Cultures of the world // New Zealand
New Zealand

New Zealand’s culture is of great interest, since it combines the cultural characteristics of its first inhabitants (Maori) with those of the settlers (Pakeha), which come mainly from Great Britain.




New Zealand’s culture is of great interest, since it combines the cultural characteristics of its first inhabitants (Maori) with those of the settlers (Pakeha), which come mainly from Great Britain.


The two main ethnicities were mutually influenced, while the years were passing by, and created a very specific cultural blend which characterizes New Zealand.


The Maori, the first inhabitants of New Zealand, originating mainly from Polynesia, arrived there with their canoes, the so called waka and they brought along the traditions, the religion and their way of life, which was based on strict hierarchy, concerning the family origin and the rank of the ancestors (whakapapa).


Characteristic cultural elements of the Maori that are still remaining up to our days, although not with the form that once used to have, are the Tapu and the Noa.

The Tapu or Taboo, as Captain James Cook translated it, when he visited Tonga in 1777, is referring to something that is sacred and unapproachable. Tapu may be a location, an object, a person or even a whole group of individuals. Accordingly to  tapu, anything sacred should remain as it is and never infected by any sort of contact, presence or even discussion about it. AsTapu were considered the chiefs of the tribes and the higher at rank Maori, the artists of the Ta moko (the traditional tattoo which is literally “sculptured” and not etched on the skin) and also the sacred places, where the ancestors were buried and worshipped.

The food was not served inside the home of the Maori chiefs, because it had been prepared by people of lower rank and therefore was no longer tapu. So it was not supposed to enter the sacred place of their residence.

Conversely to Τapu is Noa, which is considered a blessing and also has the power to remove, if there is a specific reason, the Tapu. Noa is still in our days extremely popular amongst the Maori in New Zealand and the inhabitants usually bless with it their homes, before arriving there for first time, so as their life inside them to be peaceful and prosperous


The Maori religion was polytheistic and the great initial divinities were Ranginui (the Father Sky) and Papatuanaku (the Mother Earth).

With the perplex and extremely refined Ta moko (their traditional tattoos), the Maori recite, basically, with symbols the history of their ancestors, of their gods and heroes, their origin and the ceremony of entering manhood.


Their carving art is also of great interest and characteristic samples of it are the tekoteko (small statues of human primitive figures which appear standing up and are often armed with traditional Maori weapons). Those little statues were situated outside the houses or inside them, so as to send away the bad spirits and/or to bring prosperity to the owners.


Apart from the carving art, extremely beautiful was also the jewel making, with characteristic samples the hei-tiki. Those were necklaces worn usually by the Maori women who were members of higher ranks and were made by nephrite.  They were considered real treasure for the brides, since they were presents offered by their husband’s family.


As the years were passing by, the settlers influenced the strict structures of the hierarchy, brought along western elements and the whole structure of the society changed gradually in New Zealand. The Maori started getting their education in British schools and became Christians, adding though elements of their old tradition to their new religion.


The settlers too received Maori influences and they adapted the previous warriors’ dance (kappa haka) as their national dance. They dance it to their national festivals and it is also the trademark of the famous national Rugby Team (the All Blacks) which dances it before its international games.




In New Zealand there are two National Anthems: “God Saves the Queen” and “God Defend New Zealand”. The second one is sung in English and in the Maori language too.

  The multiculturalism which characterises New Zealand led to the peaceful coexistence of its inhabitants and till the appearance of the global financial crisis, the New Zealanders were proud for the peculiar equality of their society. Nevertheless, at this moment, a social/financial gap has been created and the poverty in some Maori communities is now evident more than ever.

Musical tradition of Maori

The musical tradition of New Zealand’s Maori is of great cultural interest, since it is considered to be one of the most ancient in the world. It originates from the extended area of Polynesia and was adjusted, through the years, to the particularity (social and geopolitical too) of New Zealand.

The Maori in their songs were glorifying the ancestors, the strength of the nature, the love, the magic and their successes in the war. Among the traditional songs there were many lullabies too.

The songs were monophonic or sung by a chorus and the traditional musical instruments were the flutes (Koanahu, Nguru), the wooden trumpets (Putorino), the ancient drums and the horn of the bull.

Their music received, of course, musical influences from the Pakehas (the settlers, mostly British), and so it became more melodic, since they were embodied into it, along with  the old instruments, the guitar, the violin and, in some cases, the piano too.

The war dance kappa haka, needs to be mentioned especially, since it developed to something that had to do with the identity of the New Zealanders and eventually became New Zealand’s national dance. It is always danced in festivals and National festivities and more over it is the trademark of the National Rugby Team (All Blacks), always danced by it, at all its international athletic performances.



The cuisine of New Zealand influenced as much by the Maori as by the Pakeha is a mixture of Polynesian cuisine, adjusted to fit a colder climate, and of classic British cuisine. Seafood, lamb, tubers, sweet potatoes, fruits and vegetables are its main characteristics. Many British desserts, scones and biscuits are also integrated in it.

It is worth mentioning, though, the traditional way of Maori cooking in the oven hangi. Hangi is some sort of “earthy” oven which is opened to the ground. A hole practically with hot stones put into it. On top of the hot stones, twigs, fruit peels and various dry plants are placed. Eventually the meat or the fish accompanied with vegetables is placed on this earthy oven too and then is covered also with twigs, plants and soil. The more the food gets cooked the more delicious it becomes, since it holds all its juices while is cooked slowly and patiently. Hangi can be found in many variations and in some areas has been modernized. Stones are no longer used and have been replaced by hot iron.

The way of cooking in a traditional hangi is considered to be celebrating and it is taking place during marriages, births and national festivals. This way of cooking is quite famous among the tourists who visit the country, since the New Zealanders included it to their touristic attractions very successfully.