The indigenous people of New Zealand are the Maori, belonging to the Polynesian group. Between 800 and 1,350 AD, a wave of Polynesians coming from Tonga and Samoa on their canoes settled in New Zealand. The Maori tradition says that a Polynesian chief of the island of Hawaiki, called Ngahua, knowing the abundance of jade in New Zealand, a shiny tough green stone used for making carvings, collars and adornments, headed an expedition made of 8 canoes. Each canoe was 30 m (100 ft) long, harboring over 100 persons. This contingent settled in Te-Ika-a Maui, the Maori name of the northern island of New Zealand, where they made a population nucleus to which new colonizers were soon added. Maori simply means "human" in the Maori language.
Maori had large villages comprising wooden houses and formed numerous tribes headed by an old chief. Houses were made of large tree trunks, used as posts and beams. Houses were decorated
with carved reliefs, often painted in vivid colors. The population boom between the 15-16 centuries triggered frequent conflicts between the tribes, included real wars resulting in large numbers of casualties. The main house of a Maori village was the House of the Council, where the most important men of the community gathered to discuss questions of general interest.
Maori people had four main gods, and some minor gods, the spirits of the dead and the evil spirits. The Lord of the Sea was represented as a two-faced man with a thrown-out tongue. The wooden idols, once carved, were placed in a special location, called marae, surrounded by a palisade. In this sacred enclosure, priests conducted complex religious ceremonies. Through these ceremonies, the spirits of the gods descended to the Earth and seized the image dedicated to them (they resided in them). Each village preserved carefully its idols that were worshiped and offered sacrifices, so that divinities would not cease to protect the villagers. The wooden carvings were made using adzes, gouges and burins, through which the craftsmen achieved complicated geometric motifs or grotesque human faces. The ancient Maori art was more conventional, resembling that of the Marquise Islands. Later, the Maori developed their own more complex geometric style.
Like all Polynesians, Maori are a mix between Mongoloids and Black Asians (like Papues of New Guinea): they have an oval face with marked cheekbone, a prominent and rectilinear nose with wide nostrils which gives the face a triangular look, large eyes, thick lips, a less-marked chin and darker skin.
The faces of the Maori men were covered by intricate tattoos, describing parallel, spiral and volute lines. Men had their entire body covered with tattoos and tattooing was a proof of resistance to physical pain. Moreover, the complexity of the tattoos were a mark of wealth, as the work of the tattoo makers was costly. While the artist made the tattoos with a bone bodkin, he was forbidden to touch food with his hands, that's why he had to be fed by another person. The Maori perfected the art of tattooing and even the heads of the warriors dead in combat were preserved as adornments in the Houses of the Council.
The Maori women could tattoo only their torso, lips and extremities, but many did not make that. Women wore fiber tunics and feather adorned capes. The used fibers were those of the New Zealand flax. The flax was woven by women, under the teaching of a priest who pronounced magic spells during the various stages of the processing. The Maori are known also because of their peculiar way of greeting: by rubbing their noses.
The ancient Maori believed that in the geysers and thermal springs of New Zealand lived gods accompanied by good and evil spirits. Only priests could approach such places in the case of many tribes. Other tribes knew the curative and medicinal value of these springs, frequented by ill or old people, and not only. Maori women also deposited leather bags filled with sweet potatoes (yams), hold by a cord, into the smoking springs to cook them. This food acquired the iron taste of the waters, being beneficial for the health.
Fishing was a main activity of the Maori. For this, they used the canoe with balance beam, called batanga. Maori used fishing nets attached to a long bamboo serving as floater. Each village of fishermen had a sacred place with a shrine, where the fishing master was at the same time a priest who worshipped the image of the God of the Sea. Maori farmed taro and yams, but the cool clime of New Zealand did not allow other common Polynesian crops, like coconut palm, banana or breadfruit trees. In the even colder southern island, not even taro and yams could be cultivated. During the harvesting or a military victory, Maori, both women and men, celebrated through dances. The most famous Maori dance is of course that of the Maori warriors, called haka, accompanied by an aggressive mimic and violent mouth grimaces meant to insult the enemy. Haka was made famous by the Rugby National Team of New Zealand, that plays it before each of its matches.
The Maori were famous as being bellicose people. Each tribe had a group of well trained warriors. The weaponry included a large spear and a wood or stone (often jade) mace cut with multiple adornments. In some cases, the captured enemies were eaten in a ritual act of cannibalism; this was a great offense and the family of the man executed in this manner had to revenge him. Each warrior wore with him a small jade figurine, called hei tiki, inherited from his forebears, which served as amulet and distinctive sign. Each man, when being made prisoner, had to hand over his hei tiki and that of his wife, which was passed to the wife of the winner.
The dog was the only domestic animal of the Maori (even if Polynesians also kept pigs and chickens). New Zealand did not have a mammal fauna, but a rich endemic bird fauna, comprising the huge moa birds (Dinornis), much larger than ostriches (and related with them): they reached 3 m height and 250 kg (550 pounds) in weight. In a very short period of time following their settlement, the Maori hunted these birds to extinction.