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Identification. The Maori are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand. Culturally, they are Polynesians, most closely related to eastern Polynesians. After contact with Europeans, the people now known as the Maori began using the term tangata maori, meaning "usual or ordinary people," to refer to themselves.

Location. The Maori were originally settled primarily in the northern parts of North Island, New Zealand. South Island was much more sparsely settled.

Demography. When Captain Cook visited New Zealand in 1769 the indigenous population was probably between 200,000 and 250,000. The population declined after contact with Europeans, but it began to recover at the beginning of this century and now approaches 300,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Maori is classified as part of the Polynesian Group of the Eastern Oceanic Branch of the Austronesian languages. Approximately one-third of the Maori still speak their ancestral language, with the vast majority fluent in English as well.

History and Cultural Relations

New Zealand was evidently settled in three waves by travelers from Polynesian islands in a.d. 950, 1150, and 1350. The early arrivals, the Moriori, subsisted mainly by fishing and hunting the moa and other birds that are now extinct. The final (pre-European) immigration was that of the "seven canoes of the great fleet." The people of the great fleet assimilated the original inhabitants by marriage and conquest. The immigrants of 1350 arrived with their own domesticated plants and animals (several of which did not survive the transition from a tropical to a temperate climate), and they subsequently developed into the Maori of the present historical period. Whalers and sealers were common visitors to New Zealand in the 1790s and their relations with the Maori were generally unfriendly and often violent. The first missionaries arrived in 1814 and by the 1830s large numbers of Europeans and Australians were settling in New Zealand. With the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in February 1840 by many (but not all) of the indigenous chiefs, the Maori relinquished sovereignty over New Zealand land and in turn received British recognition and protection, as well as guaranteed rights to their native lands. A period of rapid acculturation ensued, lasting until 1860. The years 1860-1865 saw many battles Between the Maori and the government of New Zealand, mainly over questions of land rights and sovereignty. By 1900 their population slide had reversed and the Maori began to play a more active role in New Zealand society. They received Permanent Maori seats in the national legislature, and most discriminatory laws were repealed. At present the Maori are a legally recognized minority group (about 10 percent of the population), and they receive special legal and economic considerations on these grounds. Since the 1960s there has been a move to revitalize the Maori language and the Maori are attempting to preserve their cultural heritage while living side-by-side with the "Pakeha" (New Zealanders of European descent). This summary focuses on traditional Maori culture.


Today the Maori are overwhelmingly an urban population, located primarily in towns and cities of the northern sections of North Island. In the past there were two types of Maori settlements: fortified (pa ) and unfortified (kainga). Pa, in which people took refuge in wartime, were usually located on a hill and were protected by ditches, palisades, fighting platforms, and earthworks. Houses in the pa were closely crowded, often on artificial terraces. Kainga were unfortified hamlets consisting of five or six scattered houses (whare ), a cooking shelter (kauta ) with an earth oven (hangi ), and one or two roofed storage pits (rua). Most farmsteads were enclosed in a courtyard with a pole fence. Most buildings were made of pole and thatch, but some better-made ones were constructed of posts and worked timber.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Maori subsistence depended on fishing, gathering, and the cultivation of sweet potatoes, or kumara (Ipomoea batatas), some taro, yams, and gourds. Fishing was done with lines, nets, and traps, while fowling was done with spears and snares. Items gathered include shellfish, berries, roots, shoots, and piths. Rats were also trapped and eaten. In infertile areas or in harsh seasons uncultivated fern roots provided an important starchy supplement. Kumara was planted in October and harvested in February and March; winter was the most important hunting season. Getting food was a time-consuming and arduous business.

Industrial Arts. The Maori made tools from stone and wood. Important mechanical aids were wedges, skids, lifting tackles, fire ploughs, and cord drills. Most material items were highly decorated. Major manufactures included flax mats, canoes, fishing equipment, weapons, elaborate digging sticks, cloaks, and ornaments, among others.

Trade. Goods and services were conveyed or compensated through gift giving between individuals. Items and services did not have set values, and the Maori lacked any form of true money. Items most often exchanged were food, ornaments, flax coats, stone, obsidian, and greenstone. Generosity was valued as it enhanced a person's mana, or psychic power. There was a coastal-interior exchange of sea and agricultural products for forest products and greenstone from the west coast of South Island was exchanged for finished goods from the north.

