Theme: Student experiences for agents and international partners

DRAFT  Understand Aotearoa New Zealand’s bicultural ethos 

Special thanks to Dr Mike Ross, Te Kawa a Māui, Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka, and Whetuu Nathan, Ako Mātātupu,  TeachFirst NZ for their partnership, mahi and advice which formed this topic.


1. Introduction: Aotearoa New Zealand – A country with more than one culture

He iwi tahi tātou.

Together we are a nation.

(Crown representative Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson in 1840, Māori, English)

This project explores a distinct aspect of New Zealand culture and official government policy: biculturalism. Biculturalism means that Aotearoa New Zealand has – and acknowledges – bicultural roots. In other words, two different groups of people have entered a partnership and have contributed to New Zealand’s formation and development as a nation: Māori, the country’s indigenous people, and Pākehā, that is, non-Māori and in particular British settlers and their New-Zealand-born descendants. Today, the word biculturalism is often used to refer to the intentional commitment in society and government to positive intercultural relations between these two groups and equal participation, partnership and protection of both groups. 

The partnership/mahi tahi between Māori and Pākehā is based on a written contract signed in 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and Māori chiefs, named the Treaty of Waitangi or, in te reo Māori (the Māori language), Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Both groups hoped that the Treaty would ensure peaceful co-existence and collaboration, but other considerations were also at play. Unfortunately, for many decades, the Treaty was mostly ignored, and its agreements often violated by the Crown. However, today, it is considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. Its ideas – or principles – guide New Zealand society and government in their decisions and plans for the future of the country. This includes a growing recognition, appreciation, and use of Māori views, needs, and customs, and the distinct rights that Māori can claim under the Treaty of Waitangi. 

In the present day, the idea of biculturalism is very important to the national identity of many Pākehā and Māori. International students coming to New Zealand will experience a country engaged in an ongoing process of negotiation between two (and more) groups that have come together to form one nation. In an increasingly globalised world, students can benefit from witnessing these intercultural efforts first-hand.

In this project, we explore historical dates that are important in the development of Aotearoa New Zealand as a bicultural nation. Then, this project will introduce aspects of Māori culture and their role in wider New Zealand society and in educational institutions. It is important for international students and their parents to know that they will experience Māori culture in their daily lives and study in New Zealand, and we will highlight relevant Māori values, beliefs, and etiquette.

Please note that Kiwi beliefs associated with a Western or Pākehā culture are discussed in more detail in the forthcoming topic Understand cultural values in Aotearoa. Please also note that Aotearoa New Zealand is a multicultural society with diverse viewpoints and that both Māori and Pākehā beliefs are held by many but not by all Kiwis.

2. The two – and more – cultures of New Zealand

Me mahi tahi tātou mō te oranga o te katoa.

We should work together for the wellbeing of everyone.

(Māori whakataukī/proverb)

Aotearoa New Zealand is home to a ‘rich diversity of ethnicities’ (StatsNZ) and can be considered a multicultural society. 2018 census data shows that the two largest ethnic groups are Pākehā (70.2%) – that is, New Zealanders from European descent – and Māori (16.5%), but other groups are steadily increasing in number. Click on the table title below to see details.

Table: New Zealand’s ethnic groups in 2018 (StatsNZ)

2018 (%)
European 70.2
Māori 16.5
Pacific peoples 8.1
Asian 15.1
Other 1.2

MELAA: Middle Eastern, Latin American, African

The cabinet of the Labour government elected in 2020, which can be seen in the photo below, reflects some of this diversity, with five Māori and three Pasifika ministers.

The 2020 Labour government

Despite its increasingly multicultural makeup, New Zealand as a nation is based on a contractual partnership between two participants, that is, Māori and the (British) Crown.

3. A nation based on a contractual partnership

As mentioned above, New Zealand as a nation is based on the foundational partnership/mahi tahi between Māori and the Crown. This partnership was agreed upon in a contract, the Treaty of Waitangi/te Tiriti o Waitangi.

