Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ethnography Project - Maori

Ethnography of the Maori
by, Julianne Nollau


  • The Maori, or the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand are located Southeast of Australia that consists of two main islands and several smaller outlying islands that are scattered from the tropics to Antarctica, New Zealand has two main islands that are the North and South islands. 
  • New Zealand climate has a variety of temperatures ranging from warm tropical environments in the far north to cool temperatures in the far south and severe alpine conditions in the mountainous regions. The mean annual temperatures range from 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the south and 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the north of New Zealand. There are generally small variations in temperature between summer and winter considering that the higher altitude where temperatures can reach snowfall levels.The extensions of mountains of New Zealand provide a barrier for westerly winds that enables the country to be divided into dramatically different climate regions. The West coast of South Island is the wettest and the east is the driest.

  • Most areas of New Zealand have about 600 to 1600 mm of rainfall and is spread out over the year with summer being the driest part of the year. The northern part of New Zealand has the most rain in winter and the southern part of New Zealand has the least amount of rain in the winter. Sun exposure is high through out the year and UV is often very high as well.The Maori people were considered to be hunters and gatherer's and little rainfall and complex temperatures could affect how they harvested food.

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  • The warmer the climate was of the north allowed the growth of plants like kumara, yam and gourds. They live in a rural setting and do not have a high level of competition of resource because they learn how to store foods like kumara. The Maori people are isolated because they live on an island and some of the island is hard to adapt to because of the mountainous regions with low vegetation. The flora and fauna of New Zealand include; the largest native trees called Kauri, ferns, mosses, lichens, and many yellow and red flowers. The animals include the kakapo parrot, the kiwi, the takahe, and the moa. There are many more animals but I found the tuatara to be the most interesting because it is the only beak-headed reptile left in the world. Every species related to this reptile has died around 65 million years ago but this one survived.


  • Some of the biggest adaptations the Maori people had to make is that New Zealand is a much larger Island and had more temperate climate than the islands they migrated from. 
  • A cultural long term adaptation would be that they had to build houses on the ground instead of on stilts to make them warmer and had to wear warmer clothing and develop new ways to hunt and fish. Long term physical adaptations would be that their skin became darker because of the radiation of the sun. 
  • Also, the Maori adapted to the new food and became increasingly larger in size or obese. When Europeans arrived in New Zealand they introduced plants that were non-native to the Maori and they were; Kumara (sweet potato), Hue (bottle gourd) and Taro ( root vegetable).These roots or plants were very high in starch and high in sugar. They also consumed pigs, deer and buffalo. 
  • They're diets were not well balanced and were very high in fat and sugar. According to "Health Experts", "Population rates of renal failure with concurrent diabetes were over eight-and-a-half times higher in Maori compared with non-Maori, the significantly higher rate of renal failure would suggest diabetes among them." The Maori also had to adapt to colder temperatures in New Zealand climates and needed to keep warm with their own body fat.

Language and Gender Roles:

1. Language

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  • The Maori language or Te Reo belongs to Polynesian languages. Its alphabet has 15 letters - h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, a, e, i, o, u, wh and ng.
  • Although the official language of the Maori is English there are still some Maori that speak their language. Maori is an Eastern Polynesian language and is closely related to the Cook islands Maori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian. 
  • As more settlers came to New Zealand the need for written communication in Maori grew, missionaries were teaching the Maori how to write and would use materials such as charcoal, craved wood and cured skins of animals. 
  • The Maori language is always written in a Roman script where two digraphs are used like "ng" represents a velar nasal and "wh" which is pronounced like and English "f".  

    2. Gender Roles
    • There are only two genders in the Maori culture and that consists of men and women.
    • The Maori have specific gender roles that are considered to be the normal and practiced in their culture day to day. The types of socially acceptable behavior is very different from a western civilization, for instance; the women can not fight in a war, perform a war dance, or have full facial tattoos. However women are considered to be sacred because of their childbearing abilities and that it contributes to the future of their tribe. 
    • Only women were allowed to do the opening calls for a meeting and were in charge of the songs played for guests, dances and storytelling. Women also took care of the family solely without the help of men. 
    • Although women could not go near carvers because their menstrual cycles and they were not of high rank because they could only have tattoos on their chins. The placement of tattoos determined the social rank and the more a Maori had the higher the rank he would have. 


