Polynesian Culture

by Sean N. Bennett

New Zealand Culture



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New Zealand is known for being a multicultural society. The New Zealanders (also called Kiwis) have a mixture of traditional Māori culture, and also have had the influence of the British on their culture since the early 1800s. There are two main groups, the Māori, which is also called Tengata Whenua (people of the land) and the Pākehā (the New Zealanders of European descent).

The Māori are the original settlers of New Zealand, arriving between 1250 and 1300 CE from eastern Polynesia. These people practice traditions important to their culture such as communal living, sharing, and living off the land. Family and heritage are also central to their culture, and an individual's immediate and extended family are typically involved with the majority of their decisions. The Māori belief of tapu (sacred) and noa (normal/not sacred) is also central to their culture, and their whole world is divided by objects, occasions, and people that are either tapu or noa. In the Māori culture, the men and women are treated as equals with equal amounts of mana (respect and power) given to both sexes. This is very apparent through their language in that the "he" "she" pronoun does not exist. They also believe that their jobs are different but equal in importance.

The Māori are also very skilled at weaving, carving, dancing, and singing. Traditional body art known as tā moko, or Māori tattooing, was common among Māori people and considered sacred, reflective of ancestry and personal history, and as a symbol of social status. Māori tattooing was applied to both men and women. Men would received tattooing to their face, buttocks, and thighs, whereas women received them to their chin and lips. In the past, having these tattoos applied was a very long and painful experience. The process began with making deep cuts into the skin, followed by using a chisel dipped in pigment which was tapped into the cuts creating intricate designs. It was not uncommon for these tattoos to cover almost every inch of an individual's face. Although traditional tattooing began to fade away after the arrival of Europeans and modern, less painful methods are also being used, this method of tattooing is still being practiced today.

In the beginning of the 1900’s, disease, increased mortality rates, and a large migration of the British have caused a steady decline in the Māori culture. However, a revival of the Māori culture has been observed since the early 1960s. Tattooing in particular has made a resurgence beginning around 1990. Today, Māori tattooing is often used for aesthetics reasons and as a way to preserve cultural heritage.

Due to the rural nature in which they live, the Pākehā are known for being rugged and industrious problem solvers. Though they have many traditions that demonstrate their european background, the Pākehā are known for their egalitarian culture, which is in contrast with the British class system. That being said, their culture does follow the basic manners that are common in America and Europe.

The Kiwis' (New Zealanders) is a name that some Māori, Pākehā, and other cultures choose to take to minimize the division between the individuals living in New Zealand. There are many things in both Māori and Pākehā cultures that are borrowed from one another. The Māori are predominantly Christian, a religion which was introduced by the Pākehā. Furthermore, both Māori and Pākehā speak english the majority of the time. The Pākehā have a traditional posturing dance (haka) that they do before many rugby matches that was originally from the Māori culture.

According to the 2013 New Zealand Census, "The Māori ethnic group makes up 14.9% of the population of New Zealand." The Census also showed "The European ethnic group is still New Zealand's largest major ethnic group. Nearly three-quarters of the population (2,969,391) identified with one or more European ethnicities." The third largest ethnic group in New Zealand is the Asian ethnic group, who make up 11.8% of the population according to the Census. Next is other Pacific Peoples and Pacific Islanders at 7.4%.

References: Swarbrick, N. (September 2017). Manners and social behavior-guide to modern New Zealand manners, Te Ara- the encyclopedia of New Zealand. https://teara.govt.nz/en/manners-and-social- behaviour/page-7 Best Health Outcomes for Maori: Practice implications. (October 2008.) Medical Council of New Zealand by Mauri Ora Associates. https://www.mcnz.org.nz/assets/News-and-Publications/ Statements/Best-health-outcomes-for-Maori.pdf Heremaia, J. (2014). Tā moko-māori tattoo. Retrieved from http://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/ta-moko-maori-tattoo/ Ta Moko: The Definitive Guide to Maori Tattooing (2016). Retrieved from http://www.zealandtattoo.co.nz/tattoo-styles/maori-tattoos/ New Zealand Census Bureau. (2013). Quickstats About Culture and Identity. http://www.statistics.govt.nz/~/media/Statistics/Census/2013%20Census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/quickstats-culture-identity.pdf (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Values and Norms


Most Kiwi’s put great emphasis on democracy, rule of law (rather than that of a king or leader), protection by government, fairness, equality, and honesty. They refer to themselves as a practical, adaptable, hardworking people.

