New Zealand is a bi-cultural society. The Maori, who make up 9% of the population, are ‘lumped together’, but actually come from different tribes throughout New Zealand, all with their own identity. Maori place a special emphasis on extended family (whanau), with the elders retaining the respect of the younger members. A trip to a Marae (meeting house) will start to give you an insight into their culture, but there is much to learn.
They are, for the most part, a sharing, spiritual race, who look after each other, although there are those who have become separated from their culture and extended families. The level of prison inmates among the Maori community is disproportionately high, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that the system has let them down in the past.
In the 1940s the Maori language and culture was banned from all schools and a whole generation suffered. Not surprisingly Maori are, on the whole, not as well educated as the Pakeha (white Europeans). As a result many are either unemployed or in low paid jobs.
There are many average New Zealanders who recognise that the Maori received a bad deal throughout history, particularly as the Treaty has not been honoured and yet others who feel that Maori are wrong to try to invoke the Treaty in modern times.
Certainly many New Zealanders feel a sense of guilt at the way Maori were treated, whilst others feel they are enjoying unfair advantages.
The Treaty is firmly entrenched into New Zealand history and is a very sensitive subject. Until you have lived in the country for a little while and have gained an understanding of the Treaty and its implications, it might be prudent to keep your opinions to yourself.
The Maori language and culture is making quite a come-back in recent times. There appears to be a genuine desire to help rebuild what was snatched away. In an attempt to redress the wrongs of the past, Maori are at times given advantages in the way of grants, scholarships and opportunities that are not available to Pakeha.
Now that New Zealand is recognised as a bi-cultural society, the Maori culture is intertwined into many official functions, and in particular the welcome of special overseas visitors.
The recent State Opening of Parliament (very similar to the UK with “Black Rod” knocking at the door of the House) was also represented by Maori, with their special chanting and dancing. With the pomp and ceremony of “Old England” and the bare footed Maori warriors in grass skirts, it would be difficult to find two cultures that could be further apart!
Like England, New Zealand is home for many different cultures. Thousands of Samoans and Cook Islanders, who originate from a group of islands in the Pacific, live in New Zealand. The Dutch have had a large presence, dating back many years. There has been quite an influx of South Africans and Asian immigrants, particularly Japanese and Korean are growing in numbers daily. The Chinese have lived here for numerous years and Indians, Russians, Egyptians and Ukrainians have all made their homes here.