Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Maori are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand. Culturally they are Polynesian, most closely related to eastern Polynesians. By the late twentieth century the Maori have become overwhelmingly urbanized. Traditional subsistence depended on fishing, gathering, and the cultivation of sweet potatoes, taro, yams, and gourds. The largest kin groups in Maori society were the bilateral kin groups (so-called "tribes") that acted as independent political units occupying discrete territories.


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Oceania --Polynesia


New Zealand

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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The OZ04 Maori collection consists of 10 documents, all in English, covering a time span from approximately 1800 to 2003 AD. Documents 1-4 of this collection are the basic studies of traditional Maori ethnography, and deal primarily with the period of 1820 to 1960. The two works by Elsdon Best (Best 1924, no. 1, 1924, no. 2), presents basically ethnographic data on social organization and religion, and on material culture. Buck (1952, no. 3) also presents a general ethnography of the Maori with special emphasis on origins and racial affiliations, material culture, social organization, religion, and technology. Firth's study of the Maori (Firth 1959, no. 4), is a functional study of aboriginal Maori social and economic organization prior to 1840. It touches on class structure, land systems, industry, methods of co-operative labor, exchange and distribution, the psychology of work, and the role of magic in economics. Although dealing with the institutions of a single people, this monograph also discusses problems of general theory. This work is particularly valuable for its intensive study of the phenomena of cultural integration and social change from pre-European days up to about 1960. An acculturation study of the "modern" Maori (1936-1938) may be found in Hawthorn (1944, no. 6) which is a study of an isolated village in northern New Zealand in order to determine the various ways in which cultural changes have occurred in the society and the problems of assimilation into the European-New Zealand culture. A major study of the basic Maori social unit, the


,(the household or extended family), will be found in Metge (1995, no. 11). In this monograph the author surveys the range of meanings given to the word


, and then builds a generalized model or picture of the primary referent within this range, a model broad enough to encompass the major variations which have developed over the years in urban as well as in rural areas. The Tainui Maori is the subject of discussion in Meijl (2003, no. 12). The Tainui were the first Maori group to sign a major settlement of their historic grievance against the New Zealand government as the result of the confiscation of their lands and natural resources by the government at the end of the war between the two principals in 1860-1864. This article examines what went wrong in the aftermath of the settlement and some of the structural causes of political conflict within the Tainui Confederation. Sullivan's paper in this collection (Sullivan 2003, no. 13), discusses the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) between the Maori and the British colonizers leading to the usurpation of Maori sovereignty and Maori ownership of lands, fisheries, forests and other natural resources, but giving the Maori people the franchise right to vote, which they have used in their struggle to hold on to their culture and their language, and in their pursuit of economic development.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, . see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

John Beierle


Ariki -- men of rank (e.g., chief, paramount chief) - use "CLASSES (565)" with "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)", and sometimes with"CHIEF EXECUTIVE (643)"

Commoners -- use "CLASSES (565)"

Executive council, modern - use "ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCIES (647)"

Great council, modern - use "PARLIAMENT (646)"

Hapu -- an ambilateral kin group - use "KINDREDS AND RAMAGES (612)"

Iwi -- tribe - use "TRIBE AND NATION (619)"

Kainga -- the Maori village - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Karakia -- a native ritual formula - use "ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL (796)", and/or "RITUAL (788)", sometimes with "MAGIC (789)"

Mana -- prestige, influence, or psychic power - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"


Mauri -- an immaterial, impersonal spiritual essence or life principle - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)", with "ANIMISM (774)"

Muru -- the plundering of those individuals who have committed some offense against the community - use "SANCTIONS (681)"

Pa -- a fortified village or site - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)" with "MILITARY INSTALLATIONS (712)"

Rangatira -- men of rank; "gentlemen" - use "CLASSES (565)"

Slaves - use "SLAVERY (567)"

Tapu -- sacred or prohibited - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)" and/or "AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)"

Tika -- what is morally right or approprieate for an individual - use "ETHICS (577)"

Tohunga -- a priest with curing abilities - use "PRIESTHOOD (793)" with "SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS (756)"

Waka -- a loose political unit - use "TRIBE AND NATION (619)"

Whakapapa -- genealogical knowledge - use "HUMANISTIC STUDIES (814)", and/or "TRADITIONAL HISTORY (173)"

Whanau -- household or extended family - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)" and/or "EXTENDED FAMILIES (596)"

Whare runanga-- the meeting house - use "PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)"

Whare wananga -- school of learning - use "ELEMENTARY EDUCATION (872)"

This culture summary is based on the article "Maori" by Christopher Latham, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 2, Oceania, Terence E. Hays, ed. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall and Co. 1991. The synopsis, indexing notes, and additional demographic information were added by John Beierle in June 2008.

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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