Māori culture is a distinctive part of New Zealand culture. It was primarily observed only in Māori society and social gatherings with significant Māori aspect, but with the growth of tourism and exposure of haka to international audiences on TV and at sporting competitions, Māori culture is increasingly seen as fundamental to New Zealand culture.
Many Māori cultural events traditionally take place on a marae, an area of land where the Wharenui or meeting house (literally "big house") sits. However, such a venue, though traditional, is not essential and any place appropriate to the occasion can be used. Generally the Māori language is spoken, though translations and explanations are provided when the primary participants are not Māori speakers.
Significant Māori cultural events or activities include:
- The haka - an action chant, often described as a "War Dance", but more a chant with hand gestures and foot stamping, originally performed by Warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess and generally abusing the opposition. Now regularly performed by New Zealand representative Rugby and Rugby League teams before a game begins. There are many different haka.
- Kapa haka groups often come together to practice and perform cultural items such as waiata or songs, especially action songs, and haka for entertainment. Poi dances may also form part of the repertoire. Traditional instruments sometime accompany the group, though the guitar is also commonly used. Many New Zealand schools now teach kapa haka as part of the Māori studies curriculum. Today, national kapa haka competitions are held where groups are judged to find the best performers; these draw large crowds.
- The Powhiri or Māori welcome, where distinguished visitors are welcomed onto the Marae, or other place. The ceremony generally includes an aggressive challenge dance by a Māori warrior armed with a taiaha or traditional spear, who then offers a token of peace, such as a fern frond, to the leader of the visiting delegation. Acceptance of the token in the face of such aggression is a demonstration of the courage and mana (honour) of the visitor. Following the challenge there may be speeches of introduction, as well as karakia or prayers and the singing of waiata or songs.
- Tangihanga or funeral rites may take 2 or 3 days and include a lying-in-state where the whole whanau, or family, hold an all night vigil, with the deceased in an open coffin, to farewell them, before a church or marae funeral service and/or graveside interment ceremony. It is traditional for mourners to wash their hands in running water and sprinkle some on their heads before leaving the cemetery. After the burial rites are completed, a meal is traditionally served. Mourners are expected to provide koha or gifts towards the meal.
- Koha are gifts, generally in kind and often of food or traditional items, though equivalent monetary donations are also called and accepted as koha in many circumstances.
Māori have an number of cultural concepts that have been taken up into the predominant New Zealand culture.
- Whanau or extended family, this includes any relative, no matter how distant. The whole whanau are responsible for raising the children, not just the parents. The concept has more to do with social relationship and friendship than genetics and bloodlines, and is often difficult for pakeha or non-Maori to properly comprehend. The concept is similar to the clans of Scotland. While the Whanau is the smallest social unit, Hapu or village or settlement and iwi or tribe are larger subdivisions.
- Tapu, sometimes translated as sacredness or holiness. Things or places that are tapu should not be interfered with.
- Meeting, with discussion and debate where all viewpoints are heard and considered before a decision is made.
- Apart from place names, many Māori words have also been taken up into New Zealand English language.
The best known dramatic work that features the Māori culture is the acclaimed film, Whale Rider.
The movie Once Were Warriors also gained international acclaim with its depiction of modern urban Maori and a potent message about domestic violence.