10 October 2019

Learning About Māori Culture | Study With New Zealand

Emily Watkins
US Study Abroad student
Taylor Lindsey
US Study Abroad student
Samantha Ross
US Study Abroad student

Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and make up around 14% of the population. Their history, language, and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity.

Students can learn about Māori culture while studying in New Zealand. Here some international students share their experiences.

Learning a kapa haka

I was very eager to learn more about Māori culture and history while I spent time in New Zealand.

Some of my best experiences learning all things Māori was due to a club started by two undergraduate Māori students I met within my first few weeks of university. They created the club to help introduce international students to their culture, and they held weekly meetings with us to teach us different things.

I learnt so many things about the history of the culture, the language, kapa haka, and their traditions. My favourite part of my time with these two lovely women was when they organised an evening where we learnt a kapa haka* from the family of one of the leaders, and participated in a hāngi**, their traditional meal, with everyone afterwards.

It really was an amazing, welcoming experience! I still have so much to learn, but I feel very welcome in their world now, and learning a kapa haka was really cool!

*Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka).

**Hāngi is a traditional Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven.

Emily Watkins is a US study abroad student studying political science, government & international relations at Victoria University in Wellington

Connection with the environment

We spent a lot of time learning about Māori culture. Through our programme, we were able to spend a lot of time on maraes. This included attending a ceremony on Waitangi Day, attending a Poukai**, and spending a week at a marae in Kaikoura.

The best part of these experiences was learning about the culture first-hand. We learnt about connections between Māori culture and the environment, and how their harvesting practices can be sustainable. I enjoyed learning about the spiritual connection the Māori have for the environment.

We learnt a few waiata (Māori songs) and presented research projects on our local marae in Kaiaua. We were so privileged to be able to spend time with Māori in New Zealand and to be welcomed into their community. I learnt so much from them about equity and ownership, and about learning about new cultures with a receptive mind.  

* A marae (meeting grounds) is the focal point of Māori communities throughout New Zealand. A marae is a fenced-in complex of carved buildings and grounds that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapū (subtribe) or whānau (family).

**Poukai is an annual gathering discussing issues pertaining to the marae first, and then the wider issues affecting the Māori community.

Taylor Lindsey is a US study abroad student studying at Ecoquest in Kaiaua, near Auckland

Weaving with harakeke

Learning about the Māori culture and history was very interesting to me. As part of one of my studio classes, Textiles, I got to spend the night on a marae. My class did the traditional welcome and then spent the next two days discussing Māori history through weavings, musical instruments, and song.

Spending this time on a marae with Māori was life-changing. After the experience, I went on to produce a wearable cuff made out of harakeke (New Zealand flax). I learnt the traditional and ritualistic way to cut and take care of the plant while working on my project. Having this connection with a culture was not only incredibly eye-opening but also fun.

Samantha Ross is a US study abroad student studying fine arts with a photography major at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin

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About the contributors
Emily Watkins
US Study Abroad student

Emily Watkins, from the United States, studied political science, government and international relations at Victoria University in Wellington.

Taylor Lindsey
US Study Abroad student

Taylor studied at Ecoquest in Kaiaua, near Auckland. Taylor won an Education New Zealand Travel Award.

Samantha Ross
US Study Abroad student

Samantha studied fine arts with a photography major at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin. Samantha won a GSAITPEA scholarship.