The Art of New Zealand

Maori art in 4 forms: carving, weaving, tattoos and paint.


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Quick Facts

Much Maori art is very intricate and is composed of repetitions of lines which, when multiplied, create their own shapes.

The Maori people arrived in New Zealand by canoe about 800 years ago from islands 2,000 miles away. Using stars as navigation, the original inhabitants of Hawaii used similar methods to navigate from the South Pacific.

Step 2: Read about Carving

Carving was done in three media: wood, bone, and stone. Maori carvers, were thought to communicate with the spirit world and thus enjoyed considerable status. All Maori designs originally had special significance, the meanings of which were passed orally from one generation to the next.

The most popular type of stone used in carving was pounamu (greenstone), a form of jade, but other kinds were also used, especially in the North Island, where pounamu was not widely available. The greenstone (nephrite) is the hardest material found in Polynesia. It was a slow and difficult process, without modern tools.

Both stone and bone were used to create jewelry such as the hei-tiki. Large scale stone face carvings were also sometimes created.

The introduction of metal tools by Europeans allowed more intricacy and delicacy, and caused stone and bone fish hooks and other tools to become purely decorative. Carving is traditionally a tapu activity performed by men only.[4]

Most traditional Māori art was highly stylised and featured motifs such as the spiral, the chevron and the koru. The colours black, white and red dominated.
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Step 3 Learn how to Make Bone Carving Necklace Pendant.

1. Watch the video below on how to make a pendant using air dry clay.
2. Draw 4 sketches, select your best sketch.
3. Show your sketch to Mrs. Mitchell, she will give you the clay.
Maori Bone Necklace
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Step 4: Learn about: Ta Moko

Ta moko is the art of traditional Māori tattooing, done with a chisel.
Men were tattooed on many parts of their bodies, including faces, legs and thighs.

Women were usually tattooed only on the lips and chin.
Moko conveyed a person's ancestry. T
he art declined in the 19th century following the introduction of Christianity, but in recent decades has undergone a revival.

Although modern moko are in traditional styles, most are carried out using modern equipment.

Body parts such as the arms, legs and back are popular locations for modern moko, although some are still on the face.
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Step 5: Learn about Maori Painting

Although the oldest forms of Māori art are rock paintings, in 'classical' Māori art, painting was not an important art form.

It was mainly used as a minor decoration in meeting houses, in stylised forms such as the koru.

Europeans introduced Māori to their more figurative style of art, and in the 19th century less stylised depictions of people and plants began to appear on the walls of meeting houses in place of traditional carvings and woven panels.

The introduction of European paints also allowed traditional painting to flourish, as brighter and more distinct colours could be produced.

Step 6: Painting

1. Sketch a design for a large painting. Use the koru, facial tattoos, and other New Zealand imagery for inspiration. If you choose to do the face, I have a template you can sketch it on.
2. Once Mrs. Mitchell approves your design, draw it on large paper.

Day 1 of painting:
1. Transfer your smaller sketch to large paper by drawing it out lightly.
2. Select 2-3 colors as the 'background' and fill in the largest areas.
3. Also, paint your clay necklace today. If you are not painting it, add the string and take it home.
4. If you finish early, you can color a koru coloring page to take home.

Day 2 of painting:
1. Color all the details.
2. As the paint dries, use permanent markers to outline, add small dots or other small details to finish the design.
3. If you painted your necklace, add the string and take it home today.

Step 8 Bonus: Wonderopolis: Kiwi Bird

Step 9: Bonus Information: Maori Games: Te Ao Kori

Use the information below to learn how to play a game. Once you have mastered the game, teach a friend and then teach the class!

Te ao kori (the world of movement) is a Māori celebration of life through movement and its many expressions. Exploring Te Ao Kori describes learning experiences derived from customary Māori cultural practices. This resource integrates health and physical education and the arts, and it provides teachers with ideas for planning activities to meet the identified learning needs of students.

Exploring Te Ao Kori can be accessed from either the arts or the health and physical education communities.



  • The defender always begins the game by calling "E hipitoitoi!" while placing their hands in one of the four positions discussed above.
  • The challenger replies with "Hipitoitoi" and does a different action to the defender.
  • This will go on until one player is caught doing the same action as the other player, then the latter scores a point, calling "Hipitoitoi rā!"
  • The winner of the point then re-starts the set, and they play again.
  • Each time a player scores a point, they re-start the set by saying the number of points they now have followed by "E hipitoitoi!". For example, "Tahi. E hipitoitoi!", "Rua. E hipitoitoi!"
  • The game continues until one player scores ten points, which completes the set.


  • Both thumbs down.
  • Both thumbs upright.
  • Right thumb upright and left thumb down.
  • Left thumb upright and right thumb down.
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Hei Tama Tu Tama


  • The defender begins the game by calling "Hei tama tū tama" and places their hands in one of the four positions described above.
  • The challenger replies with "Hei tama tū tama" and does a different action.
  • When one player catches the other doing the same action, that player calls "Hei tama tū tama rā!" and scores a point.
  • The winner of the point then re-starts the set, saying "Tahi. Hei tama tū tama", and play continues until a player is caught out again.
  • Each time a player scores a point, they re-start the set by saying the number of points they now have followed by "Hei tama tū tama."
  • The game continues until one player reaches ten points – this completes the set.

This game is played using the upper body, arms, and hands, ensuring a balanced position.


  • Hands on hips.
  • Both forearms raised, fists clenched, and elbows to the side.
  • Right forearm raised with clenched fist, left hand on hip.
  • Left forearm raised with clenched fist, right hand on hip.
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Step 10 Bonus: Use the New Zealand Apps on the iPad to earn more badges!

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