Way of Life

Karawhiua! Give it a Go!

The Māori language - Te Reo Māori - is only spoken in Aotearoa New Zealand and its use in everyday life by locals and visitors is encouraged.

If you know even more words or phrases, you'll have a better understanding of our culture - and Māori people will love you for it!

Find more words and phrases you may come across, what they mean, and where you can go to find out more.

What to know

Māori Language

The Māori Language Commission promotes and fosters the use of Māori as a living language.

Te Reo Māori is one of the three official languages of New Zealand. The other two are English and New Zealand Sign Language.

Try its resources for a pronunciation guide and to learn helpful words and phrases - Learning Te Reo Māori.

Māori Music and Performing Arts

Māori song, dance and music were important ways of celebrating, retaining and transmitting the life, customs and history of Māori.

Traditionally there was a song (waiata) for every occasion and many are still sung today. Modern compositions often reflect the issues of the day.

Musical instruments (taonga puoro) were part of many rituals and were also played to entertain. Many drew on the sounds of nature and were made from gourds, bone, shell, stone and wood.

The haka is a traditional dance made famous by our national rugby team, the All Blacks. But haka includes a wide range of dance styles, including many performed by women. A haka could entertain, criticise or praise someone, welcome guests, celebrate important ceremonies, honour ancestors or the dead, and teach traditions. 

Kapa Haka is a modern term for a team (kapa) that performs traditional and contemporary Māori dances such as the haka. Their repertoire includes poi, haka, and other activities performed by cultural groups or individuals, and can take place in formal or informal settings, on marae, at schools, or at Kapa Haka festivals.



A Māori community's hub is its marae, where Māori retain their tribal history and stories, genealogy, customs and traditions.

These days some marae are also based in non-traditional settings such as hospitals, schools and universities. Even Auckland International Airport has a marae!

Tips when visiting a marae:

  • Smoking during the powhiri (welcome) and inside marae buildings is not allowed.
  • Avoid walking in front of the speakers.
  • In the wharekai (dining hall) do not sit on tables or kitchen benches as these surfaces are for food.
  • Greet your hosts with 'Kia ora!'


The powhiri is a traditional ceremony of welcome for visitors.

Tangata Whenua are the hosts or local people who belong to the marae. Visitors are manuhiri.

The wero or ritual challenge occurs when important visitors are being welcomed. A warrior will lay a small token before a visitor to test whether a visitor is a friend or foe.

The karanga or call of welcome is given by a woman from the host side and she will be responded to by a karanga from the manuhiri. This exchange welcomes visitors, identifies them and their purpose, and acknowledges the dead.

Visitors walk slowly onto the marae during the karanga. After standing briefly as a mark of respect, visitors can take their seat. Men occupy seats in front and women are seated behind them.

Formal speeches or whaikōrero are then made by the hosts and visitors. Each speech is supported by a song (waiata) that is usually appropriate to the speech or occasion.

After the speeches, the visitors usually present a gift or koha to their hosts. This is then followed by visitors greeting their hosts with a handshake and hongi, a Māori custom of pressing noses.

To cap off formal proceedings, food (kai) is shared, in keeping with Māori hospitality.

Spiritual Concepts

The Māori natural world teemed with gods and supernatural beings and this was the centre of Māori religion. Māori believed the natural and supernatural words were one.

Priests (Tohunga) directed rituals, protected people from spiritual forces and were healers of both physical and spiritual ailments. From 1814, when the first Anglican missionaries came to New Zealand, many Māori became converts to various Christian denominations. As Christianity took hold, prophets combined Māori and Christian traditions.

Today it is quite common for Māori to offer a prayer (karakia) prior to any task, to acknowledge God, the spiritual world of our ancestors, to begin and end gatherings, to avert trouble, to bless meals, and to give thanks.

The welcome ceremony on a marae (powhiri) acknowledges the spirits of our ancestors and those who have recently passed away, as part of this ritual.

Waiata (Songs)

Waiata (song) is a medium through which sacred and traditional knowledge is passed from one person to another, or from one generation to another.

Waiata is one of the principle methods of teaching and learning in the school of sacred knowledge (kura wānanga). It is a way of disseminating prized knowledge. 

There are many types of waiata some of which are songs of lament, epic songs, lullabies and love songs.

The waiata was intended to instill important ideas and messages about the lives of their ancestors. Such messages contained information on genealogy and family relationships, special relationships, special incantations and beliefs concerning the gods. They often recall famous people and memorable events in the life of the tribe. 

Each tribe has its own extensive repertoire for all kind of situations and occasions. 


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