The Maori are the first inhabitants of Aotearoa – the most widely known Maori name for New Zealand, which means “the land of the long white cloud.” Their ancestors were the East Polynesian people; they were hunters, fishers and gardeners. The long and distinctive history has made them as one of the most daring and resourceful adventurers of all time. A proud spirit, warmth, quick humor, great art and a deep sense of history – these qualities are gathered in Maori culture, which was isolated from the rest of the world for a long time.
There are number of theories about the origins of the Maori. Legends say that they came from “Hawaiki” about 1000 years ago. The word “Hawaiki” features in the mythology as the homeland of the Maori, before they traveled across the sea to New Zealand. The most popular mass migration theory is called “The Great Fleet”. In 1350 these group of Polynesians took a fleet of several canoes to get to New Zealand and according to legend, this fleet arrived from the mythical home of Hawaiki. Some believe that the first settlers found Aotearoa probably by chance or mistake as they could have been blown off course in one of their navigation. Most of historians affirm that Maori ancestors migrated from China, traveled via Taiwan, the Philippines to Indonesia, onto Melanesia, reaching Fiji, from there to Samoa and on to the Marquesas, then turned South West to Tahiti, then to the Cook Island and finally to New Zealand while anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl claims that they arrived via America.
Before the coming of the white men, also called Pakeha, everything was passed orally onto generations, which included legends, beliefs, rituals, songs, dances etc. The most recognized tradition today is the “Haka” – a war dance and a traditional genre of Maori dance. The Haka was performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength. Every part of the body like hands, arms, legs or even eyes and tongue represent many instruments to show different feelings which are connected to the purpose of the occasion. Nowadays the All Blacks – New Zealand’s Rugby Team – modified Haka and perform this dance before every game. Another original tradition is their welcome, which is called a Powhiri – a greeting that includes pressing noses instead of a kiss. Defining aspects of Maori culture also include traditional arts such as carving, weaving, Moko (full faced tattoos) – amongst the tribes was mainly a male activity. Forms of female moko were prohibited to the chin area, the upper lip and the nostrils. Today the Moko still lives on; Marae (cultural event) and the habitual language of the Maori – Te reo Maori, which has the status of an official language in New Zealand.
Throughout the centuries of inter-tribal wars, the arrival of Europeans and the discrimination of the native people, the Maori have managed to keep their culture and traditions intact.