Within the Māori community, and to a lesser extent throughout New Zealand as a whole, the word Māoritanga is often used as an approximate synonym for Māori culture, the Māori suffix -tanga being roughly equivalent to the qualitative noun ending “-ness” in English. There have been three distinct but overlapping cultural eras—before widespread European contact, the 1800s in which Māori began interacting with European visitors and settlers, and the modern era since the beginning of the 20th century. Culture in the modern era has been shaped by increasing urbanisation, closer contact with New Zealanders of European descent (or Pākehā) and revival of traditional practices.
Traditional arts make up a large section of New Zealand art and include whakairo (carving), raranga (weaving), kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory), and tā moko (tattoo). Practitioners often follow the techniques of their ancestors, but today Māoritanga also includes contemporary arts such as film, television, poetryand theatre.
Pre-European Māori stories and legends were handed down orally and through weavings and carvings. Some surviving Te Toi Whakairo, or carving, is over 500-years-old. Tohunga Whakairo are the great carvers—the master craftsmen. The Māori believed that the gods created and communicated through the master craftsmen. Carving has been a tapu art, subject to the rules and laws of tapu. Pieces of wood that fell aside as the carver worked were never thrown away, neither were they used for the cooking of food. Women were not permitted near Te Toi Whakairo.
The Māori language is known natively as te reo Māori, or shortened to te reo (literally, the language). At the beginning of the twentieth century, it looked like te reo as well as other aspects of Māori life would disappear. In the 1980s however, government-sponsored schools taught te reo, educating those of European descent as well as Māori.
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