3.1 What is the Treaty of Waitangi/te Tiriti o Waitangi?

The Treaty of Waitangi/te Tiriti o Waitangi is New Zealand’s most important legal document. It is the foundation of New Zealand as a nation, even though Aotearoa pre-existed as an independent country with independent tribes. a dependent colony and as part of the British Empire. The Treaty also established a legal partnership between Māori and the British Crown. Every 6th of February, New Zealanders celebrate Waitangi Day, the country’s national day, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty. 

The history of the Treaty

Māori are tangata whenua, that is, they are the original people of New Zealand. Their ancestors came to the islands between 1200 and 1300 and made them their home, developing a distinct culture and language and establishing different tribes and subtribes. 

Europeans started coming to New Zealand after the British explorer Captain James Cook landed in 1769. Initially, they had no intention of staying. They were whalers, sealers, missionaries, and traders. But as time passed, Europeans started coming to stay. A British company, called the New Zealand Company, saw an opportunity to make money and establish a colony: They bought and sold land, established settlements, and encouraged British labourers to come to New Zealand.

The British government started worrying about the influence of the New Zealand Company and also about the possibility that France or the United States could claim New Zealand as a colony – before the British Empire could. In addition, more and more British settlers arrived in New Zealand and got into contact – and conflict – with the Māori population. The British Crown looked for a way to control the situation and to introduce the rule of law. Māori chiefs were also concerned about France’s intentions, and they worried about the often unruly behaviour of British settlers. They saw the advantages of trading with Europeans, but they were alarmed by the increasing and unregulated sales of Māori land to Europeans. They also feared the loss of authority and sovereignty over their lands and possessions. 


On 6 February 1840, Lieutenant-Governor Hobson – representing the British Crown – and 46 Māori chiefs signed a treaty in Waitangi on the North Island. In the following months, several copies of this treaty were taken around the country, and eventually more than 500 chiefs had signed it. The Treaty of Waitangi/te Tiriti o Waitangi established a partnership/mahi tahi between Māori and the British Crown. 

The Waitangi copy of the Treaty

The Treaty contains three articles that (1) give the British Crown governance over New Zealand; (2) give Māori chiefs ‘exclusive and undisturbed possession of’ or chieftainship over their lands and properties, and give the British Crown the right to be the first in line to buy land from Māori; and (3) give Māori all rights and privileges of British citizens. 

Problems arose soon after the signing of the Treaty. The British government often ignored the promises made to Māori. The Crown often pointed to the authority it had been given in the Treaty, while frequently failing to protect the rights and privileges it had promised to Māori chiefs.

Today, we also know that there was another problem with the Treaty: Like many international contracts, it was produced, read, and signed in different languages, in English and in te reo Māori. And the two versions do not always say exactly the same thing: For example, in the English version, the British Crown is given sovereignty over New Zealand and all the people. In the Māori version, the word used implies governance rather than sovereignty. It seems that the Māori chiefs who signed the Treaty expected to keep sovereignty over their own people, lands, and affairs.

Dark times for the Treaty

The understanding that New Zealand is a country of two distinct cultures – the cultures of Māori and of the Crown (which was initially British) – is seen as an essential part of New Zealand identity and government policy today. But this wasn’t always the case.

For a long time after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Treaty was actually ignored or even rejected by many Pākehā, who saw New Zealand above all as a British colony and – from 1907 onwards – as a dominion within the British Empire. Māori people and their culture were often seen as unimportant, and many Pākehā expected Māori to adopt Western ways eventually. 

The promises made in the Treaty were often broken by the Crown in the mid to late 19th century, which left many Māori without land, dispossessed, and eventually marginalised in society. In the early to mid-20th century, Māori lived predominantly in rural communities, while Pākehā tended to live in the cities, and contact between them was limited. Here is a short timeline of important events around  Māori and Pākehā relationships – please click on the title to see the full table. The video He Whenua Rangatira – a Māori Land provides additional visuals.