Division of Labor. Men were responsible for felling trees, clearing ground for cultivation, planting, trapping birds and rats, digging fern roots, deep-sea fishing, canoe making, carving, stoneworking, tattooing, and performing esoteric rites. Women were responsible for gathering, weeding, collecting firewood, carrying water, cooking, plaiting, and weaving. Especially skilled individuals could become specialists (tohunga ) as carvers, builders, and raft makers. The Maori preferred to work cooperatively, with particularly odious jobs left to the slaves.

Land Tenure. Nearly all land was owned by the various descent groups or tribes. Each group controlled a parcel of Tribal territory and granted rights of usufruct and occupation to its members. Only the group could alienate the descent group's land, and then only with the permission of the entire tribe. Border disputes were a common source of fighting. The nuclear family (whanau ) of a descent group held rights to specific resources and parcels of land, which could be conveyed to the members' children. Rights of use could be extended to nonmembers only with the permission of the entire descent group.


Kin Groups. The largest kin groups in Maori society were the so-called tribes (iwi). The iwi were independent political units that occupied discrete territories. An iwi was a large, bilateral descent group encompassing as its members all descendants, traced through both male and female links, of the tribe's founder (by whose name most tribes were known). The Maori were organized into some fifty iwi, of varying size and prestige. The iwi, in turn, were made up of a number of sections known as hapu. The hapu also owned a discrete territory and consisted of all individuals bilaterally descended from a founding ancestor. The hapu were much more important than the iwi with regard to land use and communal projects among their members. Most of the members of a hapu lived, along with in-marrying spouses and slaves, in one or two Communities. Since they were defined bilaterally, an individual was often a member of and could affiliate with more then one hapu. A household became officially affiliated with a particular hapu by demonstrating a genealogical link conferring membership and by participating fully in the group's daily life. Descent was reckoned bilaterally, with a patrilateral emphasis, especially in chiefly families.

Kinship Terminology. Maori kin terminology was of the Hawaiian type.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Maori youth enjoyed premarital sexual freedom and were expected to have a series of discreet love affairs Before marrying. The choice of a marriage partner was made by the senior members of the whanau (household). Marriage served to establish new relations with other kin groups and brought new members into the hapu. Aristocrats often betrothed their children as infants. Marriages were nearly always between members of the same tribe and often between Members of the same hapu. First and second cousins were ineligible as marriage partners. Most marriages were monogamous, though chiefs often took several wives. Gifts were exchanged by both partners at the weddings of commoners while aristocratic women brought a dowry often in the form of land and slaves. Divorce was common and easy, based simply on an agreement of husband and wife to separate. Residence was flexible, but often patrilocal. Children were greatly desired and commonly adopted from relatives. Abortion, infanticide, and postpartum sexual abstinence were the primary methods of population control.

Domestic Unit. The basic social unit was the household (whanau), often comprised of an extended family, including a male head (kaumatua), his spouse (s), their unmarried children, and their married sons, along with the latter's spouses and children. Many households also had resident slaves.

Inheritance. A dying person would make a final testament disposing of his or her property. Most of the estate was Divided fairly equally among the surviving children, except that certain types of hunting, fishing, and craft equipment went only to the offspring of the same sex.

Socialization. Children were generally educated by their relatives, especially grandparents, through songs and stories. Games often imitated adult activities and were competitive. Aggressiveness and competitiveness were encouraged.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The interrelationships among households, hapu, and iwi has been described above. While iwi were fixed in composition and number, new hapu were created through fission. When a hapu grew too large to function effectively some of its members would break off and establish a new hapu under the leadership of one of the chief's sons or younger brothers. The tribes whose ancestors arrived in New Zealand in the same canoe were considered to constitute a waka, literally "canoe." A waka was effectively a confederation whose members felt some obligation to help one another. This special relationship did not, however, rule out warfare between two tribes of the same waka. The Maori were ranked into three social classes, determined by the source of one's line. Members of the two highest classes were both free people, while those descended from the oldest males of each generation formed the aristocracy (rangatira ). Those from more junior lines, or whose ancestors had lost status, were considered commoners (tutua or ware). The question of Precisely where a particular line stood in these two classes was often a source of controversy. Difference in rank was directly correlated with degree of sacredness (tapu ) and mana of each individual and group. Finally, there were the slaves (taure-kareka), mainly war captives, who stood outside the descent system.

