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Māori culture is the culture of the Māori of New Zealand, an Eastern Polynesian people, and forms a distinctive part of New Zealand culture. Within the Māori community, and to a lesser extent throughout New Zealand as a whole, the word Māoritanga is often used as an approximate synonym for Māori culture, the Māori suffix -tanga being roughly equivalent to the qualitative noun ending "-ness" in English.
Māori cultural history is inextricably tied into a larger Polynesian phenomenon. Aotearoa (New Zealand) is the southwestern apex of the Polynesian Triangle, a region of the Pacific Ocean with three island groups at its corners: the Hawaiʻi islands, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and Aotearoa (New Zealand). The many island cultures within the Polynesian Triangle share similar languages derived from a proto-Malayo-Polynesian language used in Southeast Asia 5,000 years ago. Polynesians also share cultural traditions, such as religion, social organization, myths, and material culture. Anthropologists believe that all Polynesians have descended from a South Pacific proto-culture created by an Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) people that had migrated from Southeast Asia.
The other main Polynesian cultures are:
Polynesian seafarers were ocean navigators and astronomers. Polynesians were capable of travelling long distances. Few facts are known about their methods of navigation. It is generally accepted that voyages were deliberate and not accidental. Evidence from surviving modern pacifica cultures has been used to reconstruct possible methods of navigation. The early settlement history of New Zealand is still not completely resolved. The most current reliable evidence strongly indicates that initial settlement of New Zealand occurred around 1280 CE.
The earliest identified proto-Māori settlement is located at Wairau Bay in the northeastern part of the South Island of New Zealand. The archeology shows some typical East Polynesian cultural practices such as the method of burial were in use in New Zealand, as was the practice of using an umu (earth oven) to cook food.
The East Polynesian ancestors of the Māori were hunters, fishers, and gardeners. After arriving in New Zealand, Māori had to rapidly adapt their material culture and agricultural practices to suit the climate of their new land - cold and harsh in comparison to tropical island Polynesia. Great ingenuity was required to grow the tropical plants they had brought with them from Polynesia, including taro, kumara, tī pore, gourds, and yams; this was especially difficult in the chillier southern parts of the country. The harakeke (flax plant) served as a replacement for coconut fronds and hibiscus fibre in the manufacture of mats, baskets, rope, fishing nets and clothing.
The rhizomes of Pteridium esculentum (aruhe) were used as a staple food, especially for exploring or hunting groups away from permanent settlements; much of the widespread distribution of this species in present-day New Zealand is a consequence of prehistoric deforestation and subsequent tending of aruhe stands on rich soils (which produced the best rhizomes). The rhizomes were air-dried so that they could be stored and became lighter; for consumption, they were briefly heated and then softened with a patu aruhe (rhizome pounder); the starch could then be sucked from the fibers by each diner, or collected if it were to be prepared for a larger feast. Patu aruhe were significant items and several distinct styles were developed.
Seasonal activities included gardening, fishing and the hunting of birds. Main tasks were separated for men and women, but there were also a lot of group activities involving food gathering and food cultivation, and warfare. Art was and is a prominent part of the culture as seen in the carving of houses, canoes, weapons, and other items of high status. The people also wore highly decorative personal ornaments, and people of rank often had their skin marked with extensive tā moko similar to tattooing.
With the growth of tourism and exposure of haka to international audiences on TV and at sporting competitions, Māori culture that was previously observed only in Māori society and social gatherings with a significant Māori aspect is increasingly seen as fundamental to New Zealand culture as a whole.
The most appropriate venue for any Māori cultural event is a marae, an enclosed area of land where a meeting house or wharenui (literally "big house") stands. A marae is the centre for much of Māori community life. Generally the Māori language is used in ceremonies and speeches, although translations and explanations are provided when the primary participants are not Māori speakers. Increasingly, New Zealand schools and universities have their own marae to facilitate the teaching of Māori language and culture.
The marae is a communal ceremonial centre where meetings and ceremonies take place in accordance with traditional protocols. The marae symbolises group unity and generally consists of an open cleared area in front of a large carved meeting house, along with a dining hall and other facilities necessary to provide a comfortable stay for visiting groups. On the marae official functions take place including formal welcomes, celebrations, weddings, christenings, reunions, and tangihanga (funerals). The older people have the authority on the marae, and they impart, primarily through oral tradition, traditions and cultural practices to the young people. These include genealogy, spirituality, oratory, and politics, and arts such as music composition, performance, weaving, or carving.
The details of the protocols, called "tikanga" or "kawa", vary by iwi but in all cases locals and visitors have to respect certain rules especially during the rituals of encounter. When a group of people come to stay on a marae, they are considered manuhiri (guests) while the hosts of the marae are known as tangata whenua. Should other groups of manuhiri arrive, the manuhiri who arrived previously are considered tangata whenua for the purposes of formally welcoming the new group.
Although marae have modern cooking facilities, the hāngi, a traditional way of cooking food in Polynesia, is still used to provide meals for large groups because the food it produces is considered flavourful. The hāngi consists of a shallow hole dug in the ground, in which a fire is prepared and stones are placed on the top. When the stones are hot, prepared food is placed on top of them, meat first and then vegetables such as kumara, potatoes and pumpkin. The hāngi is then covered with leaves or mats woven out of harakeke flax (or wet sacks) and soil is then heaped over the hāngi to seal the heat in to cook the food.
Like in pre-European times, marae continue to be the location of many ceremonial events, including birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. The most important event located at marae are tangihanga. Tangihanga are the means by which the dead are farewelled and the surviving family members supported in Māori society. As indicated by Ka'ai and Higgins, "the importance of the tangihanga and its central place in marae custom is reflected in the fact that it takes precedence over any other gathering on the marae" (p. 90).
The history of individual tribal groups is kept by means of narratives, songs and chants, hence the importance of music, story and poetry. Oratory, the making of speeches, is especially important in the rituals of encounter, and it is regarded as important for a speaker to include allusions to traditional narrative and to a complex system of proverbial sayings, called whakataukī. Oral tradition includes song, calls, chants, haka and formalized speech patterns that recall the history of the people.
Significant Māori cultural events or activities include:
Films that feature Māori themes and culture include:
Māori take part fully in New Zealand's sporting culture with both the national Rugby league and Rugby Union teams have featured many Māori players, and other sports also feature many Māori players. There are also national Māori rugby union, rugby league and cricket teams, which play in international competitions, separate from the main national ones.
Māori Television is a New Zealand TV station broadcasting programmes that tries to make a significant contribution to the revitalisation of te reo and tikanga Māori. Funded by the New Zealand Government, the station started broadcasting on 28 March 2004 from a base in Newmarket.
Te Reo is the station's second channel, launched 28 March 2008. Te Reo is 100% Māori language with no advertising or subtitles featuring special tribal programming with a particular focus on new programming for the fluent audience.
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