NEW ZEALAND 02 - Auckland, Maori and Museums

March 16, 2017  •  1 Comment

February 2017

New Zealand  #02 – Auckland, Maori and Museums

In this installment we’ll explore more about the Maori indigenous people and visit some gardens and museums.

Where did the Maori come from?

The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people living in New Zealand and the first humans to inhabit New Zealand. They trace their roots back to eastern Polynesia and arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages between 1250 and 1300.  That’s not even 800 years ago.   Over several centuries in isolation, the Polynesian settlers developed a unique culture that became known as the "Maori", with their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and unique performing arts. Early Maori formed tribal groups based on eastern Polynesian social customs and organization.  They were pretty good growing plants they brought with them from other islands and later a prominent warrior culture emerged due to inter-tribal warfare.

The arrival of Europeans to New Zealand started in the 17th century and had a big impact on the native population – as it did everywhere else Europeans went.  It turns out most of these Europeans came on merchant vessels and navy ships and what few people stayed behind in New Zealand were all men.  Well, men being men, they soon figured out that if they wanted to screw around it would have to be with Maori women as there were no European women to be found.  This quickly led to relationships and intermarriage not to mention a blending of cultures – in both directions.  So, by the time the Europeans decided that New Zealand should be colonized, and sent ships for that purpose, most of the folks already there were already products of intermarriage.  They already had incorporated many western customs and beliefs, including merging of religions into their society and many spoke English or Dutch to some degree. So, what we saw in the Americas and later in Africa where the Europeans took over by military action and forced the natives to adapt or die didn’t really happen here.  Many (most?) of the people the new settlers encountered spoke some Dutch or Scottish or English, had a European or two in their ancestral tree and had already adopted aspects of western religions (which was just tacked on to their own religion).  So, initial relations between the Māori and Europeans was largely amicable. 

The following images are photographs of oil paintings by Gottfried Lindauer who painted them in the 1880’s.  These were on display at the Auckland Art Museum while we were visiting.

Chief Rewi Manga Maniapoto (? – 1894).
He is wearing a dog skin cloak and his fighting staff is decorated with tufts of dog fur.

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Chief Hitiri Te Paerata 1883.  Painted by Gottfried Lindauer in the 1880’s

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What’s with those tattoos?

The tattoos or Tā moko (moko for short) is primarily used on the face of Maori men and women.  Unlike traditional tattoo’s where needles are used, these are carved with a chisel like knife making grooves in the skin.  So the resulting art is not only a dark color but form raised ridges.

Before the Europeans arrived most high-ranking persons were tattooed and those that weren’t were seen as persons of lower social status. Receiving moko was part of a coming of age ritual and was accompanied by many rites and rituals.  The moko on men was usually a full face affair with lines circling the eyes and mouth to make them look bigger and more threatening.  On the other hand, the women usually had just their chin marked and many times colored their lips black.  Some individuals also had moko put on other body areas but the face was the main thing.

Each tribe tended to have a distinct style and also different patterns were used to denote ranking within the tribe.  So, from a distance Maori were able to see if an approaching person was from their group and how important that person was in the general hierarchy.  And, as in most cultures where body adornment was customary, Moko were used to enhance the sex appeal of the wearer.

Even though moko specialists were used to apply the tattoo’s, getting one was quite a painful affair.  The chisels were made from albatross bone cut in half and sharpened.  The inks were made from awheto (mummified body of a caterpillar killed by the Cordyceps Robertsii fungus) mixed with charcoal (soot or ash) and fat.  What a great concoction to make an infection.  After being tattooed many times the swelling was so severe that feeding funnels had to be used.

Oil painting of warrior receiving a moko.  Painted by Gottfried Lindauer

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Treaty of Wiatangi

After some time the British, being who they were, really wanted to have New Zealand as an official colony under British Rule.  However, the Maori were still by and large a tribal society with inter-tribal warfare, alliances and enemies and much strife over tribal territory.  The British had a hard time dealing with this as they wanted one person to represent the entire land mass with whom they could negotiate, properly bribe and get to sign a treaty giving the British control. 

