Embracing New Zealand’s indigenous culture
When you first come to New Zealand, it can be a bit of a cultural shock to say the least. Nowhere else is the indigenous population and their culture so closely connected with daily life like here.
From phrases such as ‘kia ora’, which means hello, to enjoying a hangi – a traditional meal that is cooked in the ground – Māori culture has a lot to offer. A key aspect of this is something called the Treaty of Waitangi or Tiriti o Waitangi. Here is what you should know about the Treaty before embracing Māori culture on your next adventure.
The Treaty of Waitangi – Tiriti o Waitangi
Building knowledge about New Zealand’s history starts at understanding that a key part of the country’s culture is the Treaty of Waitangi, or Tiriti o Waitangi.
As founding document, the treaty is an agreement that was made between more than 500 Māori rangatira (chiefs) and the British Crown. Signed on February 6 in 1840 at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, the treaty still impacts domestic law today.
The extensive land transactions between Māori and the early migrants – as well as the fact that the French showed interest in annexing Aotearoa New Zealand – led to the Europeans’ interest in the agreement. Putting the Treaty together took only a few days, it was translated into Māori overnight by missionary Henry Williams and his son and debated for a day by the Maori chiefs until February 6.
Unfortunately, the British negotiators downplayed the effects of British sovereignty over the chiefs’ own authority and emphasised the benefits instead. As such, the Māori were assured their status would only be strengthened through the agreement. The fact that two different versions of the Treaty exist – one in English and the other in Māori – makes matters complicated to this day as the wording is different in each.
To determine the meaning of the Treaty, the Waitangi Tribunal was created in 1975 to determine alleged breaches of the agreement by the Crown. Since then, more than 2,000 claims have been lodged, a number of which have already been settled.
One of the most recent settlements, for example, bestowed legal personhood upon the Whanganui River. That’s right – New Zealand has given a natural resource legal rights. It’s a unique way different world views are not only recognised but officially appreciated, something which the Treaty is instrumental to.
Experience the culture first hand
If you want to immerse yourself in the rich Māori culture on your days off, we can recommend going on a road trip to Rotorua! Known as a geothermal hotspot, you can visit impressive geysers, mud pools and even see traditional haka performances.
However, you don’t have to leave beautiful Auckland to experience the rich culture of New Zealand’s very first settlers. The Auckland Museum in the Domain takes you on a journey through Aotearoa New Zealand’s history with daily performances that are deemed one of the best in the country.
A great way to gain real insights into Māori culture of course is to visit a traditional sight such as the Ōrākei Marae, the hub of Auckland based tribe Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. You can even book guided tours to make the most of the local knowledge!
Making the most of your studies
When studying in New Zealand, you get a unique chance to experience Māori culture close up. We suggest you take this opportunity and explore some of the rich, cultural history the country has to offer.
A bit lost where to begin? Our team is more than happy to point you in the right direction and get amongst the colourful Māori heritage!