Maori people have a distinctive culture, much of which is based around the marae – the meeting place of an iwi (tribe) or hapu (subtribe). The word marae refers to the open ground in front of a wharenui (meeting house), although the word is sometimes used to refer simultaneously to the wharenui, the open space and other communal facilities.
The marae is a spiritual place where the dead are mourned, guests are housed, weddings are held, reunions are celebrated, and matters of importance to the community are discussed. Each iwi has a number of marae in its rohe (tribal area). In addition, there are also urban marae – set up as increasing numbers of Maori people migrate to urban areas. Urban marae typically serve as community centres for people from a number of iwi, and they have modern as well as traditional carvings and decorations. If you visit a marae with a group on a formal occasion, you will receive a ceremonial welcome. The ceremony will differ according to the kawa (protocol) of the iwi.
All New Zealanders speak English and many speak no other language, so it is essential that you can speak English well if you are to settle easily. It may take time to get used to the New Zealand accent, so you may have to ask people to talk more slowly, and to repeat what they have said. Do not be shy about this; most people will be intrigued by your interest and happy to help.
New Zealand Maori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, is spoken by about 50,000 Maori people and a small number of Europeans. Interest in promoting Maori language (te reo) has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. It is commonly heard on the marae and in rural areas where Maori people predominate. Maori language is also taught in schools and universities.
Becoming a citizen
New Zealand citizenship gives you the same rights as people born in New Zealand, including the right to have a New Zealand passport. Contact the Department of Internal Affairs
for more information or freephone: 0800 22 51 51.