Initially, the Māori adapted the tropical culture of eastern Polynesia to the challenges associated with a larger and more diverse environment, and eventually developed their own distinctive culture. Social organisation was essentially community-based, with families (whanau), sub-tribes (hapu) and tribes (iwi) led by a chief (rangatira) whose position was subject to community approval. British and Irish immigrants brought aspects of their own culture to New Zealand and also influenced Māori culture, especially with the introduction of Christianity. Nevertheless, Māori consider their membership of tribal groups to be an essential part of their identity, and Māori kinship roles are similar to those of other Polynesian peoples. More recently, American, Australian, Asian and other European cultures have had an impact on New Zealand. Polynesian cultures are also visible in Māori. Pasifika, the largest Polynesian festival in the world, is now an annual event in Auckland.
The predominantly rural life of early New Zealand conveyed the image of the hardy, hard-working, problem-solving New Zealander. Modesty was expected and imposed by the “big son syndrome”, where the best people were harshly criticised. At this time, New Zealand was not known as an intellectual country. From the early 20th century until the late 1960s, Māori culture was suppressed by attempts to assimilate Māori to British New Zealanders. In the 1960s, as higher education became more accessible and cities expanded, urban culture began to dominate. Although the majority of the population now lives in cities, much of New Zealand art, literature, film and humour has rural themes. From the mid-20th century, many cultural icons called Kiwiana emerged, which today help define what it means to be a New Zealander, such as the silver fern and the paua shell.
As part of the resurgence of Māori culture, traditional carving and weaving are now practised more frequently and Māori artists are becoming more numerous and influential. Most Māori sculptures depict human figures, usually with three fingers and either a detailed, natural-looking head or a grotesque head. Surface motifs consisting of spirals, crests, notches and fish scales adorn most of the sculptures. The prominent Māori architecture consisted of carved meeting houses (wharenui) decorated with symbolic carvings and images. These buildings were originally designed to be constantly rebuilt, altered and adapted to different whims or needs.
The Māori decorated the white wood of buildings, canoes and cenotaphs with red paint (a mixture of red ochre and shark fat) and black paint (made from soot), and painted images of birds, reptiles and other patterns on cave walls. Māori tattoos (moccasins) of coloured soot mixed with rubber were cut from the flesh with a bone chisel. Since the arrival of Europeans, paintings and photographs were dominated by landscapes, originally not as works of art but as factual representations of New Zealand. Portraits of Māori were also common. Early painters often portrayed them as ‘noble savages’, exotic beauties or friendly natives. The country’s isolation delayed the influence of European art movements and allowed local artists to develop their own style of regionalism. In the 1960s and 1970s, many artists combined traditional Māori and Western techniques to create unique art forms. New Zealand art and craft gradually reached an international audience, with exhibitions at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and the Paradise Now exhibition in New York in 2004.
Māori coats are made of fine linen fibre and decorated with black, red and white triangles, diamonds and other geometric shapes. The green stone was made into earrings and necklaces. The most famous design is the Hei-Tiki, a deformed human figure sitting on a tailor’s chair with its head tilted to one side. Europeans brought the etiquette of English fashion to New Zealand, and by the 1950s most people dressed for social occasions. Since then, standards have relaxed and New Zealand fashion has gained a reputation for being casual, practical and chic. However, the local fashion industry has grown significantly since 2000, doubling exports and growing from a handful to about 50 established labels, with some labels gaining international recognition.
The Māori quickly adopted writing as a means of exchanging ideas, and many of their oral stories and poems were put into written form. Most of the earliest English literary works were acquired in Britain, and it was not until the 1950s, when local publishing houses proliferated, that New Zealand literature began to be widely known. Although still heavily influenced by global trends (modernism) and events (Great Depression), writers in the 1930s began to develop stories that increasingly focused on their experiences in New Zealand. During this period, literature moved from journalistic activity to more academic research. Participation in the World Wars gave some New Zealand writers a new perspective on New Zealand culture, and with the expansion of universities in the post-war period, local literature flourished. Dunedin is a UNESCO City of Literature.
