully in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, leading largely Western lifestyles while also maintaining their own cultural and social customs. The traditional social strata of rangatira, t?t and m?kai have all but disappeared from M?ori society, while the roles of tohunga and kaum?tua are still present. Traditional kinship ties are also actively maintained, and the wh?nau in particular remains an integral part of M?ori life.[140]

Marae, hap? and iwi

Whenuakura Marae in Taranaki
Whenuakura Marae in Taranaki. Marae continue to function as local community centres in modern M?ori society.

M?ori society at a local level is particularly visible at the marae. Formerly the central meeting spaces in traditional villages, marae today usually comprise a group of buildings around an open space, that frequently host events such as weddings, funerals, church services and other large gatherings, with traditional protocol and etiquette usually observed. They also serve as the base of one or sometimes several hap?.[141]

Most M?ori affiliate with one or more iwi (and hap?), based on genealogical descent (whakapapa). Iwi vary in size, from a few hundred members to over 100,000 in the case of Ng?puhi. Many people do not live in their traditional tribal regions as a result of urban migration.

Iwi are usually governed by r?nanga (governing councils or trust boards) which represent the iwi in consultations and negotiations with the New Zealand government. R?nanga also manage tribal assets and spearhead health, education, economic and social initiatives to help iwi members.[]

Race relations

Protest hikoi during the Foreshore and Seabed controversy in 2004
Protest hikoi during the foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004

The status of M?ori as the indigenous people of New Zealand is recognised in New Zealand law by the term tangata whenua (lit. "people of the land"), which identifies the traditional connection between M?ori and a given area of land. M?ori as a whole can be considered as tangata whenua of New Zealand entirely (excepting the Chatham Islands, where the tangata whenua are Moriori); individual iwi are recognised as tangata whenua for areas of New Zealand in which they are traditionally based (known in M?ori as rohe), while hap? are tangata whenua within their marae. New Zealand law periodically requires consultation between the government and tangata whenua--for example, during major land development projects. This usually takes the form of negotiations between local or national government and the r?nanga of one or more relevant iwi, although the government generally decides which (if any) concerns are acted upon.[]

New Zealand endorses Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, 2010
New Zealand endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in April 2010.

M?ori issues are a prominent feature of race relations in New Zealand. Historically, many P?keh? viewed race relations in their country as being the "best in the world", a view that prevailed until M?ori urban migration in the mid-20th century brought cultural and socioeconomic differences to wider attention.[142]

M?ori protest movements grew significantly in the 1960s and 1970s seeking redress for past grievances, particularly in regard to land rights. Successive governments have responded by enacting affirmative action programmes, funding cultural rejuvenation initiatives and negotiating tribal settlements for past breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.[143] Further efforts have focused on reducing socioeconomic disparity.[144]

Nevertheless, race relations remains a contentious issue in New Zealand society. M?ori advocates continue to push for further redress claiming that their concerns are being marginalised or ignored. A 2007 Department of Corrections report found that M?ori are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system not only because they commit more crimes but also because they face prejudice at many levels: "a number of studies have shown evidence of greater likelihood, associated only with ethnicity, for M?ori offenders to have police contact, be charged, lack legal representation, not be granted bail, plead guilty, be convicted, be sentenced to non-monetary penalties, and be denied release to Home Detention".[145] Conversely, critics denounce the scale of assistance given to M?ori as amounting to preferential treatment for a select group of people based on race.[70] Both sentiments were highlighted during the foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004, in which the New Zealand government claimed sole ownership of the New Zealand foreshore and seabed, over the objections of M?ori groups who were seeking customary title.[146]

Socioeconomic issues

M?ori on average have fewer assets than the rest of the population, and run greater risks of many negative economic and social outcomes. Over 50 per cent of M?ori live in areas in the three highest deprivation deciles, compared with 24 per cent of the rest of the population.[147]

Although M?ori make up only 14 per cent of the population, they make up almost 50 per cent of the prison population.[148] M?ori have higher unemployment rates than other cultures resident in New Zealand, which is believed to partially account for their over-representation in the criminal justice system; many young M?ori, finding themselves unemployed, are picked up for alcohol-related behaviours or small crimes such as vandalism.[149] Underemployment is in turn attributed to persistent institutional racism in New Zealand.[150][151]

"Only 47 per cent of M?ori school-leavers finish school with qualifications higher than NCEA Level One; compared to 74 per cent European; 87 per cent Asian."[152] Although New Zealand rates very well globally in the PISA rankings that compare national performance in reading, science and maths, "once you disaggregate the PISA scores, Pakeha students are second in the world and M?ori are 34th."[153] At the 2018 New Zealand census, 25.3% of M?ori aged 15 and over had no formal qualifications, compared to 17.1% for non-M?ori New Zealanders, and only 12.5% of M?ori have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 26.8% of non-M?ori.[154]

