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New Zealand, Culture

Creative New Zealand, geographic isolation, Maori language, British models, urban dwellers

The earliest cultural tradition in New Zealand was that of the Maori, who developed a rich and diverse Polynesian culture in geographic isolation from the other cultures of Polynesia. European settlers brought with them their own traditions, which eventually dominated the country’s cultural life. Since the 1950s the cultural fabric of New Zealand has become increasingly diverse with the immigration of peoples from the Pacific Islands and Asia.

Traditional Maori culture is expressed in song, dance, oratory, woodcarving, weaving, and architecture. Maori artists also bring Maori perspectives to canvas painting, fiction and poetry writing, and other art forms. The Maori have made a concerted effort to preserve their culture. In the 1980s they initiated a revival of their language and other traditions. By that time many Maori had assimilated into the predominant European culture. The majority of Maori had become urban dwellers, and most younger Maori did not know the Maori language. Today Maori culture thrives in both traditional and reinvented traditions.

Cultural activity among people of European descent, who are known as Pakeha in New Zealand, has long been strong, but until recently tended to follow British models. Cultural output was high in both quality and quantity. It was complicated by strong links with Britain, however, because London was in many respects the cultural capital of New Zealand. The most acclaimed New Zealand artists produced their famous works as expatriates in England. Artists and writers who stayed in New Zealand tended to feel alienated from, and unappreciated by, overseas European society. Even expatriate artists, however, explored their New Zealand roots. In the second half of the 20th century, Pakeha culture developed in its own right, producing many notable writers and artists whose works draw on the New Zealand experience.

The government of New Zealand helps fund and promote the arts, literature, and music through an arts council known as Creative New Zealand (formerly the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand), established in 1964.

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