By Katherine Vanker
The Maori language is a Polynesian language that is closely related to Cook Island Maori, Tahitian and Hawaiian . According to the 1996 Census, the Maori language is spoken by approximately 150,000 New Zealanders . The name Maori originally meant “the local people” or “the original people” . This distinguished them from the European settlers and the new arrivals . Today they are known as the indigenous people of New Zealand.
Traditions and social customs are very important to the Maori . One such custom is ‘koha’, which translated to English is ‘gift.’ Within the meaning of the word, there is an unspoken understanding of responsibility that the gift should be savored and enjoyed many times over . In the past, the gift usually involved a visitor offering a donation to a ‘host marae’ . The marae is the customary focal point for meetings, discussions, funerals and for welcoming visitors to the area . The Maori people believe that the manner in which the gift is given is more important than the gift itself . As such, there are important rules associated with it . For example, as a show of respect, the host keeps eye contact with the visitor when accepting the gift . In the early days, when war was rampant between the differing tribes, koha was offered in the form of waiata in gratitude for protection . Food was often given as koha, as were treasured possessions . The gift is not necessarily an object either. It can come in the form of giving one’s time . In today’s society, the gift is usually in the form of money and for those that are unfamiliar with the custom, hosts may suggest an amount given for the koha .
The concepts of giving, caring and sharing are closely linked to obligations, duties, responsibilities and reciprocal arrangements . All of these behaviours are vital to the Maori people in order to gain a sense of completeness which holds high importance in this world.