The Maoris (pronounced mar-e) are the aboriginal people of New Zealand. They arrived there in the 13th century. Their culture is based on living in tribes, on hunting and gathering food, and on warfare. They are skilled in tattooing and woodcarving and their elaborate woodcarvings decorate canoes and buildings. Their pendants and ornaments are carved from bone or stone.
This woodcarving would probably be on a post or panel of the Maori meeting house. The house (whare runanga) represents the common ancestor and each part of the house represents different parts of the ancestor. The mask (koruru) is the head of the ancestor and sits on top of the ridge pole (the backbone). The porch is the ancestor's brain and the inside of the house is the ancestor's belly. The rafters and wall slabs are the ancestor's ribs. The ancestral meeting house welcomes all Maori people, and weddings, christenings, birthdays, family reunions, tribal meetings and funerals take place there.
The main symbols of Maori carving are an ancestor or god, and the other is a bird. Maoris also carve the sea monster, the whale and the lizard. Each tribe has its own style of carving. This woodcarving comes from one of the eastern tribes. It is square in shape and has slanted brows, wheku.
Maori woodcarving is now flourishing and there is a New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, which provides training and promotes this craft.
The Maoris believe in concepts such as taboo, life force (mauri), revenge, the prestige of a social group or individual and sorcery. They have faith in number of gods - Tane-mahuta - lord of the forest, Tangaroa - an ocean god, and Io the supreme god. Spirits are also seen as powerful beings; they have the ability to respond to magical spells and punish people for breaking taboos.
Some of the Maori traditions are: pressing noses in greeting 'hongi'; full facial tattoos 'moko'; cooking in the earth on hot stones 'hangi'; and performing a war dance before battle 'haka'. These days haka is performed by New Zealand's rugby team, the All Blacks, as they try to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents at the beginning of rugby matches.