Table: Timeline of important events around Māori and Pākehā relationships 

Year Event
~ 1200-1300 Polynesian seafarers – ancestors of today’s Māori – arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand. (Te Ara)
1642 Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his crew were the first Europeans to land in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, they left again and did not establish a presence. (Te Ara)
1769 Englishman Captain James Cook arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand on his first voyage. This set in motion an increasing influx of whalers, sealers, and traders. The French also started taking an interest in New Zealand as a potential colony. (Te Ara)
1833 James Busby was appointed first official British Resident, that is, a representative of the British Crown in New Zealand. (NZ History)
1835 34 Māori chiefs signed He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand. The declaration established that a Confederation of United Tribes would have authority over the land. The British King acknowledged it in 1936, and more Māori chiefs later signed the declaration. (NZ History)
1840 On 6 February, over 40 Māori chiefs, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson, and several English residents signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Copies of the Treaty were taken around the country, and eventually over 500 Māori chiefs had signed. Most of them had signed the version in te reo Māori , and only 39 signed the English version. (NZ History)
1845-1872 The New Zealand Wars between Crown forces and Māori tribes was followed by land confiscations by the Crown and substantial loss of land for many tribes. (Te Ara)TT
1947 New Zealand became a sovereign state, legally independent from Britain, and in 1948, New Zealanders became New Zealand – rather than British – citizens. (Te Ara)
1975 In a hīkoi (march) now known as the Māori Land March, Dame Whina Cooper led around 5,000 protesters all the way from the Far North to Parliament in Wellington to deliver a petition against Māori land loss with 60,000 signatures. (NZ History)
1975 The government established the Waitangi Tribunal, a permanent commission that investigates breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and claims by Māori against the Crown. (NZ History)
1987 The Māori language – te reo Māori – was recognised as an official language of New Zealand. The Māori Language Commission Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori was established to promote the language. (NZ History)
2017 The Whanganui River – sacred to the Māori tribes living along its shores – is given special status: the government recognises the river as an indivisible and living entity with the legal rights of a person. (NZ Parliament)
2022 New Zealand celebrates the Māori New Year Matariki as a public holiday for the first time. (Beehive release)

In 1990, Anglican Bishop of Aotearoa Whakahuihui Vercoe summarised the situation during a Waitangi Day sermon:

“Some of us have come here to remember what our tūpuna [elders or ancestors] said on this ground: that the Treaty was a compact [contract] between two people. But since the signing of that Treaty 150 years ago, I want to remind our partner that you have marginalised us. You have not honoured the Treaty. We have not honoured each other in the promises that we made on this sacred ground.” Bishop Vercoe’s speech at Waitangi 1990.  

3.2 A Māori renaissance begins

Over time, Māori kept pointing to the Treaty and the rights they had been promised. The 1960s and 1970s brought change and the start of a Māori renaissance. There were many protests all around the world – for the environment, for civil rights of marginalised groups, and against racism. In this atmosphere of change, Māori protested the past and ongoing violations of the Treaty of Waitangi and the bad treatment that Māori often experienced – particularly in court and when dealing with issues around land ownership. In 1975, under the rallying cry of “Not one more acre (of Māori land)”, Dame Whina Cooper led the Māori Land March all the way from the Far North to Parliament in Wellington to protest the loss of Māori land (NZ History).

The Waitangi Tribunal is established

The establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal also occured in 1975. Since then, this commission has been investigating many potential violations of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Tribunal makes recommendations to the government on how to settle disputes around the Māori language, and the ownership of land, water, fisheries, radio spectrum, and other resources (Waitangi Tribunal).

