Maori Culture & Mythology

A Touch of New Zealand
To New Zealand Index    

Amo - front side panels supporting the bargeboards (maihi) of a house
Ariki - paramount chief
Aotearoa - Land of The Long White Cloud, a Maori name for New Zealand. Its origin is attributed to Hine-te-aparangi.
Feather Cloak (kahu huruhuru) - Of all the traditional garments of the Maori, it is the feather cloak which is the most highly prized as a family and personal heirloom. The base of the cloak was made from flax fibre (muka) which had been washed, bleached to almost white and softened. The fibres would then be rolled together until a long yarn was formed, which was then woven into the large rectangle, shaped at the shoulders and hips. Onto this was fastened the feathers, the most prized ones being those of the huia and kiwi ( especially the rare white albino kiwi). Sometimes the cloak would be fringed with taniko or white kiwi feathers. Less prized but certainly more colourful cloaks were made from the feathers of the wood pigeon (white from breast and green from back), kaka or native parrot(red) and tui (blue-black).
 kaupapa foundation, body or main surface of a cloak  korowai cloak ornamented with black rolled cords
 mahiti very fine cloak with tassels of fur from a kuri's (Polynesian dog introduced to NZ) tail
 ngore cloak decorated with pompoms
 paepaeroa kaitaka cloak with vertical wefts
 paheke cloak ornamentation of rolling coloured cords
 patea kaitaka cloak with wide taniko border along the bottom and narrower ones on each side
Harakeke - New Zealand flax Phormium tenax plant was most used for Maori fibre work
Hei-tiki - Hei - from the neck or neck pendant         tiki - human form
The typical hei-tiki has a large, angled rounded or pointed head, usually just slightly less then half of the total length and with the mouth on either the left or right side. The eyes were often inset with paua shell (Haliotis iris) but later, after arrival of Europeans, red sealing wax was used. Usually, the remainder of the body featured a relatively large abdomen and the legs in a squatting position, with the heels together and both hands resting on the thighs.
Heru - comb
Hinau - tree, Elaeocarpus dentatus. The bark was/is used to 'fix' the black mud dye used on flax and kiekie
Hoeroa - long, slightly curved, staff or club of whalebone
Hongi - Maori form of greeting, involving pressing (not rubbing) of noses.
Hui - a special gathering of Maori people normally on a marae. There are defined behaviour codes and rituals
Iwi - Maori tribe, the largest social group within Maoridom. Iwi were divided into hapu (sub-tribe), which in turn are made up of whanau (households).
Kahu huruhuru - feather cloak
Kai - food
Kainga - village, settlement
Kaumatua - The patriarchal head of household, elder
Kanono - small tree Coprosma grandifolia , the bark of which is used to produce yellow dye.
Karakia - chant or prayer
Kete - basket or bag, plaited from strips of flax or other material
 Kete muka, basket or bag, woven of flax or other material
 Kete whakairo, basket with decorative pattern
Kiekie - climbing plant Freycinetia baueriana used cloak, mat and basketmaking
Kiwi Apterygidae - are the most primitive birds found in New Zealand. There are 3 species of this flightless bird; brown, littled spotted and great spotted.
Koruru - the carved face at the apex of bargeboards of a house
Kotiate - figure of '8' shaped short club
Kumara Ipomoea batatas - a sweet potato which was a major food crop of the pre-European Maori. It is grown here successfully only on north-facing gardens in very warm climate.
Maihi - bargeboard of a house
Marae - the open space in front of a meeting house. Behaviour on the marae is governed by strict protocol.
Mere - one of three types of patu (short club), the mere being the simplest form, shaped like a short paddle and broad and flat at the striking end and with a maximum of two or three grooves on the handle end which also had a hole to allow a wrist-cord to be attached. Due to its hardness, the greenstone mere was always ground much more thinly than those of whalebone or stone and when held against the light, the thin edges have a translucent glow, making a beautiful and also fearsome weapon. Of all the short weapons made of wood stone or bone, the mere pounamu was held in the highest regard. Ancient mere were often carved from the prized inanga variety of jade.
Moko - Maori tattoo applied with a special chisel called a uhi.
Pa - pre-European Maori word for a fortified village. The word is used nowdays for any settlement or village.
Papa - Maori word for earth floor. Also represents the wife of Rangi and mother of mankind.
Pare - top horizontal panel over a door or window
Pataka - Raised storehouse
Patu - any type of short club (mere, meremere, kotiate). All had in common a wide striking end with sharpened edges and a rounded portion for holding in the hand, which was pierced and threaded with a thong for attaching around the wrist.
Piupiu - is the only item of traditional Maori costume, which is still sometimes worn and made roughly to the same technique as in olden times. The making of the piupiu is incredibly time consuming and complex. The piupiu has approximately 250 blades of flax, each one of which is treated by hand many times, from its marking, cutting with a mussel shell, stripping of green leaf through to the fibre, fixing, dyeing & drying and weaving of leaves together to form the kilt-like skirt.
Pokinikini - strips of flax leaf, with intervals of exposed inner fibre dyed black, which while drying, have rolled into cylinders.
Poutokomanawa - the interior central post of a house supporting the ridgepole.
Puhi - A young woman of hight birth.
Rangi - the father of 8 major gods. He represents the sky and in Maori mythology, is the founding father of mankind. Rangi and Papa were husband and wife, locked in an embrace. They were separated by their son Tanemahuta (god of the forest).
Rongo - Maori god of peace and agriculture, son of Rangi and Papa
Taiaha - often mistaken for a spear but it was never intended to be thrown. It was in reality a long club and was one of the main weapons of the Maori warrior. They were made from light, strong, dense-grained wood and ideally weighed no more than 1-2 lbs. The pointed end known as 'arero' or tongue was often carved and decorated. From there the shaft ran for some 5 to 6 ft, lessening in thickness and widening out to about 3 to 4 inches. The taiaha was weilded and carried with the blade uppermost.
Tane - Maori god of the forests. Is also a general word for male or husband.
Tangaroa - Maori god of the sea, one of the sons of Rangi and Papa.
Taniko - decorative Maori weaving technique.
Taniwha - a Maori word for a mythical monster or demon.
Tapu - sacred
Tekoteko - carved human-like figure on the gable of whare or figurehead of canoe. It is to be found on almost every marae and usually portrays a long-departed paramount chief.
Tewhatewha - long club with axe-like blade
Tohunga - Maori priest or gifted and very knowledgable person.
Tukutuku - decorative knotted latticework interior panels of a house, normally between poupou
Tu-matauenga - Maori god of war and son of Rangi and Papa.
Wahaika - short club with crescent-shaped blade
Wahine - Maori word for woman or wife
Waiata - Maori songs which are sung rather than chanted.
Waka - Maori word for canoe. Socially a group of tribes associated by common descent from ancestors who arrived in New Zealand in canoes.
Wakahuia - small carved container for valued items
Whakakai - long earrings
Whakapapa - genealogy, line of descent
Whare - Maori word for house. Most whare were small with a tiny door. As they were only considered as sleeping houses, they were rarely tall enough for a person to stand upright. They consisted of wooden frames and the walls and roof were of tightly woven dry grass and flax. The fireplace, in the middle enclosed by stones, was slept around. Most whare had a verandah.
Whatu - Twining technique used to weave Maori garments
Whenua - Land
Whiro - Maori god of evil and darkness, a son of Rangi and Papa