New Zealand has lead the way in many equality debates throughout history. They were the first nation to give women the right to vote in 1893, and the first is develop a welfare system, beginning with old age pensions in 1898. This earned New Zealand the reputation as “the social laboratory of the world.” New Zealanders have also been strong supporters of religious tolerance, even adding a fourth article to the Māori version of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, stating: “The Governor says the several faiths, of England, or the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also the Māori custom, shall be alike protected.” They believed it is was important for all the settlers to contribute to New Zealand’s development of limiting religious prejudice. In 1948 New Zealand’s first professor of political science, Leslie Lipson, wrote, “That is New Zealanders chose to erect a statue like the Statue of Liberty, embodying the country’s political outlook, it would probably be a Statue of Equality."

Honesty is another value that New Zealanders take very seriously. New Zealand is ranked as the most honest country in the world by the organization Transparency International. They have reject corruption from their political officials, and there is no expectation that these elected public servant will do anything illegal or inappropriate. The Kiwi’s do not put up with bribes, and the official do not expect to receive bribes.


Many of the cultural norms in New Zealand come from the predominant religion in the country, which is Christianity. The percentage of the population declaring Christianity as their belief system has steadily declined, but still remains the predominant religion of this region. In New Zealand, religion influences family and social structure, which can directly influence social norms. Getting married, buying a house and having children are desired goals of many Kiwis.

According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, New Zealand is a drinking culture. They drink socially, and the legal age begins at 18. Going to a bar or pub is a social norm for most. New Zealand is also a very sports centered culture. Watching and participating in sports through adult leagues is very common. It is also very common to combine the two and watch sports while grabbing a drink at the local bar/pub.

Other social norms common to New Zealand are similar to those found in the United States. For instance, hand shaking is common during a formal meeting, the use of “please” and “thank you”, and other socially respectable forms of communication are normal within New Zealand. Formal greetings more typical for Māoris include handshakes and “hongi” (briefly touching noses). For women, it is common to kiss the person you’re meeting on the cheek.

References: Levine, S. (20 June, 2012). Political values - New Zealand politics and political values’. Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed on September 13, 2017. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/political-values/page-1. Swarbrick, N., (2017). Manners and Social Behavior. A Guide to Modern New Zealand Manners. Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed on September 13, 2017. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/manners-and-social-behaviour/page-7 Swarbrick, N., (2017). Manners and Social Behavior. A Guide to Modern New Zealand Manners. Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed on September 13, 2017. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/manners-and-social-behaviour/page-7

Traditions, Beliefs and Attitudes

The Māori

Traditional Māori religion teaches that the creation of human beings began with the Atua {A.tU.E} (gods). Traditional belief is that the void (Te Kore) {Te Kore} was the first to arise, which was then followed by the night (Te Pō) {te Pou}, and lastly the world of light (Te Ao Mārama) {Te.aou.mourame}. The Maori believe that Earth mother (Papatūānuku) {PAE.Pae.Tuw.aa.Nuw.Kuw}, and sky father (Ranginui) {ran.gi.nui}had children, which included the god of forests (Tāne){ta.ne}, the god of the sea (Tangaroa){tan.ja.roa}, and the god of war (Tūmatauenga) {TU.mA.tA.o.enje}. The story goes that Tāne created the first woman, Hineahuone {Hine.ahu.one}, and they were then married. Human beings are said to be descendants of that marriage (Keane, 2011).

In Māori religion, priests or religious leaders were called Tohunga {tOe.han.ga}, and it was through these individuals that spirits were said to communicate. A duty of the Tohunga was to ensure that the proper and appropriate rituals were carried out by the Māori when they made preparations to do things such as gather food or go to war. Many of the Tohunga were also Matakite {mA.tA.kIt.ae}, which were individuals thought to have the ability to see future events, or events happening in another place. It was believed that Māori individuals contained a power called Mana which came from their ancestors. This authority or religious prestige was believed to be more prevalent in the first born Māori, as well the Tohunga (Keane, 2011).

The Māori people had strong ties to their gods, and these beliefs influenced their everyday actions. In traditional Māori culture, when babies were born, a ceremony called Tohi {Toe.ji} occurred where which the babies were dedicated to a particular god. Additionally, when the Māori fished, they tossed their first catch back into the water to be given to the god of the sea, Tangaroa. They also offered the first bird caught at a hunt to the god of the forest, Tāne (Keane, 2011).

New Zealand is one of the most secular nations in the world with less than half the population identifying as Christian. In fact, a national census conducted in 2013 found 48.9% identify as Christian where 41.9% reported no religious affiliation (Stats NZ, 2014). The majority of the religiously affiliated population population identify as Christian with the Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches making up roughly 46% of the population (Stats NZ, 2014). New Zealand has participating members of every major religion with Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Maori Christianity (Ratana church) making up six percent of the religiously affiliated population (Stats NZ, 2014).