Without a single leader they had to figure out a different way.  So, the British found a few chiefs and put together what later became the Treaty of Waitangi.   Now, one of the problems was that the Maori had no written language.  It was only when foreign settlers came along that they started phonetically writing down what they heard, using the English alphabet, and then later deducing what those sounds meant – more or less.  The Maori thought this was a good idea and adopted these phonetic transcriptions as a form of long distance communications.  They could see the written words, which were sound combinations (words) they knew.  Of course once they got the sound of the word in their spoken language they knew what that combination of letters meant.  So everyone was happy and dumb to the fact that what the Maori knew the meaning of the spoken word was  in many cases was quite different than the Europeans thought those letter combinations meant

But the treaty was written and they needed all the Chiefs to sign it.  With such big distances involved, they made several copies of the treaty and sent them off with diplomats in different directions.  It was later discovered that the people who made the copies took some literary license while copying and no two versions of the document were the same.  The upshot is that in 1840 they got the signatures, and New Zealand became a British colony ruled by the Queen.  Of course the Maori had no idea what this meant.  To the Maori, “The Crown” was just some nice lady far away they’d never seen.  Ownership of land had no meaning to them as land came from the gods so no one “owned” it – your tribe defended some area of it for your own protection but you didn’t own it.  And, as the treaty made no real mention of chiefs, the Maori assumed they’d still make the rules for their tribes and decide punishments.  Right?   Oops, maybe not.  

Another thing that was news to the Maori was that there were thousands and thousands of people in Great Britain waiting for New Zealand to become an official colony in order to emigrate there.  Once the treaty was signed, wave upon wave upon wave of new settlers descended on the land, staked out homesteads and “bought” the land from ‘The Crown” – not withstanding that it was Maori tribal land and that the Maori who lived there had no clue what “land ownership” was.  They just knew that all these new strange people were showing up and building fences all over the place completely messing up their entire economy and way of being.  Sound Familiar?

But at least it all came to pass without a war.  And, even though there were significant differences of opinion about what the treaty meant (and which version to believe), the two cultures coexisted as part of a new British colony.  During the 1850's armed conflict sprang up from time to tome.  These skirmishes were caused by tension over disputed land sales, social upheaval in general and differences in how justice was handled.  During this time the Maori population fell dramatically due to losing many of these small battles but mostly due to epidemics of introduced disease. 

By the start of the 20th century the Maori population had begun to recover and more recently efforts have been made to increase their standing in the wider New Zealand society and achieve social justice. Traditional Maori culture enjoyed a revival, and a protest movement emerged in the 1960s advocating for Maori issues.

In the 2013 census, there were approximately 600,000 people in New Zealand identifying as Maori making up roughly 15% of the population. They are the second-largest ethnic group in New Zealand, after European New Zealanders.  The Maori language (known as Te Reo Maori) is still spoken to some extent by about a fifth of all Maori. Many non Maori New Zealanders regularly use Maori words and expressions, such as "kia ora" (hello or greetings), while speaking English. These days the Maori are active in all spheres of New Zealand culture, society and government with independent representation in areas such as media, politics and sport.

But, as is the case with most minority populations in the world, disproportionate numbers of Maori face significant economic and social obstacles, with lower life expectancies and incomes compared with other New Zealand ethnic groups. They suffer higher levels of crime, health problems, and educational under-achievement. Socioeconomic initiatives have been implemented aimed at closing the gap between Maori and other New Zealanders. Political redress for historical grievances is also ongoing.

The first weekend we were in New Zealand was the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Wiatangi.  This is like the 4th of July in the USA.  And, like the 4th of July in the USA, politicians make speeches but mostly it’s an excuse to have a 3 day weekend at the end of the summer and take a bit of a vacation.


