Maori Culture Unveiled: 5 Essential Insights

5 Things to Know About Maori Culture
Things to Know About Maori Culture

Exploring New Zealand isn’t just about witnessing its breathtaking landscapes but also about delving into the rich tapestry of Maori culture. A crucial part of New Zealand’s identity, Maori traditions offer a unique window into a world where spirituality, history, and nature intertwine.

In this article, we delve into five key aspects of Maori culture, unravelling the depths of their heritage and practices. Whether you’re planning a visit or simply curious, these insights provide a glimpse into the soul of New Zealand’s indigenous people.

Suggested read – 11 Māori Names with its Unique Meaning

5 Things to know about Maori Culture

1. The poi

The Poi
The Poi

Many tourists are quite aware of the poi. You might have seen Maori women use the poi to narrate a story coupled with a dance and song. Today poi is synonymous with feminine grace and beauty. Poi was initially used as a training article among Maori men. They used it to consolidate their wrists; hone their skill; and keep their arm muscles supple for combat in times of war.

They make, however, baskets in colours, and toys of various sorts, such as balls very neatly made of black and white plait, which are swung by a cord in a peculiar manner, whilst the performers, many in number, sing in excellent time. Most of the women excel in this, and the exact time, the regular motion, and precise attitude which is observed by all the performers, are peculiarly striking.

2. Ta moko

Ta moko
Ta moko

This is an art of Maori tattooing, which is popular across the world due to the art of ‘ta moko’. T1he tattoos that Maori traditionally covered their faces and heads with as they believe that the head was the most auspicious part of the body. The most unique thing about this art is that each tattoo is unique – means no two tattoos are the same. This is because every tattoo symbolizes that person’s genealogy, knowledge and social status within their tribe, and no one person is identical to anyone else.

Tā moko reflects an individual’s whakapapa (ancestry) and personal history. In earlier times, it was an important signifier of social rank, knowledge, skill and eligibility to marry.

Many of the designs are universal. In particular, the spirals that swirl across the nose, cheek and lower jaw. The lines of a moko accentuate the lines of the face to emphasis the expressions.

The main lines in a Māori tattoo are called manawa (heart). These lines represent your life journey.

Common tattoo designs can include the koru, which represents an unfurling silver fern, and symbolically represents a new life or the unfolding of someone’s life path. When used in tā moko, the koru normally represents a loved one or family member. 

3. No written Maori language

No written Maori language
No written Maori language

Do you know prior to the arrival of European settlers; there was no written Maori language like there is now (Te Reo Maori)?  This is the reason the Maori had to pass on their histories orally. They have so many fantastic legends to narrate the creation of their lands; and to explain things that they didn’t understand. For this, they used to carve characters and gods from their hstorical stories into wood and stone to tell tales and even tattoo their histories into their own skins.

While most New Zealanders speak English; the traditional language of the Māori people is known as Te Reo; which is similar in sound to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian. Te Reo has also been recognized as one of New Zealand’s official languages since 1987.

4. Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Parkjpg
Tongariro National Parkjpg

In 1993, Tongariro was the first place in the world to have a World Heritage Site for spiritual and cultural values. It holds a special place for the Maori; and even for those New Zealanders who came to settle down in New Zealand and are not of Maori descent. This part of the land has herb fields, forests, lakes, streams, desert-like areas, volcanoes, and snow. There are few places like this on the earth and having a trip to this place; or hiking a day through this landscape makes it special in its accessibility. This is one of the 5 Things to Know About Maori Culture.

With wide-open spaces, some of the best hikes in the world; and must-see natural wonders; Tongariro National Park is the perfect destination for families, couples and explorers seeking adventure, fun and an escape into nature.

The villages of National Park, Whakapapa, Raurimu and Erua lie at the heart of this volcanic wonderland. They offer a choice of accommodation to suit all styles and budgets from family-friendly units to backpacker hostels to luxury suites and boutique lodges. You will also find an exceptional range of places to eat and drink, exciting activities and essential services.

5. A Hangi

A Hangi
A Hangi

This is also a tradition of New Zealand which is a unique way of cooking. In this method, the food items are placed on the heated rocks that are buried in a pit oven. It takes three to five hours—depending on what you’re cooking—to prepare the food whilst the fire of a hangi burns down. There is a number of delicacies that are cooked underneath with the exception of seafood. All the root vegetables, like potatoes, and kumara (sweet potato) are peeled, portioned, and put into a sack; then soaked in water. If you get the chance to share in the building, preparation, and eating of a hangi; never turn it down. You will come to know and have a close watch of the true tradition and life of kiwis.

Over the many centuries of coexistence between Europeans and these indigenous people’; a lot of dramatic changes have occurred in their life; but the Maori managed not to be absorbed by another culture. Their habits, traditional lifestyle, arts and cooking techniques have survived to this day. 

For example, some Maori people continue to avoid modern-day electric stoves and microwaves; this is why Hangi is cooked in such an unusual way. Maori people speak of land as ‘giving food’, therefore it is a tradition to cook in an earthen pit. 

The word ‘hangi’ has many meanings, but the most common translation is ‘to create’, ‘to make something’. Cooking a hangi is a long process that sometimes takes many hours. As a rule, a truly large amount of food is prepared with the expectation that it will be served for a big group of people.

Also read – Maori Gambling in NZ: Do They Really Bet More Than Others?


Understanding Maori culture is an essential part of truly experiencing New Zealand. From the ancient art of Ta moko to the sacred lands of Tongariro National Park, each aspect offers a unique perspective on the Maori way of life.

Their respect for the land, rich oral history, and communal traditions like the Hangi reflect a deep connection with their roots, surviving and thriving in modern times.

As visitors or admirers from afar, embracing these insights not only enriches our understanding but also deepens our appreciation for the Maori’s enduring legacy.

See also – Gambling Culture in New Zealand

Mamta Sharma

Mamta is a spirited writer hailing from Wellington, bringing a youthful zest to the world of digital content. Merging her love for narrative with an eye for detail, Ella crafts stories that resonate and engage the modern reader.