Kiwiana Town | The Kiwiana capital of the world! | Maori Kitsch
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Maori Kitsch


Selling Trinkets

When you visit another country on holiday it is common to take home some sort of souvenir as a memento of your travels. Or it might be a gift for friends or family – something to put on their sideboard to make them feel that they have been a part of your journey.

Souvenirs have always run the gamut from tasteless kitsch to works of art. At one end of the spectrum you’ll find paua shell encrusted toenail clippers, ‘sheep-shagger’ boxer shorts, packets of chocolate ‘Kiwi poo’ and $2.50 purple plastic tikis. But more discriminating visitors can also invest in stylish paua jewelry, luxury merino and possum fur knitwear and contemporary Maori art.

New Zealand’s Māori culture and art has always been, and still is, a big part of our tourism and souvenir business. In the early part of the 20th century, up until the 1980’s, New Zealand was discovering its identity. It adopted icons like the Kiwi bird, ‘Tiki’ and ‘Wharenui’ (meeting house) as symbols to portray our differences.

Over this period there was little regard or respect for the use of Māori icons and artifacts and how they were portrayed. (A Maori chief’s face printed on a tea towel for cleaning or cast as an ash tray would be regarded as disrespectful today). We have come a long way towards showing the respect deserved as to how these symbols and artifacts are represented.

These souvenirs of the 1940’s to the 1980’s are examples of how we portrayed Māori in New Zealand.


“Maoriland” This quaint term first appeared in the 1860’s as an alternative name for New Zealand. The Victorian concept of “Maoriland” was still being used in the early part of the 20th century. It represented a fairyland, a fantasy, a place populated with seductive Maori maidens, aggressive Māori warriors, heroic Pakeha-Māori and sublime natural landscapes. It was characterised by the relentless mythologizing of Māori, the decorative use of native flora and fauna, and outmoded verse styles.

New Zealand established the world’s first government department to deal with the business of tourism.

The Māori images promoted to sell New Zealand to the world continued to evoke the beautiful Maori maiden and mighty Maori chief.

At the same time there was a worldwide postcard boom lasting from 1903 until the beginning of World War One. The postcard boom was inspired by the introduction of cheap postage and technological advances allowing mass production. Māori, alongside scenic images of New Zealand, appeared on mass produced postcards printed both in New Zealand and in Europe, particularly in Germany.