Toi Maori – Vocabulary of Maori Art

Maori art is closely bound to history and Maori tradition. It is also related to the Maori nationalism and political struggle. For these reasons, artists still actively employ a broad range of professional terms in the Maori language to describe their work.

This article presents a list of common art terms commonly used when discussing New Zealand’s Maori art.

Toi Maori

Toi means knowledge, origin, source, and art. Toi Maori is a general term for Maori art. Art is closely connected to Maori culture, history, and religion, used as much more than simple decoration. Maori art is almost always deeply embedded with symbolism.


Haka is a traditional dance that includes stomping feet, making faces and making noises. While often perceived as a war ceremony for men, it can be included in many social situations and be performed by women or children as well.


Raranga is the art of weaving and making textiles. Many different sources of fibres can be used for Raranga works. Many originate from plants and flowers, and they were also coloured with natural ingredients.

Ta Moko

Ta moko or traditional tattooing is likely the most symbolic form of Maori art. The tattoos make use of bold shapes and dramatic colours, while being relatively simple in design. They often indicate a person’s ancestry and social standing. The tattoos would cover large portions of the body, even the face. Traditionally they would be made using chisels, but electric needles are mostly used nowadays.


Waiata is music or chant, usually meaning songs that are sung solo. There are several genres of traditional music, and different instruments are used to accompany them. Waiata songs are often used in formal situations.


Whakairo is the art of carving in general or carving wood in particular. There is a long tradition of decorating wood, bones or stones for practical and decorative purposes.