Tribal costume is only worn on special occasions, facial tattoos are fairly rare and you’ll probably only see a haka performed at a rugby match or cultural show. In fact, Maori live very much in the modern world. But peel back the veneer of the song-dance-and-hangi performance and you’ll discover a parallel world that non-Maori are only dimly aware of.

Knowledge of whakapapa (tribal lineage) is central to Maori identity. Spirituality connects Maori to their traditional local mountain or river, while oratory, and the ability to produce a song at a moment’s notice, are both highly valued. All New Zealanders understand mana, a synthesis of prestige, charisma and influence, which is enhanced through brave or compassionate actions.

Sadly, the Maori community is riven by social problems: average incomes are lower than those of Pakeha; almost half of all prison inmates are Maori; and health statistics make appalling reading.

Hope for redress comes through a bicultural approach stressing equality and integration while allowing for parallel identities.

 

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