From this time onward, there has been an ongoing government-wide effort to address grievances and offer settlements with individual iwi (tribes). Implementation of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in the government sector supports the revival of Māori culture, which is increasingly visible in the public sphere today. For example, te reo Māori was recognised as an official language of New Zealand in 1987, and a Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori) was established to promote the use of the language. 

Today, all children in New Zealand learn some te reo Māori in school. In fact, the New Zealand curriculum states as an official goal that “all students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga [the Māori language and culture]” (New Zealand Curriculum). This means that all students – including international students – will have the opportunity to engage with the Māori language and culture in school and will experience some educational and cultural practices based on Māori traditions. 

The Waitangi Tribunal has stated that New Zealand can have a bright future if the country takes its commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi to the next level.

“Such a commitment will not only fulfil – at last – the promise that was made when the Crown and tangata whenua entered their partnership at Waitangi. It will also pave the way for a new approach to the Treaty relationship: as a relationship of equals, each looking not to the grievances of the past but with optimism to a shared future. It is, in other words, time to perfect the partnership.” Tribunal’s 2011 report

3.3 Resources for you and your students

To learn more about:


Let’s take a look at the British heritage of New Zealand now.

4. The British contribution to New Zealand

Many immigrants come to New Zealand every year. In 2020, the three biggest groups came from India, China, and South Africa, followed by the United Kingdom (UK) in fourth place (Stats NZ). However, from 1840 to the 1970s, the UK was the main source of immigrants. Most of these were English, but some were also Scottish or Irish. Until 1975, they were repeatedly encouraged and aided to come to New Zealand by assisted migration schemes offered for example by the New Zealand Company and the British or the New Zealand government. Such schemes often included free passage and other incentives. From 1840 onward, in particular English settlers shaped not only the language but also the culture and even the landscape of New Zealand.  

Changing the landscape

Many visitors to New Zealand notice the rolling green hills, dotted with sheep and cows. However, this is not what the country looked like only 200 years ago. Before the arrival of humans, 80 percent of the islands were covered by rainforest and grasslands. Māori cleared significant amounts of land for agriculture and hunting. When Europeans arrived, deforestation increased strongly. British settlers transformed a lot of the landscape to be suitable for agriculture, including cattle and crop farming and horticulture. They also changed the environment so that it would look more like ‘home’ – which was often the South of England. Have a look at how the landscape has changed over the centuries: Te Ara – Deforestation. British settlers even brought many plants and animals, for food and other practical uses but also just to remind them of home (Te Ara). Examples are goats, cows, sheep, deer, rabbits, salmon and trout, but also hedgehogs, blackbirds, and sparrows. 

Government and society

Much of New Zealand culture has its roots in British traditions, even though the country has developed its own, distinct values and systems over time – see the upcoming topic  Understand cultural values in Aotearoa. In particular, the system of government – a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system – is based on the British model. The head of state is the British King or Queen, who is represented in New Zealand by the Governor General. The legal system is based on English law. In addition, English settlers favoured active political debate and established robust, independent journalism. 


British arrivals were overwhelmingly Christian, and many Christian missionaries came to New Zealand to bring Christianity to the Māori population. As a consequence, Christians are still the largest religious group with around 37.3 percent of the population claiming a Christian affiliation in 2018 (Figure NZ). The largest Christian denomination with 6.7 percent is Anglicanism, which is connected to the Church of England. Notably, the 2018 New Zealand Census showed that 48.2 percent of residents claimed to have ‘no religion’ at all (Stats NZ).

The five F’s of culture

You can see the British roots in many of the five F’s of New Zealand culture: food, fashion, famous people, festivals, and flags. Despite a recent attempt to change the New Zealand flag design, the flag still has the British Union Jack in its top-left corner, highlighting the nation’s origins as a British colony. 

A lot of Kiwi food and drink have a clear British connection. Staple foods and dishes include fish and chips, pies, potatoes, and bread. Popular beverages include beer, in particular the very British IPA (Indian Pale Ale). Like the British, many Kiwis enjoy a ‘cuppa’, that is, a cup of tea. 

