New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute

“He toi whakairo, he mana tangata - Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity ”

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NZMACI Reel 2015


Primarily based in Rotorua, New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) is the home of the national schools of carving (including pounamu and bone) and weaving. NZMACI also operates the national school for canoe construction which is based in Doubtless Bay on the east coast of the Northland Region. Ngā Wānanga 

Prior to the 19th century and the arrival of Christian missionaries, Māori history and kōrero (beliefs and stories) were carved and woven into patterns, forms and symbols in a unique composition. All aspects of our material culture and languages were intimately bound together by whakapapa (interconnections) and supported the metaphoric nature of te reo Māori (Māori language) and mātauranga Māori (Māori values and knowledge).

The Tohunga Suppression Act (1907) typified the assimilation of Māori and in many ways, became the turning point for Māori development. Through the work of Tā Apirana Ngata, the Member of Parliament for Eastern Māori, legislation was passed in Parliament in 1926 which saw the birth of NZMACI’s predecessor organisation and original carving school, Te Ao Marama, situated on the lake front of Rotorua at Ohinemutu. The Māori Arts and Crafts Board was established and governed the interests of the the carving school.

“You ask who is going to do the preserving [of Māori language and culture] and, of course there is no easy answer to that question […] Essentially it will be the Māori people themselves who retain, or adapt, what they can of their culture.” – Josiah Ralph Hanan, Minister of Māori Affairs (1962).

The first intake of students completed three years of training and then travelled throughout the country carving wharenui (meeting houses), with many of New Zealand’s prominent houses created in this way. In 1932 there was a need for larger premises due to the success of the school, however, with the death of the Director, Harold Hamilton, in 1937, coupled with the economic recession and the imminent onset of World War II, the school was closed.

Nearly 30 years later, the Rotorua Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Act (1963) saw Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley chosen as the location for a new carving school. The Act founded the school and the Institute as a legal entity, and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Amendment Act (1967) recognised it as a national institute. This renewed focus on the perpetuation of Māori art and craft, combined with the Government investment in the growth of Te Whakarewarewa Valley’s tourism interest, saw the two joined together under the Act.      

Alongside NZMACI, the Institute operates Te Puia, New Zealand’s largest cultural tourism attraction. The Institute has charitable status and surpluses gained by the tourism operation are invested into NZMACI’s cultural and community development interests.

NZMACI and Te Puia remain inextricably linked with a distinct, and yet shared, legacy. Its unique culture and commerce model is unlike anything else in the world, enabling its critical cultural activities, and ensuring authenticity is integral to its tourism operation.

Today, NZMACI is at the forefront of Māori cultural representation locally, nationally and internationally through an array of kaupapa (initiatives) and exhibitions of Māori arts and crafts, ensuring the preservation of Māori culture for future generations. These kaupapa also aim to empower indigenous cultures from around the world as well as strengthen the New Zealand story in important international tourism and trade markets.

The Legislation

The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Act (1963) sets out the Institute as a legal entity, as well as defining its functions to preserve, promote and perpetuate Maori arts and crafts. It is this legislation that governs the day to day activities of both NZMACI and Te Puia.

As a recipient and guardian of a strong nationally focused cultural legacy, NZMACI has been able to position itself at the forefront of Māori cultural representation, locally, nationally and internationally.

The Act reinforces this foundation and is unique internationally in its explicit recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to the preservation and practice of their traditional arts, crafts and culture.

Various international conventions refer to these rights including the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The Declaration explicitly articulates the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination, to maintain their own languages and cultures, and to protect their natural and cultural heritage. While it is largely unknown, NZMACI’s legislation positions the organisation at the forefront of these conventions – particularly given its historical contribution in this area.

NZMACI is also positioned strongly as a positive response to New Zealand’s Tiriti o Waitangi obligations, particularly in respect of Article 2 which states that:

“Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.”

“While the Act is explicit in its recognition of the rights of Iwi Māori to artistic and cultural practices, and is a positive response to New Zealand’s Tiriti o Waitangi obligations, NZMACI must continue to work alongside hapū and iwi to ensure that the mana of these traditions endures.” – Harry Burkhardt

Functions of the Institute

The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Act (1963) identifies seven functions of the Institute:

a)    To encourage, foster, and promote all types of Maori culture and practice and appreciation of Maori arts and crafts.

b)    To train Maori in the practice of Maori arts and crafts.

c)    To provide demonstrations or exhibitions of Maori arts and crafts and suitable premises for any such demonstrations or exhibitions.

d)    To arrange and conduct exhibitions of Maori arts and crafts and tours of performers demonstrating Maori arts and aspects of Maori culture.

e)    Develop and maintain areas in the Rotorua district or elsewhere as scenic or tourism attractions

f)     To foster and maintain public interest in Maori culture and Maori arts and crafts.

g)    To assist in the preservation of Maori culture and Maori arts and crafts.

A renewed focus

In 2011, the Te Puia | NZMACI board agreed on a new strategy for the organisation, with a focus to intensify its commitment to cultural development in line with the Act.

The resulting strategy reaffirmed and built upon Tā Apirana’s beliefs that Māori art, craft, and knowledge are the pillars of Māori tribal culture and identity. His dream was to establish centres to perpetuate and preserve these traditions for future generations was found to be as important today as ever.

A succession of ground breaking cultural initiatives have followed, rooted in whakaaro Māori (Māori philosophies) and remaining faithful to the responsibilities and obligations outlined in the Act. These initiatives have enabled connections with and between Ngā Iwi Taketake o te Ao (indigenous peoples around the world).

“Our various kaupapa have been developed to honour the challenge Tā Apirana Ngata set out, and are a basis for the reclaiming and reasserting the expertise and wisdom of the past. The challenge set out in 1926 is equally important today and remains the focus of NZMACI into the future.

“The need to realise the intent laid out by Tā Apirana in the 1926 Act remains as important today as it was then. There’s a fundamental need for hapū and iwi to continue to reconsider and recalibrate our identity and place within society, and material culture provides a mechanism to make a tangible statement. Our role is to provide the technical skills and kaupapa, and to partner with iwi, at a local, national and international level to connect the past with our aspirations for the future.” – Karl Johnstone.