New Zealand – Maori Culture & Spirituality – by Delaney Babich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

New Zealand – Maori Culture & Spirituality – by Delaney Babich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and


[This is a piece of Greenstone, which holds mana, and its mana increases as it is passed down through generations. This rock belongs to Nga, who was our native guide during the trip. It is six generations old.]

One of the crucial parts to socialization requires understanding the perspectives of other people and their cultures. I was able to immerse myself in Maori culture while studying abroad in New Zealand. I gained a wealth of compassion & knowledge of people other than those I grew up with, as did everyone else in my group. We spent a weekend on a Marae, which is a native land where official tribal business, family functions and special events occur. Here we were introduced to a few traditional customs as well as spiritual practices. One example of a custom that intrigued me was a housekeeping rule at the marae. If anyone brought cups or bowls into the bathroom they are to be thrown away because the energy in the bathroom is not the same as the energy in the kitchen, and it upsets the natural balance of tapu. Tapu is a term describing certain restrictions in everyone’s life, and it was used as a way to control how people behaved towards each other and the environment. Everything also has a thing called Mana. Mana influenced the way in which people and groups conducted themselves, acting as a reference point for the achievements and successes in one s life. Similarly, is mana was attached to natural resources and inanimate objects could affect the behaviors of individuals and group. These are the two fundamental concepts that governed the infrastructure of traditional Maori society, and are interchangeable. They link each person to creation, and the history of ancestors. The aspect of history is detrimental to Maori culture. We were taught that knowledge and stories, all come from someone before us, and will pass through us onto someone else one day. Whether it be about food preparation, child rearing or specific spiritual practices, the Maori have kept their history alive via oral practices, rather than written ones. The leader of the Marae, Keith, taught us that every bit, every feeling, every word is important, and that it must be kept for those later to hear as well.

A crucial characteristic to his teaching while we were there included the importance of spiritual knowledge. He says that spiritual concerns apply to all things. They are never obliterated and must be given full status and recognition. This concept is manifested out of their bond with nature, although it is much more than a bond. The Maori join all beings together; everything is connected into one independent whole, which relies on each of its parts to be healthy in order to keep thriving. It was eye opening to see an opposite way of thinking about life and the things in it, and to be welcomed into a community that desires to have their stories spread in order to keep a culture alive.


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Filed under Delaney Babich, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

23 responses to “New Zealand – Maori Culture & Spirituality – by Delaney Babich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

  1. Elisabeth Bergstedt

    Wow, your study abroad to New Zealand sounds both fun and educational! I’m glad you got to go as long as a semester to this beautiful country, rather than just a week vacation. You get to learn so much more when you put yourself in their shoes and take the time to learn about the different culture. Learning about their customs must have seemed odd at first, but it really sounds like you get a good first glimpse into what it’s like to live in New Zealand- an adventure you will have with you forever!

  2. Holly Kampa

    I really enjoy learning about new cultures and the traditions that they practice. Those of us who have never traveled abroad tend to be oblivious to other peoples’ ways of life and we grow accustomed to our own way of life. I found it very interesting about the bathroom concept you spoke of. I think it’s also interesting that everyday objects to us, hold a more significant meaning to the Maori. More often than not I believe we tend to take things for granted. Another aspect I found to be interesting was that their history is all through oral storytelling. It’s crazy to think that if this tradition died out, then the Maori history could potentially be lost.

    Thanks Delaney for sharing!

  3. Emily Ciernia

    I think it is so cool that you have the opportunity to travel to New Zealand! I have always wanted to go there. I also enjoyed that you got to interact with the local people there, instead of only tourist-y type excursions. This way you are able to gain a deeper understanding of different cultures that are different than what you are used to. It really broadens your sense of the world. I also think it was really cool how that Greenstone was passed down through six generations! It seems like that that was probably the trip of a lifetime! I am sure that all the things you learned will be with your forever. Thanks for sharing, Delaney!

  4. Molly Enich

    This was so fun to read! Hearing about other cultures is always fascinating and you’re so lucky to have experienced it. They sound like they have such a beautiful way of thinking about life and energy. Up until now, I pictured New Zealand as a tourist destination with beautiful landscapes. I find it so interesting to hear more about the culture and people of New Zealand instead of just the knowledge a tourist would know. Thanks for the insight!

  5. I was interested in the New Zealand program because of the focus on Indigenous peoples. I enjoyed reading about your experience and the knowledge you gained about the Maori. Do you know if the Maori have different groups within the larger whole (tribes)? Additionally while you were there, did you find out anything that really changed the way in which you thought about a topic/subject? Thank you for sharing this piece on your time with the Maori people.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience with embracing culture in New Zealand! It is really interesting to learn how the Maori transmit their culture and spirituality from generation to generation. It is also insightful how they much they value preserving traditional knowledge. I’m sure your experiences will remain in your memory forever!

  7. Jodi Moran

    This article caught my attention because I have always wanted to visit New Zealand from the pictures that I have seen of it. To read that the country filled with rich culture, it really seems as beautiful as it looks. What I find most interesting is that this culture is thriving because it is passed down orally rather than written down. This surprises me because the history and culture of the Maori peoples could have been lost many years ago, but still it thrives. Truly amazing and goes to show how important history really is.

