The culture of New Zealand is largely inherited from British, Oceanian and European customs, interwoven with Maori and Polynesian tradition. An isolated Pacific Island nation, New Zealand was comparatively recently settled by humans. Initially Māori only, then bicultural with colonial and rural values, now New Zealand has a cosmopolitan, multicultural culture that reflects its changing demographics, is conscious of the natural environment, and is an educated, developed Western society.
Māori culture has predominated for most of New Zealand’s history of human habitation. Polynesians reached the islands of New Zealand about 1280. Over the ensuing centuries of Polynesian expansion and settlement, Māori culture developed from its Polynesian roots. Māori established separate tribes, built fortified villages (Pā), hunted and fished, traded commodities, developed agriculture, arts and weaponry, and kept a detailed oral history. Regular European contact began from 1800, and British immigration proceeded rapidly, especially from 1855.
The colonists had a dramatic effect on the Maori, bringing Christianity, advanced technology, the English language, numeracy and literacy. In 1840 Māori leaders signed the Treaty of Waitangi, intended to enable the tribes to live peacefully with the colonists. However, after several incidents, the New Zealand land wars broke out from 1845, with Māori suffering a loss of land, partly through confiscation, but mainly through widespread and extensive land sales. Maori retained their identity, mostly choosing to live separately from settlers and continuing to speak and write Maori. With mass migration from Britain, a high Maori death rate and low life expectancy for Maori women, Maori population figure dropped between 1850 and 1930. Work by demographer I. Poole shows the drop may not have been as great as previously believed as most Maori did not register birth until a child benefit was paid by the 1931 Labour Government. From about 1860 Maori became the minority race in New Zealand. Māori culture has regained much of its lost influence as Maori have integrated into New Zealand society.
European New Zealanders (Pākehā), despite their location far from Europe, retained strong cultural ties to “Mother England”. These ties were weakened by the demise of the British Empire and loss of special access to British meat and dairy markets. Pākehā began to forge a separate identity influenced by their pioneering history, a rural lifestyle and New Zealand’s unique environment. Pākehā culture became prevalent after the land wars, but after sustained political efforts, biculturalism and the Treaty of Waitangi became part of the school curriculum in the late 20th century, to promote understanding between Māori and Pākehā.
More recently, New Zealand culture has been broadened by globalization and immigration from the Pacific Islands, East Asia and South Asia. European and Māori remain the two largest ethnicities, but the large Polynesian population in Auckland has prompted the observation that Auckland is now the largest Polynesian city in the world. However, the country outside of Auckland is still much less heterogeneous, with big parts of the South Island remaining predominantly of European descent.
New Zealand marks two national days of remembrance, Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day, and also celebrates holidays during or close to the anniversaries of the founding dates of each province. New Zealand has two national anthems of equal status; “God Save the Queen” and “God Defend New Zealand”—the latter of which is often sung with alternating Māori and English verses. Many citizens prefer to minimise ethnic divisions, simply calling themselves New Zealanders or Kiwis.
The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand (Aotearoa) who first arrived In New Zealand about 1280. They arrived from Eastern Polynesia, most likely the Society Islands. In 2014 demographers believe about 100-200 Polynesians migrants arrived at a similar time. Māori settled the islands and developed a distinct culture over several hundred years.
Maori oral history tells of a long voyage from Hawaiki (the mythical homeland in tropical Polynesia) in large ocean-going canoes (waka). Māori mythology is a distinctive corpus of gods and heroes, sharing some Polynesian motifs. Some notable figures are Rangi and Papa, Māui, and Kupe.
Pākehā culture (usually synonymous with New Zealand European) derives mainly from that of the British, particularly English settlers who colonised New Zealand in the nineteenth century. Although it is recognisably related to British culture, it has always had distinct differences, and these have increased over time. Things which distinguish Pākehā culture from British culture include higher levels of egalitarianism and the idea that most people can do most things if they put their minds to it. Within Pākehā culture are sub-cultures derived from Irish, Italian and other European groups, as well as various non-ethnic subcultures.
Cultural borrowing and adaptation
Since the arrival of Europeans, Māori have been receptive adopters of most aspects of Pākehā culture. From the 1830s many Māori nominally converted to Christianity and in the process learned to read and write, by the late nineteenth century New Zealand when formal schooling finished for most at 12, Māori were as likely to be literate as Pākehā. A number of religions, such as Pai Marire and Ringatu, arose in the nineteenth century, blending Māori tradition and Christianity.
Similarly Māori traditional chants were put to Victorian music, or written to European tunes, European designs and metal tools adopted by carvers, altering their style and British fabrics and cloth, such as blanketing adopted to form new dress. The horse was adopted, particularly on the East coast. European tools and particularly weapons were frequently decorated with traditional motifs, for example wooden musket and rifle stocks acquired elaborate carving. From the 1820s Maori began building vessels in the European boat building tradition. Many of these activities were conducted in collaboration with Pakeha traders and settlers.