Political Organization. Each hapu had a chief (from the rangatira). The rangatira of the most senior hapu was the paramount chief (ariki ) of that tribe. The tribe was therefore the highest politically integrated unit in Maori society. Both chieftainships were passed on patrilineally to the first son in each generation. In some tribes a senior daughter was also given special recognition. Chiefs were of high rank and Generally quite wealthy. They exercised great influence but lacked coercive power. The chiefs organized and directed economic projects, led marae ceremonials, administered their group's property, and conducted relations with other groups. The chiefs were often fully trained priests with ritual responsibilities and powers, most importantly the right to impose tapu. The rangatira and ariki were, in their persons, very tapu and had much mana. The household heads or kaumatua as a group constituted the community council (runanga ) which advised and could influence the chief.

Social Control. Penalties for crimes ran from gossip, reprimand, and sorcery to seizure of property, beating, and execution.

Conflict. Conflict between different hapu and different tribes was common and often led to warfare. The defeated were most often enslaved, killed, or eaten. Women and Children were the most likely persons to be spared.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Maori held an essentially spiritual view of the universe. Anything associated with the supernatural was invested with tapu, a mysterious quality which made those things or persons imbued with it either sacred or unclean according to context. Objects and persons could also possess mana, psychic power. Both qualities, which were Inherited or acquired through contact, could be augmented or diminished during one's lifetime. All free men were tapu to a degree directly proportional to their rank. Furthermore, an object or resource could be made tapu and therefore off-limits. The punishment for violating a tapu restriction was automatic, usually coming as sickness or death. The Maori had a pantheon of supernatural beings (atua ). The supreme god was known as Io. The two primeval parents, Papa and Rangi, had eight divine offspring: Haumia, the god of uncultivated food; Rongo, the god of peace and agriculture; Ruaumoko, the god of earthquakes; Tawhirimatea, the god of weather; Tane, the father of humans and god of forests; Tangaroa, the god of the sea; Tu-matauenga, the war god; and Whiro, the god of darkness and evil. There were also exclusive tribal gods, mainly associated with war. In addition, there were various family gods and familiar spirits.

Religious Practitioners. The senior deities had a Priesthood (tohunga ahurewa), members of which received special professional training. They were responsible for all esoteric ritual, were knowledgeable about genealogies and tribal History, and were believed to be able to control the weather. Shamans rather than priests served the family gods whom they communicated with through spirit possession and sorcery.

Ceremonies. Most public rites were performed in the open, at the marae. The gods were offered the first fruits of all undertakings, and slaves were occasionally sacrificed to propitiate them. Incantations (karakia ) were chanted in flawless repetition to influence the gods.

Arts. Most of the material objects of the Maori were highly decorated. Their statues and carvings, especially with filigree motifs, are admired worldwide and are the frequent subject of art museum exhibitions.

Medicine. Sickness was believed to be caused by sorcery or the violation of a tapu. The proximate cause of illness was the presence of foreign spirits in the sick body. The medical tohunga accordingly exorcised the spirits and purified the patient. The therapeutic value of some plants was also recognized.

Death and Afterlife. The dying and dead were taken to a shelter on the marae. The body was laid out on mats to receive mourners, who came in hapu or tribal groups. After a week or two of mourning the body was wrapped in mats and buried in a cave, in a tree, or in the ground. Often after a year or two the ariki would have the body exhumed, and the bones scraped clean and painted with red ochre, to be taken from settlement to settlement for a second mourning. Afterward, the bones were given a second burial in a sacred place. The spirits of the dead were believed to make a voyage to their final abode, a vague and mysterious underworld.


Best, Elsdon (1924). The Maori. 2 vols. Memoirs of the Polynesian Society, no. 5. Wellington.

Buck, Peter (1949). The Coming of the Maori. Wellington: Maori Purposes Fund Board and Whitcombe & Tombs.

Firth, Raymond (1929). Economics of the New Zealand Maori. Wellington: Government Printer.

Hanson, F. Allan, and Louise Hanson (1983). Counterpoint in Maori Culture. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Metge, Joan (1967). The Maoris of New Zealand, Rautahi. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Rev. ed. 1976.


