New Zealand Culture

The Māori

The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, making up almost 15% of the total population. Traditionally, the Māori have a warrior-like identity and a very strong connection with their spirituality. While Māori have been influenced by Europeans, modernised with the technological age and also Christianised, many keep their culture alive. The traditional language is still widely spoken throughout New Zealand and ceremonies are celebrated by the nation. Some core concepts of Māori culture are mana, tapu and utu.

  • Mana is the Māori concept that represents power and prestige. It can be gained through demonstration of authority (i.e. winning a contested piece of land), age, association (i.e. being the grandson of someone prestigious) or by having a wealth of resources that you can use to influence others. Respect of mana drives hierarchical relationships. Traditionally, Māori proudly defended their mana through their actions or would try to enhance it through grandiose responses to situations.
  • Tapu is a Polynesian concept that refers to something being so sacred it is untouchable. Something that is tapu should not be used, interfered with, or in some cases even spoken of. For example, a tribe that holds a particular belief in a lake they grew up around may consider it tapu and prevent people from fishing it. There are many places and things in New Zealand under this spiritual protection that one should be aware of. Burial grounds are particularly sacred.
  • Utu is loosely defined as revenge but is traditionally much more. It is the notion of reciprocation and balanced exchange that Māori follow. Historically, they often gave gifts or demanded items as compensation for past events. Today, it continues as the cultural idea that everything has to be put right.

Many traditional cultural concepts are still understood and practised by Māori today – however, usually in a modified, modern form. For example, relationships were once particularly hierarchical with a strongly patriarchal culture. This has changed as gender equality is acknowledged and respect of female authority and opinion has become the expectation. Māori women commonly hold positions of power. However, women’s involvement in traditionally male-only ceremonies is still determined between members of those tribes.

The younger generation of Māori have become more aware of their culture as the New Zealand government has encouraged funding to maintain the language and culture. Non-Māori may have difficulty comprehending the culture and traditional spirituality as it is very holistic and many tenets are based on legends that have flexible notions of time (hard for Westerners to conceptualise).

Māori often like to come together in the greater community to strengthen and maintain links to cultural traditions. Generally, they are a more collectivistic people than other New Zealanders as their culture places a high value on loyalty and belonging to their tribe. As a result, they tend to be very family-oriented. In Australia, Māori who are separated from their family overseas tend to adopt other Māori who are not directly related and become ‘one big family’. Traditional Māori would define themselves first by their family (whānau), then by their sub-tribe (hapu), and then by the larger tribe (iwi) and its geographical territory.

Generally, the Māori are more reserved than other New Zealanders in their demeanour. They are often recognised as being hard-working, calm, patient and good-humoured people. Traditional or older Māori may be less likely to verbalise their feelings, tending to internalise things towards a spiritual understanding of situations. Māori are also usually very hospitable. Largely, they are exceptionally generous and accommodating to their guests, often trying very hard to mask the inconvenience of doing so.

For some Māori living in Australia, the homesickness of moving to and living in a new country heightens their sense of Māori identity and ignites a desire to embrace their roots and culture. However, some have also reported that living in Australia presents a cultural challenge, as indigenous identity is not as widely celebrated in Australian society.

Cultural Competence Program
Cultural Competence Program Logo

Join over 300 organisations already creating a better workplace

Find out more
Download this Cultural Profile

Too busy to read it right now?

You can download this cultural profile in an easy-to-read PDF format that can be printed out and accessed at any time.

New Zealand
  • Population
    [July 2016 est.]
  • Language
    English (89.8%)
    Te reo Māori (3.5%)
    Samoan (2%)
    Other (5%)
    Sign language (official)
    Note: Total surpasses 100% due to the ability to select multiple responses on census.
    [Census, 2013]
  • Religion
    No Religion (41.9%)
    Catholic Christianity (12.6%)
    Anglican Christianity (11.8%)
    Presbyterian Christianity (8.5%)
    Other Christianity (7.3%)
    Other (6.32%)
    Note: Total surpasses 100% due to the ability to select multiple responses on census.
    [Census, 2013]
  • Ethnicity
    European (71.2%)
    Māori (14.1%)
    Asian (11.3%)
    Islander Peoples (7.6%)
    Other (2.7%)
    Note: Total surpasses 100% due to the ability to select multiple responses on census.
    [Census, 2013]
  • Cultural Dimensions
  • Australians with New Zealand/Māori Ancestry
    349,877 [Census, 2016]
New Zealanders in Australia
  • Population
    [Census, 2016]
    This figure refers to the number of Australian residents that were born in New Zealand.
  • Median Age
    42 [Census, 2016]
  • Gender
    Male (50.4%)
    Female (49.6%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Religion
    No Religion (43.8%)
    Catholic Christianity (13.3%)
    Anglican Christianity (11.9%)
    Presbyterian & Reformed Christianity (5.7%)
    Christianity [not defined] (4.6%)
    Other Religion (15.0%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Ancestry
    English (32.5%)
    Scottish (12.8%)
    Māori (11.8%)
    New Zealander (11.6%)
    Other Ancestry (31.2%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Language Spoken at Home
    English (89.7%)
    Samoan (2.8%)
    Te reo Māori (1.8%)
    Tongan (0.6%)
    Other Language (4.1%)
    Of those who speak a language other than English at home, 95.3% speak English fluently.
    [Census, 2016]
  • Diaspora
    Queensland (38.8%)
    New South Wales (22.6%)
    Victoria (18.0%)
    Western Australia (15.3%)
    Other (5.3%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Arrival to Australia
    Prior to 2007 (64.3%)
    2007 - 2011 (17.4%)
    2012 - 2016 (14.4%)
    [Census, 2016]
Country Flag Country New Zealand