Story: Māori

Page 5. Urbanisation and renaissance

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Following the Second World War, many Māori moved from their tribal and rural communities to find work in the bigger centres. While some Māori attempted to bring traditional institutions into the cities – by establishing urban marae for example, urbanisation brought major change to the Māori world. Older tribal structures lost influence, and urban-based Māori became involved in western institutions.

Apirana Ngata left Parliament in 1943 and died in 1950, and a new breed of leaders emerged in the context of the rapidly urbanised Māori communities.

The rise of modern protest

During the late 1960s there was a growing awareness of the impact of colonisation on Māori, and urban Māori protest movements such as Ngā Tamatoa (the young warriors) emerged. This and other groups of mainly urban Māori spearheaded protest, in the 1970s, about loss of land and culture. In 1975, led by Dame Whina Cooper, Māori from all over the country walked the length of the North Island, from Te Hāpua to the nation’s capital, Wellington. In a powerful and innovative way the land march embodied Māori protest over ongoing land alienation. Political activism continued at Waitangi, and in 1977–78 the Ngāti Whātua people occupied Bastion Point above Ōkahu Bay in Auckland. The tribe had been evicted from the bay in 1951, after continuing alienation of their land by the Crown from 1870.

The Waitangi Tribunal, designed to address perceived breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, was established in 1975. The tribunal became a forum for the expression of much Māori protest and anger over the impact of European colonisation. Its findings have led to settlements which have returned some assets to tribes.


The Māori renaissance since 1970 has been a remarkable phenomenon. Major claims regarding the historical dispossession of tribal estates have been brought before the Waitangi Tribunal; the management of tribal and Māori-owned assets has been rearranged; a Māori-language education system has been established; and Māori have started major industry initiatives including fishing, aquaculture and farming.

There is now a wide range of Māori-owned media, businesses and tourist ventures. Additionally, there is significant political representation, and an increasing number of individuals are gaining international reputations for their achievements. Today, Māori people can be found in a wide array of pursuits and activities throughout the country and the world.

The challenge of the 21st century

Numerous challenges lie before Māori. These include the incidence of certain diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers. Although more Māori are becoming educated, literacy rates are still a cause for concern, housing is poor in certain areas of the country, and unemployment rates have been consistently higher than for Pākehā. The state of the Māori language and the application of Māori cultural knowledge in modern New Zealand life are still debated. Finally, there is the question of the identity of Māori as a distinct people in an increasingly diverse yet integrated society.

Māori now represent a major and influential dimension within New Zealand’s society and culture. While a great deal has been written about the negative effects of colonisation upon Māori, at times Māori have exhibited great inventiveness, ingenuity and resourcefulness, sometimes in very hostile circumstances. Historians have praised 19th-century design as innovative and effective. The Polynesians’ creation of ocean-going craft able to cross vast distances is an iconic event in world history.

The art of adaptation

Māori were very quick to draw on elements of European culture to enrich their art. In the 19th century, carvers rapidly replaced their stone tools with metal chisels, while women introduced dyed wool into their weaving. More recently carvers such as Cliff Whiting have carved in particle board, artists have used oils, glass and metal, and Māori have made the guitar central to their music.

For the last 200 years Māori have adapted western techniques and new media to the ongoing and highly creative development of their art. The contemporary restructuring of the Māori world – the establishment of new institutions and organisations, the prosecution of claims before the Waitangi Tribunal, and the achievement of increased political representation and influence – demonstrates a continuing ability to change, transform and grow.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Māori - Urbanisation and renaissance', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 8 Feb 2005