Maori language and culture is becoming more and more popular in New Zealand


NOS News

  • Mike Wijers

    correspondent Australia

  • Mike Wijers

    correspondent Australia

The year 2022 was important for Maori, the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand. 50 years ago the language was dying out. Thanks to Maori language petitionwhich was presented to the Norwegian Parliament in 1972, the language returned to everyday life.

The 50th anniversary of the petition has been celebrated in a big way. The discussion of returning the country’s original name, Aotearoa, is also on the agenda.

Maori language and culture are an integral part of society today. Even before visitors set foot on land, they receive a Maori message. Air New Zealand’s safety video is half Maori, half English and tells the story of Tiaki: a legend of land care.

English mixed with Maori

The most common greeting in New Zealand is kia ora, with which you wish someone good health. Although the official language is English, it is full of Maori words. But it hasn’t always been like that, says Jade Kake (34). She is Maori on her mother’s side, her father is from the Netherlands. “My grandparents were beaten if they spoke Maori at school. That’s why that generation speaks little or no language.”

The Native Schools Act of 1867 stipulated that only English could be spoken here. Especially since the Second World War, the use of the Maori language and the spread of the culture has been actively opposed. It had major consequences; about fifty years ago the language was almost extinct. “My grandparents believed that English was the only language that mattered if you wanted to get ahead in the world,” says Kake.

A group of Maori activists went into the country to collect signatures for a petition calling for the indigenous language to be recognized and taught in schools. The Maori Language Petition was a success and has been celebrated this year.


Public bins in Wellington: information is provided in English, Maori and Chinese

Nowadays, more and more Kiwis are also learning the language at a later age. Kake decided to put his career as an architect on pause to focus on Maori for a year, also known as te reo is called (the language).

She has distinctive Maori tattoos on her hands that show her family tree. “I got these tattoos when I started college to mark that moment in my life,” she says. In Maori the family tree is, or whakapapa, important. “It’s the connection to the past and the present.”

Meike Wijers | NOS

The tattoos on Jade Kake’s hands

Non-Maori are also learning the language, such as Stephen May. He is a professor at Auckland University. “This language is only spoken here. If we don’t keep it alive, no one will,” he says.

May also sees a downside to the increased popularity. “There is a group of white New Zealanders who are opposed to the increased use of Maori in everyday life. With the growing popularity of Maori, racism has also come to the surface,” he says.

Meike Wijers | NOS

Kake and May: ‘If we don’t keep the language alive, no one will’

Also controversial was the call to return the country to its original name: Aotearoa, which means ‘land of the long white cloud’. This name is increasingly being used instead of New Zealand, the name the country was once given by the Dutchman Abel Tasman. The explorer named the country in 1642 after the Dutch province.

A petition by the Maori party Te Pati Maori to officially change New Zealand’s name was presented to Parliament in August and was signed by 70,000 people. The party with two seats in parliament is also calling on the government to replace all names of towns and cities with the original Maori names by 2026.

But there is still little support for the proposal in the Norwegian Parliament. An online petition against the name change has also been signed by around 70,000 people. Opinion polls show that 58 percent of the population are in favor of keeping the name ‘New Zealand’, 31 percent choose ‘Aotearoa-New Zealand’ and only 9 percent for ‘Aotearoa’.

Maori in society

The socio-economic position of Maori is far behind compared to the rest of the population. Poor housing, limited access to the labor market and crime are problems for the indigenous population.

You have to pay more attention to that, says Jade Kake. “The discussion about the name of our country is symbolic, I hope that it ultimately helps to change attitudes towards Maori in society,” she says.

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