Also, a recent[when?] study by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse showed that M?ori women and children are more likely to experience domestic violence than any other ethnic group.[155]


In 2017-2019, life expectancy for M?ori in New Zealand was 73.4 years for males and 77.1 years for females, compared to 80.9 years for non-M?ori males and 84.4 years for non-M?ori females, a difference of 7.5 and 7.3 years respectively.[156][157] However, M?ori have a wide range of life expectancies across regions: M?ori living in the Marlborough region have the highest life expectancy at 79.9 years for males and 83.4 years for females, while M?ori living in the Gisborne region have the lowest life expectancy at 71.2 years for males and 75.2 years for females.[157]

M?ori suffer more health problems, including higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse, smoking and obesity. Less frequent use of healthcare services mean that late diagnosis and treatment intervention lead to higher levels of morbidity and mortality in many manageable conditions.[158][159][160] Compared with non-M?ori, M?ori people experience higher rates of heart disease, strokes, most cancers, respiratory diseases, rheumatic fever, suicide and self-harm, and infant deaths.[161]

In April 2021, the government announced the creation of the first dedicated M?ori Health Authority "with the power to directly commission health services for M?ori and to partner with Health NZ in other aspects of the health system".[162]


Wider commercial exposure has increased public awareness of the M?ori culture, but has also resulted in several legal disputes. Between 1998 and 2006, Ng?ti Toa attempted to trademark the haka "Ka Mate" to prevent its use by commercial organisations without their permission.[163] In 2001, Danish toymaker Lego faced legal action by several M?ori tribal groups opposed to them trademarking M?ori words used in the Bionicle product range.[164]

Political representation

The M?ori Parliament at P?p?wai, Greytown in 1897
The opening of the M?ori Parliament at P?p?wai, Greytown in 1897, with Richard Seddon in attendance

M?ori have been represented to the Crown in New Zealand politics since the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand, before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. M?ori have had reserved seats in the New Zealand Parliament since 1868: presently, this accounts for seven of the 120 seats in New Zealand's unicameral parliament. The contesting of these seats was the first opportunity for many M?ori to participate in New Zealand elections, although the elected M?ori representatives initially struggled to assert significant influence. M?ori received universal suffrage with other New Zealand citizens in 1893.

Being a traditionally tribal people, no one organisation ostensibly speaks for all M?ori nationwide. The M?ori King Movement originated in the 1860s as an attempt by several iwi to unify under one leader: in modern times, it serves a largely ceremonial role. Another attempt at political unity was the Kotahitanga Movement, which established a separate M?ori Parliament that held annual sessions from 1892 until its last sitting in 1902.[166]

There are seven M?ori electorates in the New Zealand Parliament (and M?ori can and do stand in and win general roll seats), and consideration of and consultation with M?ori have become routine requirements for councils and government organisations.[167]

Debate occurs frequently as to the relevance and legitimacy of the M?ori electoral roll and seats. The National Party announced in 2008 it would abolish the seats when all historic Treaty settlements have been resolved, which it aimed to complete by 2014.[168] However, after the election National reached an agreement with the M?ori Party not to abolish the seats until M?ori give their approval.[169]

Several M?ori political parties have formed over the years to improve the position of M?ori in New Zealand society. The present M?ori Party, formed in 2004, secured 1.32 per cent of the party vote at the 2014 general election and held two seats in the 51st New Zealand Parliament, with two MPs serving as Ministers outside Cabinet. The party did not achieve any representatives in the 52nd New Zealand Parliament,[170] but regained two seats in the 53rd.[171]

As of the 2020 reelection of the New Zealand Labour Party to government, Labour Minister Nanaia Mahuta is the first female M?ori Foreign Minister of New Zealand; she replaced Winston Peters, also M?ori, in the role. In 2016 she became the first Member of Parliament to have moko kauae (the traditional M?ori female facial tattoo).[172] In the 2020 election more MPs with moko kauae entered Parliament, including M?ori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Green Party MP Elizabeth Kerekere.

See also


  • ^i : M?ori has cognates in other Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian maoli, Tahitian m?'ohi, and Cook Islands M?ori m?ori which all share similar meanings.
  • ^ii : The orthographic conventions developed by the M?ori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo M?ori) recommend the use of the macron (? ? ? ? ?) to denote long vowels. Contemporary English-language usage in New Zealand tends to avoid the anglicised plural form of the word M?ori with an "s": The M?ori language generally marks plurals by changing the article rather than the noun, for example: te waka (the canoe); ng? waka (the canoes).
  • ^iii : In 2003, Christian Cullen became a member of the M?ori rugby team despite having, according to his father, about 1/64 M?ori ancestry.[173]
  • ^iv : Although, as noted elsewhere in this article, evidence is increasingly pointing to 1280 as the earliest date of settlement.
  • ^v : Teeterree in traditional orthography.


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Further reading

External links

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Music Scenes