Who are the Maori People?

A Maori carving in New Zealand.
A Maori carving in New Zealand.

The Maori People are an indigenous community of New Zealand. The Maori represent an integral part of the nation's identity and culture. Maori communities have also settled in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US. The Maori community has an estimated population of 598,605 in New Zealand.


Evidence suggests that New Zealand was first inhabited by immigrants from the Polynesian Islands. The first wave of these immigrants arrived in 950 AD followed by others in 1150 and 1350. It is the travelers of 1350 who developed into the contemporary Maori. These immigrants arrived bearing their domesticated animals and plants, some of which did not survive the change of environment. The many years of isolation enabled the Maori to come up with a unique culture involving mythology, performing arts, language, and unique crafts. The 1830s saw waves of Europeans settle on the island. Most of the traditional chiefs gave up their autonomy by signing the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 in exchange for British protection and recognition. Between 1860 and 1865, the Maori engaged the British in battles over autonomy and land rights. The Maori has been actively participating in New Zealand's society and has implemented efforts towards preserving the rich Maori culture.


The medieval religious beliefs of the Maori feature Polynesian elements. Such elements include tapu which translates to sacred; mana or psychic power, and noa meaning non-sacred. The supreme god was given the name lo while the primeval parent of Papa and Rangi had eight divine offspring. Members of the Priesthood (tohunga ahurewa) went through specialized training. Christianity replaced this religious system. The Maori people lived in two kinds of settlements namely pa (fortified) and Kainga (unfortified). The people stayed in the pa during wars. The structures were mostly constructed using thatch and poles or worked timber and posts. To survive, the Maori people engaged in gathering, sweet potato cultivation as well as gourds, taro and yams, and fishing. The Maori were organized into iwi, which was political units featuring descendants on both the maternal and paternal side. The iwi further branched into few communities known as hapu. The Maori also had a performance art known as kapa haka, and they also took part in oral folklore. They convened in Maraes which was central to the community’s spiritual, social, and cultural life.

Location and Population

The Maori initially inhabited the northern regions of the North Island. Currently, the community is primarily urban and lives in the cities and towns of the northern areas of North Island. The population of the Maori began to fall after European arrival. However, the community recovered from the downward trend and accounts for roughly 14.9% of New Zealand’s population. The census conducted in 2013 recognized 598,605 individuals as being part of the Maori ethnicity, while 668,724 people said they were of Maori descent.

Socioeconomic Concerns

More than 50% of the Maori people inhabit regions in the three top deprivation deciles in comparison with 24% of the other New Zealand population. Since the Maori possess lesser assets than other communities, they are vulnerable to adverse social and economic situations. The Maori community accounts for nearly 50% of the total prison population, and they are less educated than other New Zealand residents. The Maori also compare dismally to other communities in health, life expectancy, and suicide rates.


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