  8. Jena O'Byrne

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I had no idea there was such a depth to the culture in New Zealand. It was extremely interesting to learn about their culture and way of life. The history behind Maori culture is intriguing in how they view life. Their spiritual concern for everything really shows how they strive to live their life. I also liked how they embrace storytelling as a way to pass down their history generation to generation. I feel that in the current state of our society many people miss out on listening and learning from their elders. Learning about different cultures is good for us since it broadens our knowledge about the world. I hope to someday be able to travel around the would too and learn about other cultures.

  9. I love the idea of everything being connected. Maybe it sounds a little hippy-dippy but I relate it to the law of conservation of mass. Very specific circumstances have ensued to ensure that we’re all sitting here wearing the clothes that we are looking at the screens that we are, etc. The elements came together and broke apart for billions of years before these circumstances arrived, an unbelievably small amount of it collecting into our Sun, planets, continents, oceans, and all the life that evolved in them. I can’t help but think of everything as connected, and it’s not much more of a stretch to imagine every little thing imbued with an energy that affects the rest of everything. I imagine that before our various technological revolutions, these traditions and beliefs arose because it’s easier to feel it when there’s not so much ‘noise,’ in several senses of the word. Great article.

  10. Thomas Landgren

    I thought that it was very interesting that they don’t right down any of their traditions or rituals, they keep it all oral and pass it down that way.When they pass stories down is that a sign of adulthood? The whole concept of mana is also fascinating. It is always interesting to learn about different cultures especially ones that are tied with tourist countries. Great Article!

  11. I am always interested in hearing stories about students who have had the opportunity to study abroad. I think that by hearing stories like yours, we can all learn a little more about how different other cultures are from our own. I think it’s easy to stay comfortable studying in our own country, so I admire how your decision on traveling to New Zealand and immersing yourself into the Maori culture. It also fascinates me that a piece of greenstone can be passed down for over six generations…that is a long time!

  12. I would love to get a chance to experience the Marori culture. In my own experience one of my good friends is Jewish, her parents recently came over to the United States. Just going to their house the culture is different, prayers are said in the doorway, children are polite and do not entertain adults until they are old enough. The women retreat to a separate room to talk while the men have another room. It was fascinating to see the habits and subtle changes in one culture over another.

  13. Bryce Gadke

    The culture of New Zealand seems to be quite interesting and you are a prime example of immersing yourself in the culture. The part that struck me the most was how the transmission of Mauri people occurred from generation to generation. The oral passing down of ideas and morals is something that I think the United States lacks today on a foundational level.

  14. Sara Desrocher

    I like the concept in the article about immersing yourself in the culture to gain a better understanding of that society. I think that it is very important to not only learn about a culture but to really think about everything about that culture. This includes not only the history but also the values of the culture. It is just as important to see what they value as important, or even what they view as entertainment.

  15. Carley Nadeau

    I absolutely loved this article. Not only did your trip seem fun, it also seems educational. The concept of mana is very interesting. I had never heard of it before I read this. Thank you for sharing :).

  16. Nancy Thao

    I agree with you when you said “One of the crucial parts to socialization requires understanding the perspectives of other people and their cultures.” It is not just being open-minded to one culture but to merge yourself and experience it yourself! I am really fascinated with the importance of spiritual essence in the Maori culture. It makes me think of how we take so many things for granted and never stop to wonder about our surroundings. I think it is wonderful that you have taken your time to learn and listen about the different values in the culture.

  17. Nichole DeBoom

    What an interesting read! New Zealand has always been a place I have wanted to visit. Learning new perspectives of any culture is important when visiting, I think it helps learning why they do some things easier, and helps you to be able to engage in some of it as well. It is so interesting to hear about how large of a role spirituality takes in their life, comparing them to the United States it seems as though we practice spirituality hardly enough. Learning new things about each culture allows us to respect them as a whole. Great article.

  18. McKenzie Ketcher

    I enjoyed seeing the image of the historical artifact, it brought the history more to life. It was also amazing to hear that in New Zeland faith people are still so strong and passionate about their faith and teaching other’s about it. In my opinion, the passion that was showed is an inspiration. New Zeland would be an amazing place to visit, I am envious!

  19. Amanda Sullivan

    I think it is awesome that you took the time to get yourself involved in the culture while you were studying abroad. So many people go abroad to just travel, but I don’t believe they truly experience the other cultures and how they live. It’s wonderful that the Maori keep their traditions alive through the oral communication from generation to generation. Also, their beliefs of complete interdependence on one another is a great example as to how important it is that, as a human race, we must support one another despite who we are because we were all brought to this place for a specific purpose.

  20. Megan Bingham

    I give you so much credit for choosing to study abroad! I do not have the courage to even consider it because I can not imagine being so ignorant to their cultural norms. I find it beyond interesting that a cup that has been taken into the bathroom would need to be thrown away. To me it may be more dirty, but I don’t see how it has lost its useful value. Thank you so much for sharing this story! I find it crazy how far they look into inanimate objects.

  21. Delaney,

    Maori culture is fascinating, and it’s so cool that you got to learn about it in such an immersive environment. I liked the recurring idea in your article that everything is connected. The notion that generations live on through us and stories and history are told through us has an air of responsibility about it. How do we present ourselves in a way that dignifies our ancestors? I don’t think that’s something often considered by mainstream culture in the United States, outside of the occasional debate on what our founding fathers would have wanted. I also appreciated your honesty and openness to these ideas.


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