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  • Robyn Walford

Culture Shock: Māori and Indigenous Populations

I feel as though this is a particularly fascinating topic of study. Unless you happen to be in New Zealand or studying a course on indigenous populations, the likelihood is that you’ll know very little about te reo and Māori culture. You’d probably recognise the Haka if you’re a rugby fan – the traditional war dance that the All Blacks do at the start of games, and you may recognise a few words or ideas about pacific culture from the Disney film ‘Moana’, but there is so much more to this beautiful language and it deserves to be shared to a much wider audience.


In recognition of Te wiki o te reo Māori (Māori language week), my university hosted a form of activities to showcase and celebrate. Despite living here for a good few months now and being exposed to snippets of the language, I finally got to experience a full showcase of song and other traditional activities such as Poi – a form of dance performed by women that offers rhythmic patterns to accompany songs. The routines of song and dance were so mesmerising, despite having to ask my friends who understood the language what was being said every 35 seconds, I still thoroughly enjoyed it all. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to listen to music and enjoy it despite not really having a clue about what is being said! It takes a lot for someone to be able to captivate your attention if you aren’t fully aware of what’s going on and I was still able really appreciate the music and performance. I believe this says a lot about these sorts of songs – if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I highly recommend popping onto YouTube and searching for a traditional Māori song. Many of them are acoustic and upbeat and most are feel good songs that will definitely raise your mood even if you cannot understand a word without subtitles!

"There is so much more to this beautiful language and it deserves to be shared to a much wider audience."

To celebrate on a national level, an album of songs from top New Zealand bands were translated into te reo Māori titled 'Waiata/Anthems'. The album is an interesting way to learn a bit about pop culture in New Zealand whilst getting to practice your Māori. Killing two birds with one stone – nice. Artists such a ‘Six60’ and ‘Tami Neilson’ appear on the track list (go and have a look at these guys too!)


Aside from the transliteration of these pop songs, singing is hugely important to Māori culture, much of their traditional knowledge was passed down orally so singing was a particularly important method of keeping these stories alive and memorable. Also, after formal speeches and greetings, songs are sung as a sign of agreement and support of those who spoke. I have been lucky enough to stay on a marae and partake in a pōwhiri (a welcome ceremony) and despite being thrown in at the deep end, it was another experience to be fully immersed in the culture and experience the language. It is great that New Zealand has accepted the injustices of the past and has began to have a huge focus on the countries roots and Māori culture – it is so hard to keep this article focused on the music rather than a history article!


It is so important that there has been a revival of Māori language here in recent years as it is such a fundamental part of history and so different from anything I have experienced before. It forces you to remember that English settlers were not the first people here and our culture and language aren’t the only important things - you know our reputation as ‘Brits abroad’! Indigenous populations remain hugely important in today’s society and by encouraging collaboration between cultures, we can learn lots.

"New Zealand has accepted the injustices of the past and has began to have a huge focus on the countries roots and Māori culture."

Here's a performance from a Kapa Haka competition. It is rather long but even if you don’t watch the entire thing, I highly recommend having a quick look:


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