New Zealand shares many holidays and celebrations with the UK, including Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter but also Queen’s Birthday. ANZAC Day celebrates military personnel, including those serving in shared and British war efforts in the past. Recently, the distinctly British Guy Fawkes Day has started to lose its relevance in New Zealand (RNZ). Many cities have stopped celebrating the day with public fireworks. Instead, distinctly New Zealand holidays are becoming more significant. For example, Matariki, considered the Māori New Year, has been added as a public holiday for the first time in 2022.

Popular sports are shared with the Commonwealth, including rugby, cricket, football, and horse racing. Pop culture is also frequently influenced by or directly imported from the United Kingdom. Popular British TV shows include Coronation Street and Doctor Who.

Education: segregated schools 

The education system is also influenced by British traditions. Some standout similarities for many overseas visitors are school uniforms and the presence of single-sex schools, that is, schools for either girls or boys only. However, the majority of schools today are co-ed. 

Close ties to the ‘old country’

While New Zealand is claiming its independent place in the world, connections to the United Kingdom remain strong. The UK is still the fourth biggest source of immigrants to New Zealand, and Britain is the second most popular destination for emigrating Kiwis (after Australia). Many New Zealanders have relatives in the UK, and many young Kiwis spend their OE (Overseas Experience) there, that is, a year of work and travel. 

Let’s take a look at the other Treaty partner now and explore Māori culture.

5. Te ao Māori – the Māori world and worldview 

Ko au te whenua, te whenua ko au.

I am the land and the land is me.

(Māori whakataukī/proverb)

When international students come to New Zealand, they come to a country with two founding cultures. While the Western Kiwi culture, based predominantly on British traditions, is presently more visible, Māori are tangata whenua, that is, the ‘people of the land’ or first, original inhabitants. International students should be aware that they are coming to an indigenous land, and they should be willing to respect and learn more about Māori culture. 

Māori culture is different from the culture of Pākehā New Zealanders. The Māori worldview, that is, the Māori philosophy of how the world works and holds together, is also different from how many Pākehā understand the world.

5.1 Maori philosophy: Everything is connected

The Māori worldview is based on the understanding that everything is connected: Humans are connected to each other through family and tribal relationships and ancestry or through shared experiences, bonds, and obligations. But humans are also connected to the land, the environment, the animals, the whole universe, and also the spiritual worlds. Māori express this connectedness through the concept of whakapapa (see below).

“The importance of relationships is a fundamental element of Māori society. This can be seen primarily in the way that Māori conceive of their world, as a large genealogy made up of links, networks and bonds. This holistic worldview recognises that human existence is reliant on other people(s) and the environment, all of which should be respected and treasured.” (Duncan & Rewi, 2018, p. 35)

genealogy = an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or from older forms (Merriam-Webster)

The connectedness of a person to their family, their ancestors but also to the environment is visible in the act of pepeha, a Māori way of introducing oneself and establishing one’s identity and heritage, for example at the beginning of a meeting. A speaker starts their pepeha typically with the mountain, river, and ocean or lake they connect to through genealogical ties. Next, the speaker names their tribal connections, and then their grandparents, parents, and sometimes also other relatives, before finally saying their own name.

Here is an example of a simple pepeha in both te reo Māori and English: 

Pepeha in te reo Māori English translation
Ko ____ te maunga

Ko ____te awa 

Ko ____te roto / moana

Ko ____te iwi

Ko ____te hāpu

Ko ___rātou ko ___, ko ___, ko ___ ōku tūpuna

Ko _________ rāua ko _______ ōku mātua

Ko ___________________ tōku ingoa

The mountain I belong to is ____ 

The river I belong to is ____ 

The lake / sea I belong to is ____ 

My tribe is ____ 

My sub-tribe is ____ 

My 4 grandparents are ____ 

My parents are ____  and ____ 

My name is ____

Māori mythology

This connectedness of all things can be seen in Māori mythology, where everything – humans, animals, gods, mountains, weather patterns – is part of a cosmic family (Te Ara). All things and creatures on Earth are descendants of Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) through their sons. These sons are gods: for example Tūmatauenga is the god of people and war, and Tāne-mahuta is the god of forests and birds (Te Ara).

