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A Quick History of New Zealand’s Maori Culture and Rugby Alliance

A Quick History of New Zealand’s Maori Culture and Rugby Alliance

On many escorted tours in New Zealand, you’re likely to encounter the cultural influences and traditions of the Maori people. Whether that’s through artwork, guided tours that tell the legacies of the land, or even through sport… Maori culture is highly valued in New Zealand, as is rugby. Interestingly, the two are united in New Zealand, creating Maori Rugby – a version of the sport which renowned for its unique and vigorous approach.

Where it all began…

Rugby was first adopted by New Zealand in the 1870s thanks to Charles John Monro. After studying in England, Monro took a shine to the newly established rules of rugby and when back home in New Zealand, suggested that his local football club try it out. His team were fans, and as word spread, others began to try it too. It wasn’t long before the whole nation was caught up in the buzz surrounding this new and exciting game, brought all the way from the other side of the world. Since, the sport has gone from strength to strength and has established itself at the heart of New Zealand culture. Key to its development has been the intertwining with New Zealand’s strong Maori roots…

Where sport and culture collide…

If you’re familiar with the All Blacks rugby team, possibly the most iconic name in Maori Rugby, we’re sure you’ll agree that their Maori roots are clear to see. However, without the ingenuity of Tom Ellison (a member of the original 1884 team) it’s unlikely the sport would have become such a key symbol of the Maori culture. It was Ellison who developed the unique All Blacks jersey prototype – a shirt that is now recognised throughout the world. He also played a major role in the New Zealand rugby team’s style of play, implementing the 2-3-2 scrum. However, it is the introduction of the haka (a Maori dance), which will arguably be remembered as his greatest legacy.

The haka tradition…

The haka is a dance that the Maori tribes created and would use as a means of judging each tribe’s reputation. In addition, any visitors to a Maori tribe would be welcomed with a performance of the haka.

Today, the traditional dance is performed by the New Zealand All Blacks to unite the team and their fans, and to appear ominous to the opposition before the start of each game. The spine-tingling haka is an illustration of the passion, vivacity and strength the Maori people have, as well as a nod to their strong beliefs. Over the years, the dance has become recognised and replicated all around the globe, and is now synonymous with NZ Maori Rugby.

As you can see, customs and traditions of the indigenous people have strongly influenced New Zealand Maori Rugby. And anyone lucky enough to witness the sport played on its home turf is sure to never forget this inspiring taste of Maori culture in New Zealand.

Image courtesy of Tourism New Zealand


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