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Aronui ki Te Ao Māori

The unique culture of our Force is a blend of our Māori and British heritage.

While our military organisation follows the British system, our warrior ethos draws heavily from Te Ao Māori (Māori world view).

Te Ope Kātua O Aotearoa is the official Māori name of our Defence Force. Te Ope Kātua O Aotearoa translates to ‘the personnel of the main defensive stockade of New Zealand’ - a metaphor that describes that main line of defence for all of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Every few months a disparate group of Kiwis take on the gruelling challenges of basic training and join Te Ope Kātua O Aotearoa. After “signing on the line” during their attestation into our Armed Services, recruits from all walks of life assemble at their service marae, as a manuhiri (guest), and become part of a new whānau of the sea, land or sky:

Te Taua Moana o Aotearoa | Royal New Zealand Navy
‘The Warriors of the Sea of New Zealand’

Ngāti Tūmatauenga | New Zealand Army
‘Tribe of the God of War’

Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa | Royal New Zealand Air Force
‘The Warriors of the Sky of New Zealand’

New Zealand Army personnel perform a haka on a cloudy day

The roots of Ngāti Tūmatauenga 

Ngāti Tūmatauenga is the official Māori name of our New Zealand Army. The name translates to 'The Tribe of the God of War'. 

This makes our Army unique. It is not a conventional Western military. In 1994 it transformed itself into Ngāti Tūmatauenga: an iwi created by, with and for the state. The name Ngāti Tūmatauenga was afforded to the New Zealand Army by Sir Charles Bennett, DSO - The last Commanding Officer of 28 (Maori) Battalion.

Every soldier is inducted into Ngāti Tūmatauenga. Recruits spend nights on the marae being taught the whakapapa of their new iwi. That sense of belonging supports the strong ties of comradeship among New Zealand Army personnel.

Ngāti Tūmatauenga represents strength and mana – the warrior ethos at the core of everything we do.

New Zealand Army recruits march in formation through the arch with Māori carvings and onto the parade ground in Waiouru on graduation day

One of the unique features about our military is our three service marae - Te Taua Moana Marae (RNZN Marae), Rongomaraeroa o ngā hau e whā (NZ Army Marae) and the Te Tūrangawaewae o Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa. Our marae are meeting places on our camps and bases where all new entrants are ceremonially welcomed with tikanga Māori. Throughout their careers it will be where our personnel meet others on an informal basis or from time to time to gather for special and ceremonial occasions. All distinguished visitors to our marae are welcomed with a pōwhiri. The marae community is not confined to our personnel but extends to their whānau and beyond.

Te Taua Moana Marae

In April 2000, the late Māori Queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikāhu, opened Te Taua o Aotearoa marae. Navy kaumātua Kairo McLean opened his whaikōrero with this whakatauki — Te ohonga ake i te Moemoeā, ko te puāwaitanga o ngā whakaaro — Dreams become reality when we take action. The proverb acknowledged both the dreams of Māori sailors over the previous 41 years, and the actions taken by successive generations to fulfil those dreams.

Members of Te Taua Moana Marae performing in front of the marae in cultural dress.

Hui with local and surrounding iwi had been held to advise intentions, discuss plans, and invite representatives to take part in the traditional dawn ceremony. At the formal naval ceremony held later that day, one group raised concerns about what they perceived was a lack of consultation, particularly around choice to honour the marae as nga hau e whā.  

Te Taua Moana helps cement the Navy’s culture and the aspirations of all its Te Iwi Hēramana, its sailors, together.

However, the kaupapa was strengthened by this, as sailors, officers and their extended whānau responded by standing in unity and singing in worship, maintaining the overall integrity of the day. In the speeches that followed, the significance of the matter was not lost, affording mana to the marae and its people. 

The culture of our armed services blends the traditions of the Māori warrior and British soldiers, sailors and airmen - our history, heritage and experience of war - and the characteristics of our wider society. It is the lifeblood of our Defence Force, it conveys our sense of identity, and it shapes our attitudes and behaviours.

Warriors of the Sky haka 

The Royal New Zealand Air Force established its current haka “Ko Te Taua-a-rangi – “War Party of the Sky” in 2006, written by members of Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa (RNZAF). The kaupapa (story) for the haka focuses on the past, present and future of the Air Force and draws inspiration from the RNZAF’s three Victoria Cross winners.

The haka is for all members of the Air Force, with both men and women eligible to perform it.

Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel performing a haka at a graduation at Base Woodbourne.

Māori ceremonial blessing on the commissioning of Navy ships

Our combined heritage is further demonstrated when christening ships. In Te Ao Māori all things possess a life-force or mauri. When a ship is commissioned into the Royal New Zealand Navy, a mauri laying ceremony is conducted to give the ship its life-force.   

Every member of the ship’s company and all those who serve in the ship throughout her commissioned life therefore add to the ship’s mauri. The mauri service consists of two parts:

  1. The laying of the taonga, typically a suitable piece of pounamu (greenstone) that will possess the life force. 
  2. Karakia (prayers) by kaumātua (Māori elders) and chaplains are given as they walk through the new ship. 

Every member of the ship adds to the ship’s mauri.

Laying of the Mauri dawn ceremony on HMNZS Manawanui.

Considering a career that embraces Te Ao Māori?

A career in the Defence Force is unlike anything out there. You'll be working as part of a tight-knit team, protecting your family, friends, the environment and your country from harm and representing the New Zealand way of life where you go. It's an incredibly rewarding job that gives you a real sense of purpose.

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