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LOCATION: New Zealand

POPULATION: Approximately 525,000

LANGUAGE: Maori; English

RELIGION: Christianity; traditional Maori, based on ancestor worship


The ancestors of the present-day Maori created an outpost of Polynesian culture on the North and South islands of New Zealand. They remained relatively isolated from external contact until 1769. In that year, English navigator and explorer Captain James Cook (172879) initiated a permanent European presence in New Zealand. As a result, Maori culture would be dramatically changed in less than a century.

In 1840, some 500 Maori chiefs signed the so-called Treaty of Waitangi with the British government. The treaty promised the Maoris that they would keep their lands and property and have equal treatment under the law as British subjects. However, the British later seized Maori lands and made the people move to reservations. As a result of war and disease, the Maori population fell drastically by 1896. Since World War II (193945), the government's policies have been more favorable to the Maoris. In recent years, the government of New Zealand has acknowledged its responsibility to the Maoris after a series of protests and court rulings. In October 1996, the government agreed to a settlement with the Maoris that included land and cash worth $117 million, with the Maoris regaining some traditional fishing rights. The Maori have been striving to revive aspects of their traditional culture, reclaim artifacts of their cultural history from foreign museums, and regain their ancestral homelands.

As of 1997, the Maori of New Zealand numbered close to 525,000 people, or about 15 percent of New Zealand's total population. The term "Maori" refers to a number of different tribal and subtribal groups that view themselves and each other as very distinct.


The islands of New Zealand are the presentday homeland of the Maori. New Zealand consists of two islands: the North Island and the South Island. The North Island is hilly with areas of flat, rolling terrain. The South Island is larger and more mountainous. Prior to the arrival of humans, both islands were densely forested.

Archaeologists refer to two branches of Maori: the archaic, and the traditional. The archaic Maori were probably the original inhabitants of New Zealand. They relied on the moa, a large, flightless bird that they hunted into extinction. Their culture dates back to around ad 1000. The traditional Maori are believed to have migrated to the North Island around the fourteenth century. The original homeland of the traditional Maori was in the Society Islands of Polynesia. Maori migrants left there to escape warfare and the demands of excessive tribute (taxes).


Maori belongs to the Tahitic branch of the Eastern Polynesian language group. (Eastern Polynesian is, in turn, a branch of the larger Austronesian language family.) Prior to European colonization of New Zealand, there were two distinct Maori dialects: North Island Maori; and South Island Maori, which is now extinct. The Maori of today speak English. Preschools that offer instruction in Maori language have sprung up all over the country at a rapid rate as a result of Maori activism.


Traditional Maori folklore describes an original couple, Rangi (sky) and Papa (earth). These two were locked in sexual union until the god Tane was able to push them apart and provide for the creation of human life. Maori folklore focuses on oppositions between pairs, such as earth and sky, life and death, and male and female.


Like other New Zealanders, many Maori today are Christian (primarily Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic). Before contact with outside cultures, Maori religion was based on the important concepts of mana and tapu. Mana is an impersonal force that can be both inherited and acquired by individuals in the course of their lives. Tapu refers to sacredness that was assigned by status at birth. There was a direct relation between the two: chiefs with the most mana were also the most tapu. The English word "taboo" derives from this general Polynesian word and concept of a mysterious superhuman force. Ancestor worship was important in traditional religion.


Christian Maori celebrate the major Christian holidays as do other New Zealanders. Holidays as Westerners view them did not exist in Maori society before contact with other cultures. Rituals were performed according to the religious calendar and the harvest and collection of foodstuffs.

A controversial New Zealand national holiday for the Maori is Waitangi Day (February 6). This holiday commemorates the 1840 signing of the treaty that was supposed to guarantee their rights and privileges. In 1994, Maori radicals disrupted the Waitangi Day national celebration, forcing the government to cancel the festivities.


Modern Maori rites of passage are similar to those of other New Zealanders. Specific Maori traditions are still practiced at certain events. At weddings, for example, a relative of the groom traditionally challenges the father of the bride to a fight. The bride's father then approaches the challenger and is instead warmly greeted.