If you want to learn more about Māori mythology, have a look at Kiwa-Digital’s animated ebooks Ngā Atua Māori (including The Beginning of the Universe and The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku) available in the Apple Store and Google Play Store or on the Kiwa-Digital website

This connectedness forms the basis of many of the beliefs and values that Māori hold.

Māori values

Let’s look at four core cultural values that are fundamental to how many Māori see the world and how they behave in their daily lives. Click on the titles below to learn more about each value.

Māori values 

  • Whakapapa – Who are you and where do you come from?

Whakapapa means genealogy or the long line of ancestors that came before a person living today. It also includes the land and landmarks a person is affiliated with. For Māori, knowing their whakapapa is important to know who they are, where they come from, and where they belong. At meetings or in other encounters, Māori might share their whakapapa – for example in a pepeha as explained above – to let the audience know who they are and how they connect. 

People have whakapapa connecting them to their tupuna [ancestors] going back in time, but also whakapapa that goes sideways – to cousins and others of their generation. Whakapapa can be present even if there is no blood link. For example, through friendship: perhaps my great-grandfather and your great-grandfather were best mates” (Kaiora and Francis Tipene, Tikanga, p. 19, 25).

  • Whanaungatanga – Māori value relationships

Whanaungatanga is often translated as ‘kinship’ and means that Māori value relationships. Relationships can be based on family or tribal connections but they can also be based on common goals or experiences that help people to become a community. Relationships are not a one-way street, though. You can rely on others to support you, but you are also expected to help others and the wider group. Overall, relationships must be nurtured and cared for. 

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. – What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.” 

  • Aroha – Māori value goodwill and connection

Aroha is often translated as ‘love’, and it also means compassion, empathy, and concern for others. It shows itself in kindness, compassion, hospitality, in the sharing of food, or in the careful treatment of others. It also extends beyond people to the environment. Listen to international storyteller Joe Harawira in this YouTube video, as he explains aroha for the natural environment: Māori values – Aroha

Aroha literally means to follow the breath, which implies attentive care and empathy for self and other.” (Tuari Stewart, p. 92/93)

  • Kaitiakitanga – Māori value and guard the environment

Kaitiakitanga is often translated as ‘guardianship’ and means that we should cherish what our ancestors left for us and preserve it for the next generations. It is frequently used in the context of protecting the environment. Māori mythology highlights that humans are related to all living and non-living parts of the natural world. Therefore, we humans are responsible for the world around us, and we must protect it. For example, Māori tribes advocated for the Whanganui River to be given special status with the legal rights of a person. The resulting settlement included money for the protection and restoration of the river (NPR). Learn more about kaitiakitanga on Te Ara.   

Kaitiaki means you are the caregiver. My dad always used that word when educating us about the land. We had our own family whenua [land] but it didn’t end there. ‘You need to treat the whenua like your own land, wherever you are,’ he told us. He didn’t like rubbish on the ground. And he didn’t like seeing waste.” (Kaiora Tipene, Tikanga, p. 94)

Manaakitanga – showing care and kindness towards others – is also an important concept and is described in the upcoming topic Understand cultural values in Aotearoa.

“I am from Hamburg in Germany, but I am going to high school in Wellington at the moment. A few weeks ago, I chatted with a Māori guy on the beach, and he told me that he had German ancestors as well. He said that his ancestors were from Lüneburg, which is quite close to Hamburg. He said: “Maybe our ancestors met, who knows?” I thought that was such a cool idea – that we might have that connection.”

