Story: Māori manners and social behaviour – Ngā mahi tika

‘Haere mai, ngā manuhiri tūārangi!’ In Māori rituals of encounter, visitors are called onto a marae and challenged before being welcomed and fed. These customs originated in a time when groups needed to know whether strangers came in peace. Kinship relationships also underpin many social customs, and Māori traditions around birth and death have survived intact into the 2000s.

Story by Mark Derby
Main image: Tāne and Hineahuone – the origin of the hongi

Story summary

All images & media in this story

Welcome and hospitality

Māori rituals for greeting visitors date from before Europeans arrived in New Zealand, and had a practical function. The women of a settlement would call out to approaching strangers, asking them to identify themselves and their intentions. Warriors would then challenge them in the wero ceremony. After this, once it was known that the visitors came in peace, they could enter and were welcomed and fed.

Today the rituals include the karanga (call), wero, whaikōrero (speeches) and hongi (pressing of noses). The manuhiri (visitors) are then invited to eat and drink with their hosts. They can respond by giving a koha – in the past, a gift of food or precious objects, but today usually money.

Kinship, families and marae

Kin relationships are very important and underpin many customs. Speeches often begin with the speaker’s whakapapa (genealogy), which may relate to the group addressed or the issue discussed. Most Māori, even if they live in the city, retain links with their tribal area and return there for events.

Hapū (sub-tribes) have rights over particular marae, and are known as tangata whenua (people of the land) of those marae. They can host gatherings, weddings and funerals, and must maintain the marae and its reputation. Kaumātua and kuia (male and female elders) have an honoured place in Māori communities.

Tangi and birth

In Māori tradition, when someone dies, their spirit leaves their body and travels to a sacred place at the northern tip of New Zealand. Their whānau (family) gathers at a tangihanga to be supported by the wider whānau and community. Tangi are usually held on the marae most closely associated with the deceased. Mourners stay with the family and the tūpāpaku (corpse) for several days. Urupā (cemeteries) are extremely tapu (sacred).

When a baby is born, Māori traditionally bury the whenua (placenta) on land associated with one or both of the parents. Some Pākehā also now follow this custom.

Māori social customs today

Some customs have been adapted to non-traditional situations. For instance, many marae in cities or outside New Zealand are multi-tribal, so tribal traditions have to be adapted. Māori ceremonies are also used in non-Māori settings, such as the opening of the Te Māori exhibition in New York in 1984.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Māori manners and social behaviour – Ngā mahi tika', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 September 2013