    1. Subsistence
    • Maori subsistence depended on fishing, gathering, and the cultivation of sweet potatoes (kumara), some taro, yams, and gourds. When fishing they would use lines and nets and when fowling was done with spears and snares. The Maori would collect shellfish, berries, roots and rats as food. In infertile conditions or harsh seasons fern roots provided them with a starchy supplement. Getting food was time-consuming and a very hard business.
    • The main food items that make up the Maori culture's diet are kumara, roots, potatoes, fish, and pigs. Not all of these food items were available, although kumara was planted in October and harvested in February and March with winter being the most important hunting season.
    • Men were responsible for trimming the trees, clearing the ground for cultivation, planting, trapping small rodents, deep sea fishing, canoe making, carving and tattooing. Women were responsible for gathering, weeding, collecting firewood, cooking, weaving and taking care of the children.
    • There was a variety of dynamic foods in the Maori culture with many starches and fat but their health would be compromised if they had too much food and became obese. In some seasons it would be difficult to harvest many green vegetables and might have an effect on their health.

    2. Economic systems

    • Goods and services did not have set values, and the Maori lacked any true money. Items often exchanged were food, ornaments, and stone. "Generosity was valued as it enhanced a person's power. There was a coastal-interior exchange of the sea and agricultural products and greenstone from the west coast of South Island was exchanged for finished goods from the north."
    • The Maori culture did not practise commercial market transactions, they were more involved in gift exchanges where the people who were transacting were more important than the goods being exchanged. 
    • There were some barter transactions that was the exchanges made without money. The basic economic unit is called the "hapu" and was largely self-sufficient. The Maori people lived in a subsistence economy but they were not poor and used their surplus time for relaxing leisurely, playing sports, warfare, and for making elaborate artifacts. 
    • When the early Europeans arrived during the 19th century the Maori quickly developed commercial relations because they were eager to get European goods like guns and metal tools. Many European settlers depended on the Maori for food and tribes also supplied the Europeans with timber for their ships. There were some negative effects as well. According to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, "By the 1850's there were Maori commercial enterprises, often with their own boats for transporting produce to urban markets. They were less successful in the 1860's. This was partly because the European towns became more self-sufficient and some say the settlers deliberately discouraged Maori supply and also because of confiscation of fertile lands. In addition some stocks were fished out, the fertility of the land was eroded, and weeds took over the fields.

    Marriage and Kinship:

    1. Marriage
    • Most marriages in the Maori culture were monogamous although chiefs often took several wives. They do not practise cousin marriage because first and second cousins were ineligible marriage partners. Marriages were nearly always between the same tribe and often members of the same hapu (clans or descent groups).
    • Marriage partners were chosen from within the hapu or iwi tribe which is the largest of the groups that form the Maori society. Mostly marriages were arranged, with children being promised marriage at a young age. Sometimes the Maori would find their own partners and then would have to seek approval from senior members in their family.
    • The exchange of gifts did happen by both partners at weddings and also by commoners and elite women brought gifts in the form of land and slaves.
    • Separation or divorce was quite common and easy and it was based on the simple agreement between husband and wife to separate. Residence was flexible and often patrilocal. Abortion, infanticide and postpartum abstinence were the primary methods of population control.

    2. Kinship

    • The kin groups in the Maori culture is called the iwi and is considered to be of bilateral descent group encompassing the members of all descendants, traced through male and female links. The hapu is also consisted of all individuals that are bilaterally descended from the founding ancestor.
    • In kinship terms the individual that holds the most authority in the family is the chief and the senior members of the family.
    • Maori people live in urban areas and family life is considered to be a nuclear family style. Intermarriage between Maori and Pakehas(white people) is common and most Maoris have cousins or relatives that are Pakeha.
    • Using kinship terms the individual that posses the most authority is as follows, "Within a Māori family the mātāmua (firstborn) holds extra mana (high status), and tuakana (elder siblings) have more mana than tēina (younger ones). However, those traditional relationships are no longer upheld as firmly as in the past; ability, educational qualifications and other achievements may now also determine mana and responsibilities within a family."
    • The Maori kinship system is the same as the Hawaiin kinship patterns

    Social & Political Organization:
    1. Social Organization:
    • The Maori are generally egalitarian, or do not have any social classes. All individuals are equal and have equal status. Men are the head of the house but do not rank any more power than others. 

