This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.
Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.
The chants and songs of the New Zealand Maoris are an archaic survival, perhaps the most ancient known to man, from a far-distant past when the Polynesian people lived somewhere on the mainland of South-East Asia. During many centuries of isolation in the Pacific, the Maori people had been free to perpetuate their ancient culture, undisturbed by outside influences of any kind. The songs which fell so strangely on the ears of the early Pacific explorers and which they described as “a dreary monotone”, “slow and solemn”, “monotonous”, “doleful”, were an echo from a forgotten past, dating back perhaps a thousand years.
Music in a primitive society tends to be one of the steadiest elements of culture because it is inescapably bound up with the ritual of religion, magic, healing, sorcery, and other kinds of occult practice. In pre-European Maori society, invocations, charms, spells, and incantations remained sacrosanct and therefore not subject to change while fundamental beliefs and concepts of life were still held; but suddenly these gave way when they were challenged by the influence of Western thought and ways of living.