The word māori means "normal" or "ordinary" in the Māori language and is widely applied ("wai māori" is fresh water as distinct from seawater). "Māori" has similarities in some other Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian in which the cognate word maoli means native, indigenous, real or actual. The use of the term Māoris as the plural of Māori is now generally used only outside New Zealand.
Today, many Māori prefer to refer to themselves as tangata whenua (literally "people of the land").
Table of contents
Māori arrival in New Zealand
Recent maternal DNA analysis suggests that Polynesians, including Māori, are genetically linked to indigenous peoples of parts of South-East Asia including those of Taiwan and the Andaman Islands. Current theory suggests that peoples from these areas made their way into the Pacific over the course of many centuries, passing through Melanesia and moving eastwards, colonizing previously-unsettled islands as far east as what is now French Polynesia, Hawai'i and Rapa Nui. Polynesian seafarers achieved Pacific settlement by making very long canoe voyages, in some cases against the prevailing winds and tides, and their navigation skills were very well developed.
There is evidence that Polynesian voyagers reached the South American mainland and made contact with indigenous South Americans; the strongest evidence lies in the sweet potato, known to Māori as kumara, which is widely grown around the Pacific but originated in the Andes. There is no evidence that Pacific peoples actually settled on the South American mainland or that South American peoples voyaged into the Pacific.
Polynesian voyagers are believed to have migrated to what is now New Zealand from eastern Polynesia in the latter part of the 1st millennium CE. As their descendents adjusted their practices and culture to their new environment, they became the Māori. There is no credible evidence of settlement in New Zealand prior to Māori settlement, and New Zealand was one of the last Pacific island groups reached by humans.
Archaeological evidence suggests that there were probably several waves of migration over to New Zealand between around 800 and 1300. Māori oral history describes their arrival from a place called Hawaiki by large ocean-going canoes (waka). Migration accounts vary among Māori tribes or iwi, whose members can identify with the different waka in their genealogies or whakapapa.
According to Sir Peter Buck – 1949 there are 10 Maori Tribes resulting from the Main Fleet 1350 CE.
According to Ngapuhi, one of the northern tribes, their ancestors sailed from Hawaiki, and their journey was aided by the gods in that the sun did not set for three days. A possible reason for this claim is that their voyage coincided with the appearance in the sky of the Crab Nebula supernova which for several days was bright enough to be seen in daylight. Chinese historians also recorded this event and dated it to July 1054.
European colonization of New Zealand occurred relatively recently, causing the late New Zealand historian Michael King to state in his book, The Penguin History Of New Zealand, that Māori were "the last major human community on earth untouched and unaffected by the wider world."
These early reports described the Māori as a fierce and proud warrior race. Inter-tribal warfare was a way of life, with the conquered being enslaved or in some cases eaten. From as early as the 1780s Māori had encounters with European sealers and whalers, some even crewed on their ships. There was also a continuous trickle of escaped convicts from Australia and deserters from visiting ships. By 1830 it was estimated that there were as many as 2,000 Pakeha living among the Māori, most of them as slaves although a few achieved some status among the tribes. They were known as Pakeha Māori. When Pomare led a war party against Titore in 1838, among his warriors were 132 Pakeha mercenaries.
During this period the acquisition of muskets by those tribes in close contact with European visitors destabilised the existing balance of power between Māori tribes, and there was a period of bloody inter-tribal warfare, known as the Musket Wars, during which several tribes were effectively exterminated and others were driven from their traditional territory. European diseases also killed a large but unknown number of Māori during this period. Estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.
With increasing European missionary activity and settlement in the 1830s, various Māori chiefs signed treaties with representatives of the British Crown. The most significant of these was the Treaty of Waitangi, 1840, which gave Māori British citizenship in return for a guarantee of property rights and tribal autonomy. An early settler, Frederick Edward Maning, wrote two colourful contemporaneous accounts of life at that time which have become classics of New Zealand literature: Old New Zealand and History of the War in the North of New Zealand against the Chief Heke. Governor George Grey learned the language and recorded much of the mythology.
Disputes and decline
In the 1860s, disputes over questionable land purchases led to the Māori Wars, which resulted in large tracts of tribal land being captured by the colonial government. Settlements such as Parihaka in Taranaki have become almost legendary because of injustices done there.
With the loss of much of their land, Māori went into a period of decline, and in the late 19th century it was believed that the Māori population would cease to exist as a separate race and would be assimilated into the European population.
However, the predicted decline did not occur, and numbers recovered. Despite a high degree of intermingling between the Māori and European populations, Māori were able to retain their cultural identity and in the 1960s and 1970s Māoridom underwent a cultural revival.
Since that time, sympathetic governments and political activism have led to compensation for certain instances of unjust confiscation of land and the violation of other property rights. A special court, the Waitangi Tribunal, was established to investigate and make recommendations on such issues. As a result of the compensation paid, Māori now have significant interests in the fishing and forestry industries.
Māori culture and language is taught in most New Zealand schools, and pre-school kohanga reo or language nests teach tamariki or young children exclusively in Māori. Māori Television, a government-funded TV station committed to broadcasting primarily in te reo, began broadcasting on March 28, 2004. The Māori language has the equivalent status to English in government and law. Māori politicians have seven designated Māori seats in the New Zealand parliament (and may stand in the General seats), and consideration and consultation with Māori are routine requirements for many New Zealand councils and government organisations.
Despite significant social and economic advances during the 20th century, Māori still perform negatively in most health and education statistics, labour participation as well as being over-represented in criminal and corrections statistics.
In 2001 a dispute arose between Danish toymaker LEGO and several Māori tribal groups fronted by lawyer Maui Solomon, and also several members of an online discussion forum Aotearoa Cafe, over the popular LEGO toy line, Bionicle, which used many words that were an appropriation of Māori language, imagery and folklore, was settled amicably. LEGO refused to withdraw the game, saying the names it used were drawn from many cultures, but later agreed that it had taken the names from Māori, and agreed to change certain names or spellings to help set the toy line apart from the Māori legends. This, however, did not prevent the many Bionicle users from continuing to use the disputed words, resulting in the popular Bionicle website BZPOWER coming under a denial of service attack for four days by a cyber attacker using the name Kotiate.
Several artistic collectives have been established by Māori tribal groups. These collectives have begun creating and exporting jewellery (such as bone carved hei matau pendants and greenstone jewellery) and other artistic items (such as wood carvings and textiles). Several actors who have recently appeared in high-profile movies filmed in New Zealand have come back wearing such jewellery, the most notable of which is Viggo Mortensen of The Lord of the Rings fame, who is now never without a Hei Matau hanging around his neck. These events have contributed towards a worldwide interest in traditional Māori culture and arts.
- maori.org.nz The largest Māori site on the net, covering a wide range of topics.
- Māori Sovereignty Yahoogroup
- Aotearoa Cafe Discussion forum about Māori history, politics and art.
- Aotearoa Māori Internet Organisation
- Māori related news headlines
- Ta Moko A website about the famous 'Moko', unique Māori body art.
- Māori theology – by the late Michael Shirres
- Te Ara Encylopedia of New Zealand – Government-funded encyclopedia