New Zealand has three official languages: New Zealand English, Te Reo Māori (the Māori language), and New Zealand Sign Language. In practice only English is widely used although major efforts have been made in recent years to nurture Te Reo. Numerous other languages are spoken in New Zealand due to its high racial diversity as a country.
New Zealand English
New Zealand English is close to Australian English in pronunciation, but has several differences often overlooked by people from outside these countries. The most obvious difference is in vowel pronunciation. The Australian i-sound is like the New Zealand e, and the New Zealand i like the Australian u. New Zealand vowels in general are softer in phonetic terms. Some of these differences show New Zealand English to have more affinity with the English of southern England than Australian English does. Several of the differences also show the influence of Māori speech. The most striking difference from Australian and other forms of English (although shared partly with South African English) is the flattened i of New Zealand English. The New Zealand accent also has some Scottish and Irish influences from the large number of settlers from those places during the 19th century. At the time of the 2006 census, English was spoken by 3,673,623 people: 91.2% of the total population.[better source needed]
New Zealand has two ‘high cultural’ traditions: Māori and Western. However most cultural material consumed in New Zealand is imported from overseas, particularly from Britain and the United States. Because of this and New Zealand’s small population, most New Zealand artists, performers and writers struggle to make a living from their art. Some funding for the arts is provided through a specific arts based government department, Creative New Zealand. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage are national bodies that assist with heritage preservation. Most towns and cities have museums and often art galleries, and the national museum and art gallery is Te Papa (‘Our Place’), in Wellington.
Popular New Zealand music has been influenced by blues, jazz, country, rock and roll and hip hop, with many of these genres given a unique New Zealand interpretation. Hip-hop is popular and there are small but thriving live music, dance party and indie music scenes. Reggae is also popular within some communities, with bands such as The Herbs, Katchafire, 1814, House Of Shem, Unity Pacific all reflecting their roots, perspectives and cultural pride and heritage through their music.
A number of popular artists have gone on to achieve international success including Lorde,Split Enz, Crowded House, OMC, Bic Runga, Kimbra, Ladyhawke, The Naked and Famous, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Savage, Flight of the Conchords, and Brooke Fraser.
New Zealand’s most successful early writers were expatriates such as Katherine Mansfield. From the 1950s, Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame and others had (non lucrative) writing careers while still living in New Zealand. Until about the 1980s, the main New Zealand literary form was the short story, but in recent decades novels such as Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors, Elizabeth Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck and others have achieved critical and popular success. Māori culture is traditionally oral rather than literate, but in recent years Māori novelists such as Duff, Witi Ihimaera and Keri Hulme and poets such as Hone Tuwhare have shown their mastery of European-originated forms. Austin Mitchell wrote two “Pavlova Paradise” books about New Zealand. Barry Crump was a popular author who embodied and expounded the myth of the Kiwi larrikin and multi-skilled labourer. Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick are well-known poets. James K Baxter was an eccentric but admired author. Maurice Gee is also a household name for his novels about New Zealand life.
Pre-Colonial native Māori religion was polytheistic. One of its major features was tapu (sacred and/or forbidden), which was used to maintain the status of chiefs and tohunga (priests) and also for purposes such as conserving resources. Some of the earliest European settlers in New Zealand were Christian missionaries, mostly from the Church of England but also from Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. From the 1830s onwards, large numbers of Māori converted. Throughout the nineteenth century a number of movements emerged which blended traditional Māori beliefs with Christianity. These included Pai Marire, Ringatu, and in the early twentieth century, Ratana. They typically centred on a prophet-leader. These churches continue to attract many followers; according to the 2006 census, 50,565 people are Ratana believers, and another 16,419 are Ringatu. 1,689 people stated that they followed Māori religion. Many Māori members of mainstream churches, and those with no particular religion, continue to believe in tapu, particularly where the dead are concerned, although not to the same extent as their ancestors.
Because New Zealanders often have to relocate to achieve worldwide fame and fortune, New Zealanders are keen to claim famous people as being New Zealanders, however short their residency in New Zealand might have been. While people born in New Zealand are certainly identified as New Zealanders, those who attended a New Zealand school or resided in New Zealand also qualify, irrespective of national origin. This sometimes leads to famous people and innovations being identified as coming from both New Zealand and another country—such as the pop group Crowded House, the race horse Phar Lap and the actor Russell Crowe, all of whom have been associated with Australia and New Zealand.
Māori cuisine was historically derived from that of tropical Polynesia, adapted for New Zealand’s colder climate. Key ingredients included kūmara (sweet potato), fern root, taro, birds and fish. Food was cooked in hāngi (earth ovens) and roasted, and in geothermal areas was boiled or steamed using natural hot springs and pools. Various means of preserving birds and other foods were also employed. Māori were one of the few peoples to have no form of alcoholic beverage.
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