    2. Political Structure:
    • The Maori were ranked into three social classes and was determined by the source of one's line. Members of the two highest classes were both free people, while those descended from the oldest males of each generation formed a higher rank. Those from more junior lines, or whose ancestors had lost status, were considered commoners Difference in rank was directly correlated with degree of sacredness each group. Finally, there were the slaves that were captives from war and stood outside the descent system.
    • Political power is transferred from the chief to the first son in each generation. Although in some tribes, a senior daughter was given high rank. The chiefs were mostly quite wealthy too.
    • There were penalties for breaking the law and would consequence in being reprimanded to seizure of property or beating and even execution.

    3. The Role of Violence

    • Violence presented in the Maori culture mainly started with conflict between the different hapu and different tribes were common and led to warfare. The defeated most often were enslaved, killed, or even eaten. Although the women and children were the only ones to be spared.
    • Also during the 1800's when the Europeans settlers arrived there was warfare because they were fighting for their land. The Maori were warlike people and clashes continued between the Maori people and the settlers, and between Maori tribes. "...beginning in 1860 and continuing as a guerrilla war, flaring up and dying down, until 1872. One thousand settlers and colonial troops lost their lives, and perhaps twice that number of Maoris. Three million acres of Maori land were confiscated, some restored, but the sale and loss of Maori territory continued."
    • The Maori are considered to be hostile at times and have warrior traits but they are also very loving and loyal to their heritage traits.
    • hongi [Credit: Mike Powell—The Image Bank/Getty Images]

    Religion & Art:
    1. Religion
    • Before the European settlers made contact with the Maori people, the Maori religion was based on the importance of the mana and tapu. The mana is a force or power that is inherited over the course of their life and tapu refers to the sacredness that is assigned to the Maori at birth. There was a relation between the two, for example, chiefs with the most mana were also the most tapu or sacred. There was a direct relation between the two: chiefs with the most mana were also the most tapu. Also the word taboo derives from the Polynesian word meaning a mysterious superhuman force and this was worshiped. 
    • Traditionally the Maori recognize many gods and and spiritual influences but mainly practise Christianity. It is is branch of Christian religion. Christianity is a monotheistic religion because it is the belief in only one God which is the Lord Jesus Christ.
    • The origin of how the Maori became to be Christians started in the late  1820's when they transformed their moral practises, religious lives and political thinking. By the 1840's a larger population of Maori people regularly attended services in an Anglican church or called the Te Hahi Mihinare. The Maori often practises their faith in distinctively Maori ways and many took their faith very seriously.
    • Christianity is very important to the Maori culture and creates a close society between them. Religious practises are used at weddings and funerals and their religion keeps them together as a group of people.
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    2. Art
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    • The traditional arts of the Maori are carving in wood, stone, or bone, geometrical designs in weaving, painted designs on wood and finally tattooing. Ta moko is the traditional Maori tattooing and is sacred. The women who have ta moko on their chin received them on the basis of their mana, and men had moko covering their face. The more moko meant more power and authority over others. 
    • Ta moko was much more than body decoration, it was connected to the social, political, and religious life of the Maori. The moko also showed mana and divine personal power and status of that person.
    • Maori musical instruments include the flute, trumpet fashioned from stone, whalebone, and even human bone. Instead of drums the Maori would supply a rhythm using their feet by stomping and slapping their chest and thighs.
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    1. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Maori
    2. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Maori.aspx
    3. .http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/606136/Health-experts-study-changes-in-Maori-diet
    4. http://maoriinfo.weebly.com/gender-roles.html
    5. http://history-nz.org/maori3.html
    6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKgVgZ_jTak
    7. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/domestic-violence/page-1
    8. http://www.maori.info/maori_society.htm
    9. http://www.newzealand.com/int/maori-culture/
    10. http://www.lovenewzealand.net.nz/maori/
    11. https://www.maori.com/
    12. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/economic-history/page-2
    13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI851yJUQQw