Late twentieth-century house-post depicting the navigator Kupe fighting two sea creatures
Early Māori adapted the tropically based east Polynesian culture in line with the challenges associated with a larger and more diverse environment, eventually developing their own distinctive culture. Social organisation was largely communal with families (whanau), sub-tribes (hapu) and tribes (iwi) ruled by a chief (rangatira) whose position was subject to the community’s approval. The British and Irish immigrants brought aspects of their own culture to New Zealand and also influenced Māori culture particularly with the introduction of Christianity. However, Māori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as a vital part of their identity, and Māori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples. More recently American, Australian, Asian and other European cultureshave exerted influence on New Zealand. Non-Māori Polynesian cultures are also apparent, with Pasifika, the world’s largest Polynesian festival, now an annual event in Auckland.
Two women in long flowing yellow skirts either side of a man in a short black skirt mid dance
Cook Islands dancers at Auckland’s Pasifika festival
The largely rural life in early New Zealand led to the image of New Zealanders being rugged, industrious problem solvers.Modesty was expected and enforced through the “tall poppy syndrome”, where high achievers received harsh criticism. At the time New Zealand was not known as an intellectual country. From the early 20th century until the late 1960s Māori culture was suppressed by the attempted assimilation of Māori into British New Zealanders. In the 1960s, as higher education became more available and cities expanded urban culture began to dominate. Even though the majority of the population now lives in cities, much of New Zealand’s art, literature, film and humour has rural themes.
Main article: New Zealand art
As part of the resurgence of Māori culture, the traditional crafts of carving and weaving are now more widely practised and Māori artists are increasing in number and influence. Most Māori carvings feature human figures, generally with three fingers and either a natural-looking, detailed head or a grotesque head. Surface patterns consisting of spirals, ridges, notches and fish scales decorate most carvings. The pre-eminent Māori architecture consisted of carved meeting houses (wharenui) decorated with symbolic carvings and illustrations. These buildings were originally designed to be constantly rebuilt, changing and adapting to different whims or needs.
Māori decorated the white wood of buildings, canoes and cenotaphs using red (a mixture of red ochre and shark fat) and black (made from soot) paint and painted pictures of birds, reptiles and other designs on cave walls. Māori tattoos (moko) consisting of coloured soot mixed with gum were cut into the flesh with a bone chisel. Since European arrival paintings and photographs have been dominated by landscapes, originally not as works of art but as factual portrayals of New Zealand. Portraits of Māori were also common, with early painters often portraying them as “noble savages”, exotic beauties or friendly natives. The country’s isolation delayed the influence of European artistic trends allowing local artists to developed their own distinctive style of regionalism. During the 1960s and 70s many artists combined traditional Māori and Western techniques, creating unique art forms. New Zealand art and craft has gradually achieved an international audience, with exhibitions in the Venice Biennale in 2001 and the “Paradise Now” exhibition in New York in 2004.
Refer to caption
Portrait of Hinepare ofNgāti Kahungunu by Gottfried Lindauer, showing chin moko,pounamu hei-tiki and woven cloak
Māori cloaks are made of fine flax fibre and patterned with black, red and white triangles, diamonds and other geometric shapes. Greenstone was fashioned into earrings and necklaces, with the most well-known design being the hei-tiki, a distorted human figure sitting cross-legged with its head tilted to the side. Europeans brought English fashion etiquette to New Zealand, and until the 1950s most people dressed up for social occasions. Standards have since relaxed and New Zealand fashion has received a reputation for being casual, practical and lacklustre. However, the local fashion industry has grown significantly since 2000, doubling exports and increasing from a handful to about 50 established labels, with some labels gaining international recognition.[