New Zealand Culture and Traditions

New Zealand Culture and Traditions


Although the English colonization has upset many balances, compromising the very survival of the Maori and altering their lifestyle, social organization, private and communal ritual practices, the twentieth century saw a clear recovery in demographic and cultural terms. native element. New Zealand literature was born with the colonial experience, from the first reports and diaries on life in the new land, to relations with the natives, to arrive at the works of the twentieth century, investigating the indigenous cultural roots as well as the contradictory facets of development and modernity. Constant in many writings of recent decades is the awareness by New Zealand authors of their own geographical and cultural periphery with respect to the West, and of the “lateral” and privileged point of view on reality and on the world that this condition can grant. The oral traditions of the Maori, long dormant and almost dispersed, have found new voices and attention in recent times, not only within national borders. Traditional art finds its most important expressions in woodworking, decoration and ornamentation corporeal, with tattoos, amulets etc. A rich collection of Maori arts and crafts can be found at the Auckland Museum, but there are many institutions and galleries in the country that have given New Zealand artists an international spotlight. Music, architecture, theater and dance also experience this ferment brought about by the rebirth of the traditions of the natives and their encounter with Western influences and suggestions. We cannot talk about New Zealand without mentioning rugby, for this people more than a national sport, a collective ritual, a dance of warriors (famous is the haka with which every meeting of the All Blacks begins.). A constantly evolving field, characterized by personalities and works of international level, is the cinematography, from exploration and dissemination documentaries to award-winning films in Europe and Hollywood.


Indigenous customs are gradually diminishing; phenomenon due to the negative impact of colonization on the Maori, who as rulers of the whole territory now occupy few reserves, especially on the North Island. Of the ancient customs only a faint trace remains: the old society defined on aristocratic bases has disappeared, as are the houses of the nobles and the leaders who had the facade, the support poles, the interior walls painted red, decorated with friezes with highly stylized human representations. However, there are still meeting houses (whare runanga). Many customs related to life practices have also disappeared: once, for example, the boss’s pregnant wife went to live in a separate house and gave birth in a special hut equipped with a “working bed”. Even the ancient rites for marriage are no longer in use: if the preference of women traditionally went to those who had a face rich in tattoos (moko) of which the Maori were excellent artists, the kidnapping of the future bride, carried out by men, was also frequent. to overcome the eventual refusal of the woman, a kidnapping which, very often, became the pretext for real wars between tribes. Furthermore, the concept of reparation (utu) personal offense: as evidence of that warrior era there are still some fortified villages (pa), where the entrance, with statues and wooden ornaments, reveals an interesting craftsmanship. As for the communities of Anglo-Saxon origin, it can be observed that even today the new generations retain some traditions of life linked to British customs. The culinary field is probably the one in which the best fusion between local peculiarities and external influences has occurred, as evidenced by the varied diet (meat, fish, shellfish, potatoes, kiwi wine, etc.) of the New Zealand population.


As a country located in Oceania according to, New Zealand literature has developed along the characteristic path of colonial literatures: at first there are mostly scientific reports, travel diaries and the like. Later, an interest in native traditions, whose legends were transcribed and published by Anglo-Saxon curators (we mention among these those of Governor Sir George Gray, 1812-1898, author of Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race), alongside what is in fact an English literature of the Victorian period written in New Zealand (both representative for all James Edward Fitzgerald, 1818-1896), only here and there interrupted by sporadic attempts to use dialect expressions, especially in poetry. Very soon diaries, novels and memoirs appeared, whose topics ranged from the chronicle of moments of the colonial experience to the description of what was the developing Anglo-Saxon New Zealand society (as in the work of Lady Barker), finally memories and tales of the wars against the Maori or the life of the gold diggers; of the latter, the most representative work is Philosopher Dick, by George Chamier, published in 1891. Around this date the pioneering phase can almost be considered concluded: the authors are now inserted in what they consider their own world also from a political point of view (sometimes actively participating in it), and a deeper mastery of the technical and expressive means developed by the English literary tradition, a greater awareness of the New Zealand reality is being integrated. We remember from this period William Pember Reeves (1857-1932), Edith Searle Grossmann (1863-1931), William Satchell and Blanch Edith Baugham (1870-1958). In 1907, when New Zealand passed to the state of dominion, the development of a culture of its own came to a temporary halt. The writers left for Europe in search of a culturally more fermenting environment: among these, the writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), one of the most representative voices of all New Zealand literature, certainly occupies a prominent place. Lived in New Zealand only until her early adolescence, the author spent most of her life in numerous European countries (including Italy). In his work, perhaps precisely because of distance and nostalgia, his native land has often become a symbol of purity, of lost beauty.

New Zealand Culture

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