The Maori once practiced what anthropologists call "secondary burial." When a person died, the body would be laid out on ceremonial mats for viewing by relatives and other members of the village. After a few days, the body was wrapped in mats and placed in a cave or a tree, or buried in the ground. After one year had passed, the body was removed from the primary burial and the bones were cleaned and painted with red ochre (a pigment). These remains were taken from village to village for a second period of mourning. Following that, the bones were buried in a sacred place.


Maoris today, like other New Zealanders, typically address each other informally and emphasize friendliness in relationships. Maori customspractices before the Maoris came into contact with other cultureswere taken less seriously by the 1990s.

One such Maori custom, called hakari (feasting), was an important aspect of Maori culture. The Maori feasts brought together a number of different families and other social groups. A man of status would provide food and gifts for those who attended. In the end, he and his family would be left with very little in the way of material possessions or reserves of food. However, his status would have been increased enormously.

Premarital sexual relationships were considered normal for Maori adolescents. Both males and females were expected to have a series of private relationships before they married. When Maori females became sexually active, they were to publicly acknowledge this so that they could become tattooed. Tattooing marked their ritual and public passage into adulthood. It was also considered extremely attractive and erotic.

The Maoris have a traditional greeting, called hongi, in which they touch faces so that their noses are pressed together. It is believed that their spirits mingle through this gesture.


Today, 80 percent of the Maori live in the urban areas of New Zealand. However, until the 1920s, they lived almost entirely in rural areas. Maori housing today therefore typically reflects that of other urban New Zealanders.

Traditionally, Maoris in coastal areas relied on travel by canoes. These included single-hulled canoes as well as large double-hulled canoes. Waka taua were large Maori war canoes that were powered by both sail and paddles. As with other New Zealanders, travel today is by modern road, rail, water, and air transport.


Since most Maoris live in urban industrialized areas, family life is similar to that of other urban New Zealanders. Intermarriage between Maoris and Pakehas (the Maori term for whites) is common. Most Maoris have Pakeha cousins or other Pakeha relatives. Maori households may include relatives besides the nuclear family, such as grandparents, uncles, and aunts.

The system of referring to members of the immediate and extended family in Maori culture differs from that found in American culture. In the Maori system, a person's brothers, as well as the male cousins on both the mother's and father's side, would all be called "brother." Similarly, a person's sister, as well as all female cousins, would be called "sister."


Maoris typically wear modern Western-style clothing. However, they still wear their traditional clothing for special occasions. Traditional Maori clothing was some of the most elaborate in Polynesia. Intricately decorated cloaks were an important item of dress for individuals of high status within Maori society.

Tattooing among the Maori was highly developed and extremely symbolic. Maori facial tattoos were created by two methods. One was by piercing and pigmenting the skin with a tattooing comb. The other was by creating permanent grooves in the face with a chisel-like instrument. Male facial tattooing, called ta moko, was done in stages in a male's life through adulthood. Females were also tattooed in Maori society. Female facial tattooing was known as ta ngutu. Designs were placed on the chin and lips. There is a growing revival of this art among younger Maori women nowadays.


Maoris typically eat the same kinds of foods as other New Zealanders. Breakfast consists of eggs, sasage, and bacon. Lunch may be a meat pie or sandwich. Dinner is a full meal with a meat dish as the main course. The traditional Polynesian foodstuffs of taro (a starchy root), yams, and breadfruit were not well adapted for cultivation on the temperate islands of New Zealand.

The most famous Maori culinary tradition is the hangi. The hangi is a feast that may only be prepared in the regions of the country where there are hot springs. A pit is dug in the ground and filled with rocks. Meat and vegetables are placed on top of the rocks in the pit. The food is left to steam for several hours.


Public education has now become the norm for most urban Maori. A number of pre-schools based on Maori cultural education have also been established throughout New Zealand. Education is state-supported and required in New Zealand between the ages of six and fifteen. Students planning to attend one of the country's six universities continue their secondary education until the age of seventeen or eighteen. At that time, they take university qualifying exams.


The haka dance of the Maori is one of the best-known cultural traditions of Polynesia. These dances are accompanied by song and body percussion created by clapping hands, stomping feet, and slapping thighs. There is a leader and a chorus that responds to the leader's lead vocal line. The dance itself involves energetic postures representing warlike and aggressive poses.

Maori chanting follows very strict rules for performance, rhythmic structure, and continuity. To break a chant in midstream is to invite disaster or even death for a community. These chants often tell of genealogies (family lines) or the exploits of ancestors.


Maoris today work at the same types of jobs and professions found in any urbanized industrial economy. About two-thirds are engaged in the service sector (jobs that directly serve the public).

Traditional Maori culture developed a high degree of specialized labor. Artisans such as tattoo artists, canoe builders, house builders, and carvers were all classified as tohunga in Maori. This title implies a quality of sacredness and translates best into English as "priest." These artisans paid homage to the gods of their various occupations. They were initiated into their crafts through a series of rituals. All artisans were descended from chiefly lines in traditional Maori society.


New Zealand, like its neighbor Australia, has rugby and cricket as its national sports. Maori boys and men participate in and follow rugby competitions in New Zealand. Traditional competitions among men in Maori society stressed aggressiveness; they provided practice for real-life conflicts.


The modern Maori have become consumers of video, television, and film. As well, they have also become producers of their own stories in these media. Traditional storytelling and dance performance have been preserved by the Maori in this manner, serving both as cultural archives and as entertainment.


The New Zealand Maori are accomplished artists in a number of media. Collectors and the general public are most familiar with Maori carving and sculpture. They also have a tradition of figurative painting dating back to the late nineteenth century. Maori sub-tribes each have their own unique artistic styles.

Traditionally, large meeting houses of the Maori were decorated with elaborately carved facades containing figures of their ancestors. The entire structure was conceived as a representation of an ancestor.


The vast majority of all contemporary Maori are urban dwellers. The Maori continue to suffer the social problems that accompany urban life in conditions of poverty. In some urban areas, Maori unemployment rates exceed 50 percent. The film Once Were Warriors (1994) provides a Maori perspective on the social problems of alcoholism, domestic violence, and under-employment or unemployment.


Bishop, Russell. Maori Art and Culture. London: British Museum Press, 1996.

Gell, A. Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Hazlehurst, Kayleen M. Political Expression and Ethnicity: Statecraft and Mobilisation in the Maori World. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1993.

Tregear, Edward. The Aryan Maori. Papakura, New Zealand: R. McMillan, 1984.


Embassy of New Zealand, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

Kupenga Maori. The Maori Net. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. New Zealand. [Online] Available, 1998.

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MAORI. The name of the indigenous people (tangata whenua) of New Zealand and their language. Maori is spoken by about one-third of the approximately 300,000 Maori population. With such other languages as HAWAIIAN, Samoan, and Tongan, it is a member of the Polynesian branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language family.


The Maori pronunciation of Maori has a long a /ˈmaːɔri/, a usage which is fairly common in NEW ZEALAND ENGLISH alongside the traditional Anglicized /ˈmaʊri/. No single DIALECT has emerged as the basis for a STANDARD form of Maori. Tribal variation in pronunciation is shown in such pairs as inanga/inaka (a kind of fish), mingimingi/mikimiki (an evergreen shrub), and the place-name Waitangi/Waitaki. In each of these cases, /ŋ/ is a North Island equivalent of a South Island /k/. In words conventionally spelt with wh (whare, kowhai), some tribes use a sound approximating to /f/, others a sound approximating to /hw/. Maori has the consonants /p, t, k, m, n, ŋ, f, h, r, w/ and the five vowels /i, ɛ, a, ɔ, u/, which can be either long or short. It also permits a maximum of one consonant sound before any vowel. Consequently, LOANWORDS from English may undergo considerable change: sheep to hipi, Bible to paipera, London to Ranana. The written consonant cluster ng is pronounced /ŋ/, as in sing, whether initial or medial. Maori r in many words corresponds to Hawaiian and Samoan l: aroha, Hawaiian aloha love; whare, Samoan fale house.


The language was unwritten before the arrival in the early 19c of British missionaries, who, in creating a written form for the language, did not always successfully equate its phonemes with the nearest equivalents in English. A major feature of their work was the decision that vowel length in Maori did not need to be reflected in spelling (although DIACRITICAL MARKS have since been optional). Some present-day scholars of Maori have adopted a system of doubling long vowels: Maaori instead of Maori or Māori; kaakaa instead of kaka or kākā (parrot); kaakaapoo instead of kakapo or kākāpō. However, since most printing of the language shows the older conventions, it seems likely that the missionaries’ style will prevail.

Influence on English

All Maoris speak English, but few Pakehas (white New Zealanders) and a diminishing number of Maoris speak Maori with any fluency, although attempts are now being made to give greater prominence to Maori language and culture. From the beginning, European settlers adopted Maori names for physical features and tribal settlements, but such names came to be pronounced with varying degrees of adaptation. Thus, the place-name Paekakariki, pronounced /paɛˈkakariki/ by the Maoris, was Anglicized to /ˌpaɪkɒkəˈriːkiː/ and frequently reduced to the disyllabic /ˈpaɪkɒk/. The place-name Whangarei /ˈfaŋarɛi;/ was Anglicized to /ˈwɒŋəˈrei/. Most of the Maori names for the distinctive flora (kowhai, nikau, pohutukawa, rimu, totara) and fauna (kiwi, takahe, tuatara, weta) were also adopted and varyingly adapted into NZE. The issue of how far English-speakers should attempt to adopt native Maori pronunciations of such words has, for many years, been a major point of linguistic discussion in New Zealand. Broadcasting now attempts, not always successfully, to use a Maori pronunciation at all times.


In the later 19c and early 20c, the use of Maori was officially discouraged in schools. Many Maoris concurred with this policy, seeing English as the language which was likely to give their children the greater advantage in later life. In more recent times, there has been a resurgence in the use of Maori as a marker of ethnic and cultural identity. Language nests or kohanga reo have been established for pre-school children, and many Maori people aim at bilingualism. Although Maori has now been recognized as an official language in the courts, it is still too early to say what effect this growing recognition of Maori will have in the long term.

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Maori (mä´ōrē), people of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, believed to have migrated in early times from other islands of Polynesia. Maori tradition asserts that seven canoes brought their ancestors to New Zealand. The Maori language is closely related to Tahitian, Hawaiian, and other languages spoken on the islands lying E of Samoa in the South Pacific. In the early 19th cent., at the end of their war against European encroachment, the Maori in New Zealand numbered about 100,000. The number later dwindled to 40,000. Largely through the efforts of their own chiefs, however, they have reemerged as an economically self-sufficient minority in New Zealand, and their population today is more than 500,000. The Maori maintain their own cultural identity apart from the general New Zealand community, while at the same time sending representatives to parliament. Since the 1970s the Maoris and the government have negotiated several settlements of land and other claims lodged by various Maori groups; the claims date back to the 19th cent., when land was seized by British colonists in violation of the Treaty of Waitangi. See also New Zealand.

See A. J. Metge, Maoris of New Zealand (1967); W. Forman and D. Lewis, The Maori (1984); J. Irwin, An Introduction to Maori Religion (1984).

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"Maori." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Maori Polynesian population, the original inhabitants of New Zealand. Traditionally, Maori lived by agriculture, hunting and fishing. They retain strong attachments to the Maori language, culture and customs. In Maori society, tattooing, carving and weaving were developed arts, and their war chants (haka) are still kept alive. Since the 1970s, Maori political activity increased, and some of their land has been restored to them. See also Maori Wars

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Ma·o·ri / ˈmourē/ • n. (pl. same or -ris ) 1. a member of the aboriginal people of New Zealand. 2. the Polynesian language of this people. • adj. of or relating to the Maoris or their language.

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"Maori." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Maori (member of) aboriginal race of New Zealand. XIX. — native name.

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"Maori." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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MaoriFlorrie, Laurie, lorry, Macquarie, quarry, sorry, whare •Rhodri • Godfrey • hostelry •Coventry • quixotry •cacciatore, Corey, dory, Florey, flory, furore, glory, gory, hoary, hunky-dory, lory, Maury, monsignori, Montessori, multistorey, Pori, Rory, satori, saury, storey, story, Tory, vainglory •Aubrey • aumbry •Audrey, bawdry, tawdry •laundry •gallimaufry, orphrey •palfrey • paltry • outlawry • centaury •clerestory (US clearstory) •understorey •cowrie, kauri, Lowry, Maori •Cowdrey • foundry • Rowntree •ochry (US ochery) • poultry •coxcombry • matsuri • Kirkcudbright •shoetree •Hurri, potpourri •kukri • century • penury • estuary •residuary • augury • mercury

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