Main Features of Maori Society
The iwi (tribe) was the largest political unit within Maori society. However, the main unit was not the iwi but the hapu (sub-tribe), a localised group of approximately 500 people of common descent made up of several inter-related whanau (extended family groups).
The hapu was a fully free and independent grouping, a self-sufficient economic unit which farmed its own land and caught fish and snared birds from within its own boundaries. A village settlement might have a single or several hapu. An ariki (chief) was the leader of a hapu and attained his rank from the common belief. Whenever an important decision affecting the hapu was to be made, a public meeting would be held on the marae (square) in front of the whare runanga (meeting house). The various kaumatua (family leaders) might all speak, but the ariki spoke first and last, and his decision, which would reflect the opinions expressed, was final.
Another main feature of Maori society is Tapu. Tapu was a religious or superstitious restriction, and all who violated it were doomed to be overcome at least by misfortune, at worst by death. To remove tapu, for example from a newly completed meeting house, a tohunga would have to perform an appropriate ceremony.
One of the most popular features known today are carvings. The most common figures found in Maori carving are the human figure and the manaia (a bird-like, beaked figure). A Tiki mask is also well-renowned they are hand-carved wooden masks that, were used to stand in for deities, protect their users from evil spirits or even increase the mask wearers’ fertility and luck.
If you're a rugby union fan, you probably know the all blacks, the New Zealand national rugby union team. At the beginning of each game they perform the Haka. The Haka is the spirited Maori war dance.
Finally, the Maori people have their own form of body art, known as moko, but is commonly known as Maori tattooing. Each moko contains ancestral tribal messages specific to the wearer. These messages tell the story of the wearer's family and tribal affiliations, and their place in these social structures.
Why is Family history important?
Family history important because the Maori represent their origins right back to the original waka. Maori depended on their origins and their ancestors to provide spiritual strength and guidance throughout their lives. Maori genealogy is described using the term "Whakapapa" means taking place in layers, which is the way genealogies are seen according to the Maori.
How did they show this?
These are wooden sticks, called "whakapapa rakau", with knobs running down it. The knobs on the stick are used to help the memory when a person is reciting the whakapapa. A whakapapa may have 18 generations, and most original whakapapa rakau averaged over a meter in length.
Who are the Tohunga?
A tohunga is an expert practitioner of any skill or art, either religious or otherwise. Tohunga include expert priests, healers, navigators, carvers, builders, teachers and advisors
What role do they play in society?
Within the hapu each member did the job for which he/she was best suited. A Tohunga's expertise lay in his/her knowledge of the rituals connected with his/her craft, and so each tohunga was to some way also a priest. Today the term tohunga is used to refer only to the most important of the various ranks of tohunga, high priests trained in the most sacredplace of the whare wananga (house of learning). These were trusted with confidential details of tribal history too tapu for the rest of the tribe to know.
What are some important rituals?
Some important rituals include Hongi, Moko, Haka, Te Reo Maori and Powhiri. Hongi is the customary greeting to press noses and I have already explained what the moko and haka are. Maori language or "te reo Maori" is considered a national treasure. Linguists are currently in the middle of bringing back the language. Powhiri is the traditional welcome ceremonies, visitors go to the meeting grounds in the heart of the Maori community. A warrior will challenge guests to see if they come in peace, followed by a presentation of waiata (songs) and speeches. Afterwards, guests can enjoy a hangi – a slow-cooked feast of meat and root vegetables using hot stones and a pit oven.
Why are these important to Maori culture?
These rituals are important to Maori culture because it makes their culture different from others. Also keeping traditions alive is important for teaching the next generation about a particular or shared past. Traditions are beliefs or behaviors that are passed down from one generation to the next within a certain group or society.