No hea te Kitā Māori? Where did the ‘Māori Guitar’ come from?

A DigitalNZ Story by National Library Services to Schools

How did we get to the point where the guitar plays a central role in modern Maori performance? What other instruments were used as part of performances?


Kia kawea tātou e te rēhia 

Let us be taken by the spirit of joy, of entertainment

This whakataukī (saying) indicates that performance-based entertainment was central to Māori society long before the first arrival of Europeans. Whare tapere was the name given to sites used for entertainments such as storytelling, dance, music and games. Sometimes this name referred to a special building, but more often a suitable outdoor location such as the base of a notable tree was designated a whare tapere.

Source: Mark Derby and Briar Grace-Smith, 'Māori theatre - te whare tapere hōu - Origins of Māori theatre', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 May 2019) 


After European settlement, a number of factors led to the near-demise of use of taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments). Many of the ceremonies at which they were played disappeared with the introduction of Christianity. Māori themselves put aside their traditional instruments in favour of introduced versions such as the jew’s harp, which replaced its equivalent, the rōria. Māori musicians were swift and adept at adopting a wide range of new instruments including banjos, pianos, bagpipes, brass-band instruments and, perhaps most popular of all, the guitar.

Source: Brian Flintoff, 'Māori musical instruments – taonga puoro - Decline and revival of Māori instruments', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,  (accessed 1 May 2019) 

Maori Kapa Haka performers

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Tui Teka and the Maori Volcanics

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Māori Hi-Five band

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Golden Harvest

NZ On Screen

Principal playing guitar and singing with class

NZEI Te Riu Roa (New Zealand Educational Institute)

The Reggae Man

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage


Mid 20th century Māori music

In the 1950s and 1960s action songs were made popular by Māori showbands and by other performers such as the Howard Morrison Quartet. During the Māori cultural renaissance, new clubs and culture groups were set up, and original songwriting was encouraged. Songwriters and singers such as Prince Tui Teka, Moana Maniapoto and Dalvanius Prime developed a Māori-influenced style, and used the Māori language. Ngoi Pēwhairangi wrote the hit songs ‘E ipo’ and ‘Poi e’.


Early composers and performers often used the piano and violin. The guitar became dominant in the mid-20th century, and in the later 20th century taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments) were revived.

Source: Piri Sciascia and Paul Meredith, 'Waiata hōu – contemporary Māori songs', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 May 2019)

Other Instruments

'Ukarere (Ukulele)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

'Ukarere (Ukulele)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa


Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Maori girl playing a Jews Harp

Alexander Turnbull Library

Group on Kapiti Island

Alexander Turnbull Library

Ratana youth band, Wanganui

Alexander Turnbull Library

Moteo Jazz Band

MTG Hawke's Bay

Family gathering, 1959

Auckland Libraries


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Ohinemutu, Rotorua, 1964

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa