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Maori - Indigenous People of New Zealand

The word Maori refers to the indigenous people of New Zealand and their language.

Maori oral history describes the arrival of the ancestors from Hawaiki (a mythical homeland in tropical Polynesia) by large ocean-going canoes (waka). Migration accounts vary among Maori tribes (iwi), whose members can identify with different waka in their genealogies or whakapapa.

War Speech, by Augustus Earle, depicting an event of 1827-1828.
'War Speech', by Augustus
Earle, depicting an event
of 1827-1828.

No credible evidence exists of human settlement in New Zealand prior to the Polynesian voyagers; on the other hand, compelling evidence from archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology indicates that the first settlers came from East Polynesia and became the maori.

In the Maori language the word maori means "normal," "natural" or "ordinary." In legends and other oral traditions, the word distinguished ordinary mortal human beings from deities and spirits (wairua).

Maori has cognates in other Polynesian languages such as the Hawaiian 'Maoli,' the Tahitian 'Maohi,' and the Cook Islands Maori which all share similar meanings. The word as adopted in contemporary English means "native", "indigenous" or "aboriginal". The orthographic conventions developed by the Maori Language Commission reflect the growing preference for a macron (a line over the 'a') to denote the long 'a' sound. Contemporary English-language usage tends to avoid pluralising the word 'maori' with an 's': the standard Maori language has no 's' sound, and generally expresses plurals using preceding articles.

Early European visitors to the islands of New Zealand referred to the people they found there variously as "Indians," "aborigines," "natives" or "New Zealanders." Maori remained the term used by Maori to describe themselves in a pan-tribal sense. In 1947, the New Zealand government renamed the "Department of Native Affairs" as the "Department of Maori Affairs" to recognise this.

Maori people often use the term Tangata whenua (literally, "people of the land") to describe themselves in a way that emphasises their relationship with a particular area of land — a tribe may be tangata whenua in one area, but not another. The term can also refer to Maori as a whole in relation to New Zealand (Aotearoa) as a whole.

The Role of Maori Language

In many areas of New Zealand, the Maori language lost its role as a living community language (used by significant numbers of people) in the post-war years. In tandem with calls for sovereignty and the righting of social injustices from the 1970s onwards, many New Zealand schools now teach Maori culture and language, and pre-school kohanga reo (literally: "language nests") have started which teach tamariki (young children) exclusively in maori. These now extend right through secondary schools (kura tuarua).

In 2004 Maori Television, a government-funded TV station committed to broadcasting primarily in te reo, began broadcasting. Maori language, enjoys the equivalent status de jure as English in government and law, although the language continues to be marginalised in mainstream use. At the time of the 2006 Census, Maori figured as the second most widely-spoken language in New Zealand after English, with 4% of New Zealanders able to speak Maori to at least a conversational level.

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Maori of New Zealand
Information About Things Maori
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