Story: Daily life in Māori communities – te noho a te hapori

Page 3. Daily life in modern Māori communities

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Impact of urbanisation

The mass migration of Māori to the cities in the years after the Second World War transformed the patterns of Māori life at least as profoundly as the European-introduced changes of the previous century. This extremely rapid process of urbanisation brought Māori and non-Māori communities into close proximity, often for the first time. Māori were generally expected to adjust their patterns of life to those of the larger and more dominant culture.

Pattern of wage-earning

The primary reason Māori moved to cities was to take up waged work in expanding industries such as freezing works. This made it almost impossible to sustain traditional customs of collective work and communal living. Instead, for many Māori wage-earners a routine developed of eight-hour shifts, overtime and pay-night beer parties.

Life in Murupara

A 1953 study of daily life in the milling town of Murupara found that ‘When the day’s work is over, there is not much a man can do … A screening at the local picture theatre takes place only twice a week. At weekends there are sports … trips to town or to the beach for seafood, horse races … and chances to hunt and fish … Long leisurely discussions, held wherever people meet, are the most frequent leisure activity … At weekends these groups tend to become drinking sessions or parties.’1

New ways of life

Although large numbers of state houses were built to house the exploding Māori workforce, their design did not take account of Māori culture, such as living in extended families. Overcrowding and friction with non-Māori neighbours sometimes resulted. At weekends and holidays long return journeys were made to depopulated home communities, or to the coast to harvest delicacies not available in city shops.

Impact on communities

Tribal leaders who stayed in their traditional communities found that the shrinking population of able-bodied residents made it much harder to organise collective activities such as marae working bees. Their authority within their communities suffered as a result. Māori living in cities were generally separated from their tribal homelands and lived and worked alongside Māori from many other tribes, so that tribal identity and customs were much harder to maintain. Many Māori did not adjust easily to these sharp changes in their way of life. Some fell into a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, imprisonment and mental illness. For some, pan-tribal Māori gangs replaced tribal identities.

Rebuilding patterns of life

From the 1960s institutions such as urban pan-tribal marae and kōhanga reo (Māori-language preschools) arose to help Māori build new communities within a predominantly non-Māori society. These communities were headed by leaders who were typically younger and better educated than those in more traditional communities. They pressed for innovations such as tangi leave from employment to enable Māori in the paid workforce to uphold the most important aspects of their customary way of life.

Pōwhiri and rāhui

In the 21st century the overwhelming majority of Māori live alongside non-Māori and there is little difference in their patterns of daily life. However, certain aspects of Māori life dating from pre-European times, such as the rituals of pōwhiri (welcome) before important occasions, are still maintained. Traditional cultural forms such as tattooing and the use of Māori weaponry and musical instruments have been revived, and increasingly adopted by non-Māori as well.

A wide variety of sacred and significant sites now have tapu imposed them out of respect for Māori custom. In waterways where a drowning occurs, whether of a Māori or a non-Māori, a rāhui, or traditional prohibition on fishing, may be imposed. In these ways, traces of pre-European patterns of daily life are retained and re-invented for a changing society.

  1. James E. Ritchie, The making of a Maori: a case study of a changing community. Wellington: Reed, 1963, p. 79–80. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Daily life in Māori communities – te noho a te hapori - Daily life in modern Māori communities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 June 2023)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 Sep 2013