Media and entertainment
New Zealand music has been influenced by blues, jazz, country, rock’n’roll and hip-hop, and many of these genres have been given a unique interpretation in New Zealand. The Māori have developed traditional songs and chants from their ancient origins in Southeast Asia, creating a unique ‘monotone’ and ‘sad’ sound after centuries of isolation. Flutes and trumpets were used as musical instruments or signalling devices in times of war or special occasions. Early settlers brought their ethnic music with them as brass bands and choral music were popular, and musicians began touring New Zealand in the 1860s. Bagpipes became widely used in the early 20th century. The New Zealand recording industry began to develop from 1940 and many New Zealand musicians achieved success in Britain and the United States. Some artists publish songs in Māori and there has been a resurgence of interest in the traditional art of kapa haka (song and dance). The New Zealand Music Awards are organised annually by Recorded Music NZ; the awards were first presented in 1965 by Reckitt & Colman as the Loxene Golden Discawards. Recorded Music NZ also publishes the country’s official weekly charts.
Radio arrived in New Zealand in 1922 and television in 1960. The number of New Zealand films increased significantly in the 1970s. In 1978, the New Zealand Film Commission began to support local filmmakers and many films reached a worldwide audience, some of them internationally acclaimed. Some of the most successful New Zealand films include Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Boy, The World’s Fastest Indian, Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider. Deregulation in the 1980s led to a sudden increase in the number of radio and television stations. New Zealand television broadcasts mainly American and British programmes, as well as a large number of Australian and local programmes. The diversity of landscapes and compact size of the country, as well as government incentives, have encouraged some producers to shoot big-budget films in New Zealand, including Avatar, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, King Kong and The Last Samurai. The New Zealand media industry is dominated by a small number of companies, most of which are foreign-owned, although the state retains ownership of some television and radio stations. Between 2003 and 2008, Reporters Without Borders regularly ranked New Zealand in the top 20 for press freedom. In 2011, Freedom House ranked New Zealand 13th in the world for press freedom, with the second freest media in the Asia-Pacific region after Palau.
Most of the major sports played in New Zealand are of British origin. Rugby XV is considered the national sport and attracts the most spectators. Golf, netball, tennis and cricket have the highest participation rates among adults, while netball, team rugby and football (football) are popular among teenagers. Approximately 54% of New Zealand teenagers participate in sport as part of their school. Successful rugby tours of Australia and Britain in the late 1880s and early 1900s played an early role in the development of a national identity. Horse racing is also a popular spectator sport and became part of the “Rugby, Race and Beer” culture in the 1960s. Participation in European sports was particularly evident in rugby. The country’s team performs a haka, a traditional Māori challenge, before international matches.
New Zealand has competitive international teams in rugby, netball, cricket, rugby-13 and softball and has traditionally performed well in triathlon, rowing, sailing and cycling. New Zealand competed in the 1908 and 1912 Summer Olympics as a joint team with Australia before competing alone for the first time in 1920. The country finished well in terms of medals per capita at the last Games. The All Blacks, the men’s national rugby union team, are the most successful team in the history of international rugby and the reigning world champions. New Zealand is known for its extreme sports, adventure tourism and strong mountaineering tradition, as evidenced by the achievements of the famous New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary. Other outdoor activities such as cycling, fishing, swimming, running, hiking, canoeing, hunting, snow sports and surfing are also popular. The Polynesian sport of Waka-Ama racing has grown in popularity and is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific.
The national cuisine is described as that of the Pacific, with inspirations from Europe, Asia and Polynesia. The most popular ingredients or dishes are lamb, salmon, lobster, dredge oysters, white bait, pāua (abalone), mussels, scallops, pipis and tuatua (two types of New Zealand shellfish), kumara (sweet potato), kiwi, tamarillo and pavlova, the national dessert. A hāngi is a traditional Māori method of cooking food with heated stones buried in a pit oven. After European colonisation, Māori began cooking with pots and pans and the hāngī was used less frequently, although it is still used for formal occasions such as the tangihanga.