A modern religion currently being practiced specifically in New Zealand is Maori Christianity, also known as the Ratana Church. Although the Maori Christian Church uses the term “Christian” it is not considered a Christian denomination. The Church was formed by Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana who after receiving numerous visions and “divine visitation” urging him to unite the Maori people under ‘Ihoa o nga Mano’ (Jehovah of the thousands), heal the people, and turn them from superstitions and fear of Tohunga and the old atua (gods). To his followers, Ratana was seen as a spiritual leader and healer and with his religious and political influence, he united many of the dispossessed Maori tribes allowing them more political standing within New Zealand. In 2013 the Church had 40,353 members in 127 parishes, as well as several thousand members in Australia (Newman, 2011).

Newman, K. (5 May, 2011). Founding the rātana church. Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed on September 23, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.teara.govt.nz/en/ratana-church-te-haahi-ratana/page-1 Stats NZ (15 April, 2014). Religious affiliation. Accessed on September 23, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/religion.aspx Keane, B. (5 May, 2011). Traditional Māori religion – ngā karakia a te Māori’. Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed on September 20, 2017. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/traditional-maori-religion-nga-karakia-a-te-maori


Before the Pakeha (non-Māori) {settlers came to New Zealand, the religion was traditional with other pacific islanders, and came from their original island of Hawaiki which is located somewhere in Polynesia. In the Māori tradition, humans came from the creation of the atua {A.tU.E}, or gods. The original atua were Ranginui (earth father) {ran.gi.nui} and Papatuanuku (earth mother) {PAE.Pae.Tuw.aa.Nuw.Kuw} who were believed to be locked in an eternal embrace. The story goes that they had children who were trapped between them, and tried to push them apart. One child, Tane {ta.ne}, was able to push them apart and separate the sky from the earth. The children then became the main gods they worshiped; Tane, god of the forest, Tāwhirimātea god of the wind, and Tangaroa {tan.ja.roa}, god of the sea. As previously stated, humans came from the union of Tane and the woman he created from the dirt of the earth, Hineahuone. Some believe there is one supreme god known as Io, although this is controversial in both Māori and Pakeha history (Keane, 2011).

The Māori priests were called Tohunga {tOe.han.ga}, and they were able to communicate with the atua through karakia, which was a type of chant or prayer. They obtained guidance and instruction about rituals for going to war or gathering food. Many Tohunga were believed to also be matakite {mA.tA.kIt.ae}, which means they could see into the future and provide warnings and guidance. Tohunga were the most appropriate people to use karakia, as they were mediums to speak to atua. However, all people and even children were allowed and able to use karakia (Keane, 2011).

New Zealand now has great religious diversity including Christians (48%), Hindus (2%), Muslims (1%), and Jews (1%). The main religion in New Zealand currently is Christianity which was brought over by European settlers. 90% of the Pakeha settlers were Christian or Anglican, and this had a huge influence on the religion of the Māori people (Stenhouse, 2011). In the 1820’s, many Māori people were converted to Christianity. Eventually, independent Māori Christians branched off and created different denominations such as the Pai Marire and the Ringatu faiths. One of the main Māori Christian religions is Ratana which was founded by T.W. Ratana. He was believed to be one of the last Tohunga. He was fostered at birth and baptized into the Methodist church. He was also a matakite and would have premonitions about the future throughout his life. As an adult it was believed that he was taken up into the Heavens by the Holy Spirit and was shown the four corners of the world. A publication of the events and history of Ratana called the chronicles of the Ratana Movement and Church became the basis of the Ratana religion (Arahi, 2003). Although there are many religions in the area, according to the 2013 census, 42% of New Zealanders claim to have no religion (Morris, 2011).

Paul Morris, (5 May 2011) 'External links and sources', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/diverse-religions/sources (accessed 27 September 2017) John Stenhouse, (5 May 2011) 'Religion and society', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/religion-and-society (accessed 27 September 2017) Basil Keane, (5 May 2011) 'Traditional Māori religion – ngā karakia a te Māori - Rituals and ceremonies', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/traditional-maori-religion-nga-karakia-a-te-maori/page-5 (accessed 27 September 2017) Hagger, Arahi. “Ratana History” Te Haahi Ratana 2003 http://www.theratanachurch.org.nz/history.html

