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New Zealand - Culture, Society and Religion

The culture and society in New Zealand is influenced by many things including the Maori people and the differing European heritages of the other inhabitants. It is also influenced by its location in the world which is fairly remote and for hundreds of years was not easy to reach.

New Zealand now has a very multicultural society and people are welcomed from all over the world. Racism does exist but not to the extent that is experienced in some other countries and expats of all countries have chosen to make their home in New Zealand. The culture is one of self-reliance, which has grown out of centuries of fending for themselves due to their remote location. There is a strong emphasis on the natural environment in New Zealand.

For most of the country’s history the Maori culture has been very strong. The people had different tribes, way of life and their own arts. They kept an oral history of their people. Their culture was affected by the arrival of the Europeans as they lost lands and much of their identity, although in recent years there has been much work on regaining this identity. The role of the family is strong in Maori culture, with gatherings such as marae, which takes place on special occasions. Traditional values in the Maori culture also include sharing and community living. The Maori people have a very strong sense of right and wrong and expect members of their community to respect any ‘taboo’ places or people.

The Europeans who arrived in the country did not lose much of their own culture, bringing the same working practices and cultural influences. As New Zealand became an independent nation and Britain moved into the European Community there was a reduction in trade, so New Zealand became much more self-sufficient for many years.

New Zealand is often considered to be a classless society, due to the lack of aristocracy and the opportunities that are available to all residents. For a long time there was also a very narrow gap between the poorest and the richest members of society, although in recent years this gap has widened due to a stronger sense of materialism, with more and more goods being imported from other countries and fewer manufacturing jobs being available in New Zealand. There is a general disapproval of those who talk too much about their own achievements and many will take the opportunity to put people in their place if they try it.

Artists and musicians in New Zealand struggle to find a platform due to the large amount of material which is brought in from other countries. The country now has a number of schemes in place to promote home-grown artists. There are art galleries and museums in most of the large towns and cities and struggling artists are able to apply for funding for their work. New Zealand countryside is now recognisable to many cinema goers as a number of large budget movies have been made there including the Lord of the Rings films and the Oscar-winning ‘The Piano’.

New Zealand has produced a number of award-winning writers including Katherine Mansfield. There are a number of writers such as Maurice Gee and Austin Mitchell that have written about life in New Zealand.

There are a number of religions which are being practised today in New Zealand. Traditional Maori religion is a type of pagan religion whereby the people worshipped a number of different gods. In the early days this religion formed the major part of their lives, governing their society and behaviour. As European settlers came to the country they brought with them other religions, mainly Christianity and in some areas of the country, the Maori religion was not as strong afterwards for many decades.

More than 50% of New Zealanders are Christians, although there are many different Christian churches established in the country. These include Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic and Presbyterians as the larger groups although others such as the Mormons, Baptists and Eastern Orthodox churches are also in existence.

Non Christian religions which are followed in the country include Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and smaller religions such as Paganism. Censuses show that almost 30% of the population state that they have no religion at all.

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