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Maori Art and Culture

Maori Art and Culture

Gushing waters, steaming vents, boiling mud pools, spectacular geysers and traditional Maori culture breathes at the Te Puia Cultural Centre in New Zealand, a place of powerful energies and Maori beauty.

The East Polynesian ancestors of the Maori were hunters, fishers, and gardeners. After arriving in New Zealand, sometime before 1300AD, Maori had to rapidly adapt their material culture and agricultural practices to suit the climate of their new land – cold and harsh in comparison to tropical island Polynesia. Over several centuries in isolation, the Māori developed a distinct society featuring a rich mythology, a separate language, distinctive crafts and performing arts, and a tribal society with a prominent warrior culture. The Maori culture forms a distinctive part of New Zealand culture and vice versa.

In the Maori language the word maori means “normal” or “natural”. In legends and oral traditions, the word distinguished ordinary mortal human beings from deities and spirits. Māori people often use the term tangata whenua (literally, “people of the land”) to describe themselves in a way that emphasises their relationship with a particular area of land.

Weaving, carving and performing arts are among the Maori art forms. Maori carving and weaving taught at the Te Puia Culturual Centre in carry on the ancient traditions. In some respects, carving is the written record of the Maori people who traditionaly knew nothing of writing. Carvings preserve much of the history and culture of Māori.

Maori carvings often contain spirals and sea shells. Maori spirals are almost always double, though single spirals are occasionally seen carved on stone objects. There is a theory that the spiral has evolved from interlocking manaia, a mythological bird-headed creature. It is sometimes assumed that every cut in a piece of Maori carving must have a meaning, but in fact probably much of it is purely decorative. It is important to note that the figures in Maori carving, with very rare exceptions, are not religious, but secular. They do not represent idols, but rather renowned ancestors of the tribe. Maori wood carving was often high-lighted with red ochre as a symbolic reference to the birth of the Earth.

Maori performance art, kappa haka, is one the most entertaining forms of storytelling. Posture dance, song and rhythmic movements of the poi (a light ball on a string), action songs and traditional chants tell the ancient and recent history and stories of the Maori people.

Learn more about the Maori people on your Celtic Tours 21 Day Royal Escorted tour of New Zealand and Australia!

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