Eden Gardens

Eden Gardens in Auckland is a lovely 5.5 acre botanical garden on the side of Mount Eden.  Well, that’s a bit misleading as even though it is on the side of a “mountain” Mt. Eden isn’t much of a mountain – only 643 feet tall, however it is the tallest in the city - and being only 2.5 miles from the heart of the city suburbs surround it on all sides.  Another misleading thing is the name of the place.  One would think that a lush botanical garden named “Eden Garden” would have something to do with Adam & Eve but that’s not the case.  Mt. Eden was named after George Eden, the 1st Earl of Auckland. 

At one time what is now Eden Gardens was an abandoned quarry.  In the early 1970’s a group of volunteers got together to convert the quarry to a lush gardens.  Ever since then it’s been supported and maintained by volunteers and attracts visitors from all over the world.  It also has many species of plants that in turn attract many birds, some of which are quite rare. 

Of course, even if you do have loads of volunteer labor, it still takes some money to support and maintain such a park.  Well, in addition to collecting admission fee and getting donations and grants from various organizations and people they also allow you to sponsor items in the park.  If you sponsor something they put a little sign next to it with your name on it.  So, just in case you wish to be immortalized in Eden Gardens, here is the going rate (all in NZ Dollars): shrub = $2,100, seat or tree - $3,100, plaque on a wall = $1,650, rock = $3,650.

We had a very nice lunch there in their café and wandered around a bit.  Not enough time to really explore the place but enough time to get a good sense of it.  One can follow a maze of meandering paved pathways as well as narrow trails all through meticulously maintained gardens with streams and waterfalls. 


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War Memorial Museum

Every town, village, city, hamlet and it seems crossroads has a war memorial of some sort or other.  This is probably due to the large percentage of New Zealanders who died in the First and Second World Wars.  In Auckland one such tribute is the War Memorial Museum which sits on top of a hill, in the middle of a 185 acre park having grand sweeping vistas of Auckland, its harbor and offshore islands. 

Most of the museum (at least the part we saw) is dedicated to the Maori people, however they do have a World War II Japanese Zero plane up on the 3rd floor.


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Winter Garden

In the same park as the War Memorial Museum are a couple of glass conservatories separated by a lily pad filled reflecting pool.  This is known as Winter Garden and features tropical plants.  Officially opened in 1920, it was largely funded by the Industrial, Agricultural and Mining Exhibition of 1913-1914 which was held in the park.  It seems that after the exhibition, the park fell into disrepair and became a gathering ground for “undesirables” as they say.  So, an effort was made to spruce up the park, put in lighting, and in general gentrify it so it would once again attract the “desirables” and displace the riffraff.  The Winter Garden was part of that gentrification effort.

We only had about 15 minutes there. It actually wasn’t on our itinerary but a few members of our group, with permission, walked over to the Winter Garden rather than taking a tour of the War Memorial Museum.  So, as the bus had to go collect them at the garden, and we weren’t pressed for time, they let the rest of us poke around for 15 minutes. 

Now, I’ve taken countless photos in conservatories and botanical gardens – many of which are on a much grander scale – so taking more photos of pretty flowers with little signs was not motivating me very much.  So, I decided to try a photographing technique using a motion blur to create a more water color abstract or impressionist type of image.  I hadn’t done this much before so mostly it was experimentation.  The rows of colorful flowers provided the “paint” for my abstract and the camera motion provided the watercolor blur I was thinking about.  I think a couple of these are quite nice in a dentist office sort of way.

Lily pad pond and one of the two greenhouses or conservatories

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Lily pads

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I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our New Zealand trip.  The next installment will be some nearby areas in the greater Auckland Area..

This blog is posted at: 

Or, this whole series at:

These and other Images of this trip can be found here

Or here for just my favorites



Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated -- Dan


(info from Wikipedia, Road Scholar Lectures, and pamphlets gathered at various sites along the way)


and. They trace their roots back to eastern Polynesia and arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages between 1250 and 1300. That’s not even 800 years a
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