Sense of Self and Space

Kiwi’s refer to themselves as ‘friendly but reserved’ and ‘open but respectful.’ (Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, 2016.) Kiwi’s come from a land of wide open spaces so they don’t like it when people stand too close. They often walk on the left of a pathway and smile in greeting to everyone they pass. Many of the Māori traditions are evident among the entire society. This is evident in the tradition and standard to remove one’s shoes when indoors. It is considered rude to sit on tables or pillows. It is also considered rude to talk too much about oneself and pass food over a person’s head. Many of the Kiwi follow the Māori practice of saying a prayer (karakia) (kA.ra.kiA) before eating (Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, 2016). Greetings in New Zealand vary and depend on how formal the occasion or how well the person is known. It is common to receive a kiss on the cheek in greeting, and in more formal occasions one can expect to be greeted with a hongi (On.gE), which involves the brief touching of noses (Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, 2016). A common verbal New Zealand greeting is Kia Ora (Ki Or.A), which means hello ( Kruger & Kruger, 2012). Kiwis are friendly and outgoing, but also quite private. It is said they are easy to start a conversation with, but are not known to share a lot of personal information. Topics to avoid in conversation: Income, why they don’t have children, why they aren’t married, weight, or anything else that may be deemed too personal of nature (Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, 2016). Kiwis socialize by sharing food. Food and friendship go hand-in-hand in New Zealand. It’s common to contribute at a meal by bringing food or wine to share. If told "not to bring anything" it is still common courtesy in this culture to bring a small gift. Coffee and tea are central to a lot of their socialization, and it is common to be offered coffee or tea during home visits. The Kiwi’s also have a drinking culture, and it is common to meet with friends of work associates in the evenings for a beer at a local pub (Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, 2016). References: Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment. (2016). New Zealand Now: Customs & communication. Retrieved from https://www.newzealandnow.govt.nz/living-in-nz/settling-in/customs-communication Kruger, R. & Kruger, K. (2012.) New Zealand Slang. Retrieved from http://www.newzealandslang.com/k.php =Communication Style and Language= The three official languages of New Zealand are the following: English, te reo Māori (The Māori language), and New Zealand Sign Language. English is widely spoken and accounts for 96.1% of those who speak at least one language, and is the day-to-day language used within New Zealand. Since being introduced in the late 18th century, English has developed many characteristics, terms, and pronunciations specific to New Zealand. These differences are the result of the influence of the Māori language and culture, as well as early whalers, settlers from Australia, and native plants and animals (Bardsley, 2013). Some examples of these differences are what some refer to as “Kiwi slang.” Kiwi slang can be found everywhere in New Zealand and is used all the time during all types of communication. Some of the most used terms are: Kia Ora? (How’s it going?) She’ll be right. (It’s alright). Knackered (tired), ta (thank you), pakaru (broken), piss (alcohol), munted (broken), and skull (to drink a usually alcoholic beverage in one breath) (Hendrieka, 2016). The second official language of New Zealand is te reo Māori. This language has been part of New Zealand and its culture since the first people came to the islands. However, Māori has only been recognized as an official language of New Zealand since the Māori Language Act of 1987. Māori is a Polynesian language similar to the languages of other Polynesian cultures, such as Hawaiian, Tongan, and Samoan (“New Zealand Guide”, 2017). According to the 2013 census, 3.7% of the population speaks Māori (Stats NZ, 2014). New Zealand English has adopted Māori terms including mana, taonga (treasure), motuka (car), and kaumātua flat (accommodation for Māori pensioners). Furthermore, many towns within New Zealand have both an English and Māori name that are used interchangeably (Bardsley, 2013). The communication style within New Zealand is very similar to western countries but, is described as being more relaxed. New Zealanders are friendly, outgoing, somewhat reserved initially yet polite, and enjoy extending hospitality. They are quite easy to get to know, as they often will say hello to strangers and offer assistance without being asked (“New Zealand guide”, 2017). When first formally meeting, a handshake is polite among both men and women, but not in casual situations. Furthermore, polite communication includes using ‘Please’ when making requests and saying ‘Thank you’ for any service, whether or not payment is required (Swarbrick, 2013). “Making eye contact is important when listening or speaking to others. It is considered rude to interrupt someone when they are speaking and/or to not pay attention. Spitting on the ground is considered rude as is belching in public (Swarbrick 2013). References Dianne Bardsley (5 September, 2013). English language in New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/english-language-in-new-zealand (accessed 10 October 2017) Global Affairs Canada (19 June, 2017). Cultural information - New Zealand. Retrieved from https://www.international.gc.ca/cil-cai/country_insights-apercus_pays/ci-ic_nz.aspx?lang=eng#cn-2 Nancy Swarbrick (5 September, 2013) 'Manners and social behaviour - A guide to modern New Zealand manners', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/manners-and-social-behaviour/page-7 (accessed 11 October 2017) New Zealand guide. (2017). Accessed on October 9, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.commisceo-global.com/country-guides/new-zealand-guide Stats NZ (15 April, 2014). Languages spoken. Accessed on October 9, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/languages.aspx =Food and Feeding Habits= =Time Consciousness= =Relationships and Social Organization= =Education and Learning= =Work Habits and Practices= =Healthcare= . . As a Registered Nurse (RN), it would be important to recognize: 1. 2. =See Also= =Works= =Sources= =References= '''Pictures''' =External Links= =Contributors=

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