(Malte, high school student from Germany)

5.2 Learn about Maori philosophy through pop culture

To get a better idea of Māori culture and mythology, have a look at the following resources (click on the title to see more):

  • Animation Tales from the mythologies of Creation, Maui and Aoraki 

An animated video by Animation Research Ltd, available on YouTube and originally screened in the Waka Māori pavilion in Auckland during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in stereoscopic 3D.

  • Award-winning film Whale Rider (2002)

This drama based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera tells the story of Pai, a young Māori girl who feels called to be the next chief of her people, while her beloved grandfather and current chief opposes the idea of a female successor. At 13 years of age, actor Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

  • TV show The Casketeers (2018 – present)

This New Zealand reality television series follows the Māori owners of a funeral home in Auckland and their customers and provides insights into modern-day Māori life and customs. Available on Netflix in various countries and on TVNZ on Demand in New Zealand.

6. Experiencing Māori culture – Marae, mihimihi, moko, and more

International students will experience Māori culture at events and in their daily lives. Here are a few examples of what they will encounter:

  • The marae – Māori community grounds

A marae is a Māori community ground with an outdoor area, a wharenui or whare tīpuna (a meeting house), and other facilities such as a whare kai (dining hall). For an explanation of the facilities: Features of a Marae. However, for Māori, it isn’t just a meeting place. Every iwi (tribe), sometimes hapu (subtribe) and sometimes whanau  have a marae. For the tangata whenua, the local people belonging to a marae, it is a place that provides identity and allows for the expression of culture and identity. It is their tūrangawaewae, the place where they stand: What is a marae?

“We, the Māori, need our marae so that we may pray to God; rise tall in oratory; weep for our dead; house our guests; have our meetings, feasts, weddings and reunions; and sing and dance.” (Hiwi and Pat Tuaroa, p. 19) 

Source: Wharenui (meeting house) on te Herenga Waka marae (Victoria University of Wellington)

New students might be welcomed to the community with a welcoming ceremony – a pōwhiri – at a marae, often during orientation. They might also be invited to a noho marae, an overnight stay at a marae. International students should be aware that they should not enter a marae until they have been formally welcomed. They should also remember to always take off their shoes when entering the wharenui.

  • The pōwhiri – the welcoming ceremony 

Students are often welcomed into the community with a ceremony called a pōwhiri. Before the pōwhiri, the students are manuhiri (visitors). Through the pōwhiri they become part of the community. A pōwhiri is a ceremony with certain steps. Sometimes, the tikanga (customs and rules) can be different on different marae, but typically, students enter the marae grounds and the wharenui as a group, when they are called with a karanga (call). In the meeting house, there will be whaikōrero (speeches) by both the hosts and, in response, by a speaker representing the visitors. There might be waiata (songs) and karakia (prayers), and the visitors typically bring a koha (gift or donation) for their hosts. At the end, the hosts and the newcomers greet each other person by person, often with a hongi, where the noses and the foreheads of the two people touch. Watch international student Matthew Le attend a pōwhiri. You can also watch a pōwhiri at a school.

Students will always be informed before the pōwhiri as to how they should behave and what they should do. You can also take a look at Whitireia’s Guide to a Pōwhiri. Often students will practice singing a waiata (song) before the pōwhiri. 

  • The mihimihi – greetings at a meeting

Mihimihi are greetings at the start of a meeting. In a mihimihi, each person mentions a few things about where they come from and what places and people they are connected to. Māori might use a long pepeha that we have seen above. Here is a short explanation of the mihimihi.

International students usually use a shorter version, explaining where they and their ancestors come from. Below is an example by a fictional international student, Benjamin Schmidt. Here is also a video explanation of a pepeha by Fun Creatives.

Pepeha in te reo Māori English translation
Tēnā koutou katoa.

(Ko ____ te maunga)

Ko Elbe te awa.

Ko Moana Tūaraki te moana.

Nō Tiamana, Hamburg ahau.

