Maori-Inspired Stamps - Most Popular Stamps in New Zealand


May 08, 2014 Europe/London

The bulk of the stamps used in New Zealand are inspired by the Maori designs. The Maori are a group of indigenous people from Eastern Polynesia that settled in New Zealand in the 13th century. This group of people arrived in the country through their canoes, as part of a huge group of Polynesians who settled in different parts of North and South Pacific. The country was different compared to the islands where they come from. For starters, New Zealand is known for its four-season climate and its natural resources. A new Maori culture was thus formed, when the group began to use animals, hardwoods and minerals to their benefit. This culture and their arts and crafts have served as the inspiration for many postage stamps printed and released in the country.

Get to Know Some of the Maori-Inspired Stamps

The 1920 New Zealand’s World War I Victory issue is one example of a stamp that was inspired by the Maori culture. The stamps feature Maori face wood carvings called the ‘whakairo’, which can be found on the stamp’s left hand corner. The main design feature on these stamps was the Maori warrior with a unique tattoo on his face, referred to as ‘ta moko’. These stamps were printed and released to cite the courageous actions made by the Maori Battalion that participated during the World War I campaigns.

The stamps released and issued in 1935 showed many aspects of Maori culture. A characteristic sample shows a Maori woman lowering a water or food basket on a rope. In 1960s, most stamps in the country depicted Maori culture, arts and crafts. For example, some of the stamps depict ‘tiki’, carved in a green stone. In Maori culture, the ‘tiki’ can be worn around the neck as a fashion accessory. Maori buildings and structures were also used as the subjects and inspirations for stamps.

Maori traditional patterns on stamps

Another example of Maori paintings as inspiration for New Zealand stamps was released in 1988 - the 40¢ New Zealand stamp featuring the ‘whare’ rafter painting that makes use of the ‘mangopare’ symbol, which stands for courage, strength, love and friendship in Maori culture. The ‘whare’ refers to the meeting houses of the Maori people, known to include carved supports and door frames, as well as many decorated symbols in the interior. This stamp was similar to the 9d stamp that was printed in 1935 and was made available in red and black. Some stamps were inspired by the ‘kowhaiwhai’ pattern of the Maori culture.

According to legend, this pattern was the work of three builders who were looking for carvings that can be used in their house. A god told the three that they cannot use the carvings, and instead they should utilize painted designs. This is where the ‘kowhaiwhai’ pattern came into being.

Many New Zealand stamps have the name ‘aotearoa’ prominently displayed on the stamps. This was the name given by the Maori people to their new homeland - New Zealand.