from the New Zealand Handbook by Jane King, which you can order right now.


New Zealand's population numbers 3.4 million. Kiwis (as New Zealanders like to call themselves) are good-humored, relaxed, easy to get along with, and hospitable. They take the time to talk to one another--and to visitors. Don't be surprised if you're frequently asked to their homes for "tea" or a cold beer. Of the total population, about 280,000 are native Maori (403,000 claim Maori descent), 250,000 are Pacific Islanders, and the rest are mainly of British descent. The Maori population has increased dramatically in the last 30 years as a result of its growing awareness of the importance of good health, nutrition, and education, which lowered a previously high infant-mortality rate.

New Zealanders enjoy a high standard of living. Comprehensive health services and subsidized medicines are available to all citizens. They have high-quality housing, plentiful food, a five-day, 40-hour work week, and both sexes claim equal rights and opportunities. Churches of all major denominations can be found throughout New Zealand, and minor religious sects are found mainly in the larger cities. (For info regarding services, check the daily newspapers, or ask at the local Public Relations Office or Visitor Information Network office.)


The population is unevenly distributed. Historically the South Island has always had a smaller population than the North Island (except for during the gold-rush era), but recent times have brought a steady drift from south to north. In the 1960s New Zealanders began to migrate in large numbers from the rural areas to cities in search of better opportunities. Today more than 75% of the people live in the North Island, 55% in urban areas.


After a colorful history of racial resentment and resulting land wars, today the Pakeha (white man), Maori, and Pacific Islander live in relative harmony compared with other parts of the world, though there's been rapidly increasing unrest over land disputes in the last few years--disputes that originated in the 1840s with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Intermarriage has increased dramatically in the last three decades, leaving very few full-blooded Maori in New Zealand. It's estimated that one out of 12 New Zealanders is at least half-Maori in origin, and many more are part Maori. No longer do you find the modern Maori wearing ceremonial costume, cooking in boiling pools, and living as they are depicted on postcards. Only those involved in the tourist industry continue to give this picture of Maori life--mainly in Rotorua, where visitors enjoy authentic performances of the fierce haka (war dance) of Maori men, the graceful poi dance and beautiful singing of the women, traditional arts, crafts, and carving.

It is estimated that about 57% of the Maori population lives in main urban centers. The Maori had difficulties adjusting to urban life and Pakeha ways, and bagan to lose their culture and tradition. Recognizing these problems, the government and Maori themselves introduced programs to ease the situation. Out of these programs came a growing Maori nationalism and an eventual upsurge of Pakeha interest in Maoritanga, the Maori way of life. Today the Maori language, traditions, arts and crafts, music and dance are taught in schools throughout New Zealand, and there is an increasing national interest in preserving the once fading Maori culture. However, unrest over land ownership continues--rapidly escalating in recent times.


The common language of New Zealand is English. The Maori also have their own melodic language, mainly heard in songs and chants and on ceremonial occasions. However, some Maori phrases, such as "Haere mai" meaning "Welcome" and "Haere ra" meaning "Farewell," have been adopted by Pakeha and integrated into general use. With the renewed interest in Maori culture, the Maori language was made an official language of New Zealand in 1974.

Beautifully descriptive Maori place names are scattered throughout New Zealand. Places were often named after particular events, such as Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu--"the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as `landeater,' played his flute to his loved one." (There's also a longer version, claimed to be the world's longest place name!) The Maori language was entirely oral until the early missionaries recorded it in a written form. The sounds broke down into eight consonants: h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w; five vowels: a, e, i, o, u; and two combinations: wh, and ng. "Wh" is pronounced as f, "ng" is a nasal sound, as in siNG. All words end in a vowel, and each syllable has equal stress. Many words are Maori pronunciations of English words, but they look Maori, such as motaka--motor car. The easiest way to say Maori words is to pronounce each syllable phonetically.

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