Story: Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism

Page 3. Preserving culture

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Māori art and performance have been key features of the Māori tourist industry – so tourism has played a role in the retention of Māori culture and language, especially around Rotorua.


Many tourists who travelled to thermal areas wanted an ‘authentic experience’, which meant having carved buildings as a backdrop for Māori ‘at home’. Te Arawa, particularly Ngāti Tarāwhai, were renowned carvers. A number of meeting houses were carved specifically for the tourist market.

From 1902 the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts employed prominent carvers, including Tene Waitere and Ānaha Te Rāhui, at £5 a week to carve the new model in Rotorua.

In 1927 a carving school was established in Rotorua under the Maori Arts and Crafts Act 1926, championed by the MP Apirana Ngata.

Maori Arts and Crafts Institute

The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute was established by a 1963 act of Parliament on the site of the model pā. Run by a board rather than the government or private enterprise, the institute’s relationship with the adjacent Whakarewarewa village was not always smooth. A carving school was added in 1967, led by master carver Hōne Taiapa. Visitors were able to see carvers in action and buy examples of their work. The school also trained weavers.

Cultural maintenance

On the effects of tourism, Tainui leader Robert Mahuta commented: ‘Perhaps one might say that what isolation did for Tuhoe and Kingitanga did for Tainui, tourism did for Te Arawa. That is to say, it helped maintain language and culture because tourists wanted the differences demonstrated.’1


From the early 1900s kapa haka concert parties – including those led by Guide Maggie Papakura – began touring overseas.

The first national kapa haka competitions were held in 1972 in Rotorua. In the early 2000s two of the top national kapa haka teams, Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Te Matarae i O Rehu, were from Te Arawa. Kapa haka continued to be performed for tourists at venues such as Te Puia in Rotorua and Wairākei Terraces near Taupō, as well as Ko Tāne in Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, Christchurch.


While tourism helped foster Māori arts and crafts, it also raised issues of authenticity. Plastic tiki, Māori dolls in traditional costume and Māori-themed tablecloths and tea towels are all examples of ‘Maoriana’ sold to tourists. Māori carvings and weaving have been mass-produced for the tourist market. A 1994 meeting of the Aotearoa Maori Tourism Federation raised concerns about the machine mass-production of tiki and tekoteko (carved figures) – some were culturally offensive and all appropriated Māori cultural property.

  1. R. T. Mahuta, Tourism and culture: the Maaori case. Hamilton: Centre for Maaori Studies and Research, 1987, p. 5. Back
How to cite this page:

Paul Diamond, 'Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism - Preserving culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 May 2024)

Story by Paul Diamond, published 11 Mar 2010