Ko Schmidt te whanau

Ko Benjamin ahau.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Greetings to everyone.

(The mountain I belong to is ____)

The river I belong to is the Elbe. 

The ocean I belong to is the North Sea.

I am from Germany, from Hamburg.

Schmidt is the family I belong to.

I am Benjamin. 

Greetings to you and to you and to everyone.

  • Tā moko – Traditional Māori tattoos 

Tattoos are very common in New Zealand. For Māori, traditional tattoos, tā moko, have a particular significance, showing cultural identity, whakapapa (ancestry), and one’s personal history, status, and abilities. Māori men might have facial tattoos called mataora. Māori women might have a moko kauae, a tattoo on the chin and lips. New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta (2020 government) has a moko kauae. Learn more about traditional Māori tattoos.

New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta (2020)

7. A few tips on Māori etiquette

Some Māori customs apply only in particular settings – for example during a marae visit, while other customs are also relevant in everyday life in New Zealand. Here are 10 tips on Māori etiquette that international students should be aware of.

10 tips on Māori etiquette

  1. Remember that Māori are tangata whenua, that is, the original inhabitants of New Zealand, and that you have entered an indigenous land. Be open and curious about Māori culture and learn a few words and phrases in te reo Māori.
  2. When a speaker starts a meeting with a speech in te reo Māori (the Māori language) and you don’t understand what they are saying, listen politely and don’t show impatience.
  3. Try to pronounce Māori place names correctly. You won’t always get it right, but your effort is appreciated.
  4. Be respectful towards the environment. Don’t litter. Use the toilets and bins that are provided. On longer hikes, take all your trash away with you. Follow the Kiwi rule: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
  5. If invited to someone’s home, bring a small gift such as chocolate or food from your home country.
  6. Don’t sit on tables and don’t put your bag on tables, especially when these tables are used to serve food. Don’t sit on pillows that might be used to rest one’s head.
  7. The human head is considered tapu (sacred or set apart) in Māori culture. Avoid touching someone’s head or passing food over someone’s head. Food, on the other hand, is considered noa (common, everyday, not sacred). Tapu and noa shouldn’t mix. So, please don’t put your hat on a dinner table, and don’t brush your hair near the table or in the kitchen.
  8. Take your shoes off before entering a wharenui (meeting house) on a marae and when entering someone’s home (unless otherwise indicated).
  9. A few Māori rules for shared meals: Wait for the karakia (blessing) before starting the meal. Remain at the table until everyone has finished eating.
  10. A few rules for meetings in a Māori setting: Avoid entering and crossing a room, while someone speaks. Wait for a break instead. Avoid stepping over people. Ask people to draw in their legs instead.

7.1 Resources for your students

Your students can learn more about Māori culture and customs here:


8. Summary

In this project, we have discussed the two founding cultures of New Zealand as a nation. We have explored the country’s history – including the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi – and how it led to an official policy of biculturalism today. We highlighted that international students can benefit from living and studying in a country engaged in a process of negotiation between two distinct groups that have come together to form one nation. 

This project has explored some of the British contributions to New Zealand culture as well as aspects of the Māori worldview and some of the central cultural values that many Māori hold. These values influence how Māori as well as New Zealanders more widely behave on the marae, in everyday life, at school, and at work. It is, thus, important for international students to understand some of these cultural beliefs and practices and how they might differ from their own. 

Specifically, we looked at the Māori values of connectedness or whanaungatanga, whakapapa or genealogy, aroha or goodwill towards others, kaitiakitanga or (environmental) stewardship. We explained specific cultural expressions and practices like tattoos and the pōwhiri, and we highlighted some parts of Māori etiquette. 

Finally, we introduced some helpful resources and tips for you and your students on biculturalism, New Zealand history, and Māori culture. Heoi anō tāku mō nāianei – that’s all for now!


References: All references included as hyperlinks in the text.

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