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Arts & Culture


The culture of New Zealand is a Western Culture influenced by the unique environment and geographic isolation of the islands, and the cultural input of the indigenous  Māori and the various waves of multi-ethnic migration which followed the British colonisation of New Zealand.

Polynesian explorers reached the islands between 1250 and 1300. Over the centuries of Polynesian expansion and settlement, Māori culture developed from its Polynesian roots.

Extensive European settlement did not begin until 1840, and New Zealand remained a Maori culture. Whalers from the United States and Britain frequently sailed New Zealand waters, married or had children with Maori women, and introduced trappings of Euro-American culture, especially muskets. Missionaries began their activities around 1814.

European New Zealanders despite their location far from Europe, retained strong cultural ties to “Mother England”.These ties were weakened by the demise of the British Empire and loss of special access to British meat and dairy markets. Pākehā (European New Zealanders) began to forge a separate identity influenced by their pioneering history, a rural lifestyle and New Zealand’s unique environment. Pākehā culture became prevalent after the wars, but after sustained political efforts, biculturalism and the Treaty of Waitangi became part of the school curriculum in the late 20th century, to promote understanding between Māori and Pākehā.

More recently, New Zealand culture has been broadened by globalisation and immigration from the Pacific Islands, East Asia and South Asia. Non-Māori Polynesian cultures are apparent, with Pasifika, the world’s largest Polynesian festival, now an annual event in Auckland.







New Zealand art consists of the visual and plastic arts (including architecture, woodwork, textiles, and ceramics) originating from New Zealand. It comes from different traditions: Māori art, that of the early European settlers, and later immigrants from Pacific, Asian, and European countries. Owing to New Zealand’s geographic isolation, in the past many artists had to leave home in order to make a living. The visual arts flourished in the latter decades of the 20th century as many New Zealanders became more culturally sophisticated.

Maori visual art consists primarily of four forms: carving, tattooing, weaving, and painting. Most traditional Maori art was highly stylised and featured motifs such as the spiral, the chevron and the koru. The colours black, white and red dominated.

Early 19th-century artists were for the most part visitors to New Zealand, not residents. Some, such as James Barry, who painted the  Ngare Raumati chief Rua in 1818, and Thomas Kendall with the chiefs Hongi Hika and Waikato in 1820, did not visit New Zealand at all, instead painting his subjects when they visited Britain.

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