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Maori Culture

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The Culture of the Maori People

          The Maori are also known as the ‘host’ people.  They have many Iwi(tribes), Hapu(subtribes), and Whanau units.  The Maori name is derived from Ma-Uri, which means the Children of Heaven.  Maori people started out as hunters and later on they became peasants living of agriculture. 

          In 950 A.D. Polynesian navigator Kupe discovered the island of New Zealand.  During the early times people called New Zealand, Aotearo. This meant Land of the Long White Cloud.  When they Maori arrived in New Zealand they divided themselves into sub-tribes.  Since New Zealand is so far away from other islands, it had little outside influence.

          Different Maori tribes were always in war with one another.  When a tribe would lose to another tribe, the losers would become slaves or food.  Some of the Maori tribes were cannibals and believed that by devouring the enemy they would gain the other person’s manna.  There was actually only one tribe that was cannibals, and they lived in the Queen Charlotte Sounds area, on the South Island.  Most of the other tribes only keep to head to get the manna.

          The Maori had a complex social structure.  It was made up of tribes, sub-tribes, and clans.  Also, their society existed of nobility, priests, and slave classes.  Their genealogy was paramount to them; it described their origin and status.  No one person owned their own land; instead they held land communally.  Each village had their own pa, or fortified village.  They passed down their history through specific songs, not by writing it down on something.

          In the communities the men would do the outside work such as hunting and plowing; while the women would do weeding, cooking, and weaving.  The people would do group activities gathering food, cultivating food, and warfare.  The Maori wore decorated pendants and amulets.

          They believed in deities and personifications such as Tane-mahuta, lord of the forest, Tawhirimatea, Rango-ma-tane, Uenuku and Tangorea, the Polynesian ocean gods.  Tribal high priest and chiefs believed in the supreme one God, or Io.  They also believed in ‘atua’ or spirits.  Their religion is related to nature or spirits.

          The Maori Wars were a series of wars and battles between the Maori and Australians.  These wars were from 1845-1875.  During this war 2500 Australian settlers were sent to New Zealand.  They believed that the Empire couldn’t be matched, but they were wrong.  The only people to match the Empire were the Maoris.  The first conflict was in 1845.  That was when chief Hone Heke attacked the settlement of Russell in the Bay Islands area.  He succeeded in taking over the settlement with the firearms that he had bought in Australia. 

          Hone Heke was taken seriously until he defeated a relief force sent to capture him.  That was when the Australians took him as a serious threat.  Once this happened, the settlers started a militia and brought in George Gray to command them.  With him came many Australian reinforcements.  This was the first time that the Australians had ever gone over seas on a large scale battle.  Under Grey’s command the Australians forced Heke to surrender and make peace.

          Another war broke out in the Taranaki region, over the dispute on the sale of land on the Waitara River in 1860.  Once again the New Zealand settlers were forced to get help from Australia.  The Australians sent in reinforcements and Victoria sent in its entire navy which consisted of steam corvette HMVS Victoria.  New whales sent in gunboats to help out.  The fire power was to much for the Maoris to stand up against.  In 1862 George Grey came in and gained victory.

          The Maori made major achievements in music.  They made many different types of musical instruments.  Some of the instruments they made were the Nguru, which is a small wooden, rock, or bone flute in the shape of a whales tooth.  It is sometimes made from a real whale tooth and is from 2-6 inches long. 

          Another instrument that the Maoris made was the Pahu.  The Pahu is the only percussion instrument that was made by the Maoris.  It is made from a slab of totara.  The instrument is made from a 30 inch long instruments that is suspended from a ridge pole.

          One major geological event in New Zealand is Mt. Ruaphehu.  This is a stratovolcano on the Northern Island in New Zealand.  It has erupted 50 times since 1861.  At the very top of the mountain is a acidic crater.  Most of its eruptions are phreatic, which are steam eruptions caused by the mixture of water and lava.