Kapa haka - Māori performing arts
Kapa haka - or traditional Māori performing arts - forms a powerful and highly visual part of the New Zealand cultural experience.
Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka). It involves an emotional and powerful combination of song, dance and chanting. Kapa haka is performed by cultural groups on marae, at schools, and during special events and festivals. While you're in New Zealand, take the opportunity to experience the excitement of kapa haka for yourself.
Māori creative arts like weaving and carving celebrate the past and continue to evolve through fresh inspiration and new materials.
Raranga – the art of weaving
When Māori first arrived in Aotearoa, they encountered a climate that was extreme compared to their homelands in Polynesia. They adapted quickly by utilising their existing twining and weaving skills to produce korowai (cloaks) and other practical objects such as kete (baskets) and whāriki (mats). The most widely used weaving material was (and still is) harakeke - otherwise known as New Zealand flax.
Whakairo – the art of carving
Rather than purely being decorative, whakairo (Māori carvings) each give a unique narrative. The stories passed down through generations explain cultural traditions and tribal history. Traditionally Māori carvers were men; their craft included precious adornments, weapons, tools, musical instruments, canoes and decorative panels and posts for the various buildings within the village.
You can get a closer look at Māori art forms at cultural centres and studios throughout New Zealand. One such place is Te Puia in Rotorua, which allows visitors into its weaving and carving schools to watch the artists at work.
Marae- Māori Meeting Grounds
The marae (meeting grounds) is the focal point of Māori communities throughout New Zealand.
A marae is a fenced-in complex of carved buildings and grounds that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapū (sub tribe) or whānau (family). Māori people see their marae as tūrangawaewae - their place to stand and belong. Marae are used for meetings, celebrations, funerals, educational workshops and other important tribal events.
Pōwhiri- Māori welcome
Pōwhiri or welcome ceremonies provide a special opportunity for visitors to experience Māori traditions in action.
The pōwhiri begins with a challenge. A pōwhiri usually begins outside the marae with a wero (challenge). A warrior from the tangata whenua (hosts) will challenge the manuhiri (guests), checking to see whether they are friend or foe. He may carry a taiaha (spear-like weapon), and will lay down a token - often a small branch - for the visitors to pick up to show they come in peace.
An older woman from the host side will perform a karanga (call) to the manuhiri. This is the visitors' signal to start moving on to the marae. A woman from among the visitors will respond with her own call. Visitors walk onto the marae as a group, slowly and silently with the women in front of the men. They will pause along the way to remember their ancestors who have passed on.
Once on the marae grounds and either in front of or inside the main ancestral house, the guests and hosts take their seats facing each other. Now speeches are made – usually by the older men of the two groups. A song is sung following each speaker to support his address. After the speeches, the visitors present a koha (gift) to their hosts.
To cap off formal proceedings, visitors and hosts greet each other with a hongi – the ceremonial touching of noses. After the pōwhiri, kai (food) will be shared, in keeping with the Māori tradition of manaakitanga or hospitality.
Pūrākau - Māori legends
Māori culture is rich in legends or pūrākau. Learn about some of the most famous stories, and where to experience them for yourself.
According to Māori legend, Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga was a cheeky and clever demigod who liked to push boundaries. When his brothers planned to exclude him from their fishing trip, Māui hid in the front of their canoe, revealing himself once they were far out to sea. On that fishing trip, Māui caught his biggest fish ever – the North Island.
Tāne-mahuta, Lord of the Forest, is an important figure in Māori legend. The oldest of six siblings, Tāne-mahuta grew tired of living in darkness, closed in between his sky father (Ranginui) and earth mother (Papa-tū-ā-nuku). He decided to push them apart, and in doing so created the world of light (Te Ao Mārama) we live in today.
Hinemoa and Tutanekai were New Zealand’s very own Romeo and Juliet – two star-crossed lovers whose liaison was both passionate and forbidden. This tale has a happy ending though, as they proved the strength of their love through a dramatic and dangerous act, thus gaining the acceptance of their families.
Maori legend tells the story of the ancestor Paikea who journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohorā. The story represents the spiritual bond between the human and natural worlds, and the potential revealed when nature is respected rather than exploited.
The story of Paikea inspired Witi Ihimaera’s book Whale Rider, which in turn inspired an award-winning film of the same name.
See more below about our Maori Culture.