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Maori Warrior Costume

Updated on February 16, 2015

Do you want to strike fear into the hearts of your foes?

Then perhaps a Maori warrior costume is for you. Not only will you be able to put it together quickly and easily, it is also comfortable (if a little cold!) and striking. There is plenty of room for your own individual take on it. However, please remember that this is the traditional clothing of a living culture. Please treat it with the respect it deserves.

Here I will also try to give you the proper names for each of the clothing articles and a little about the culture surrounding them. There are also some costumes intended for Kapa Haka groups, which is a modern interpretation of Maori dance that is very popular in New Zealand.

Maori fighting with taiahas.
Maori fighting with taiahas.

Maori Warriors

The Maori are the native people of New Zealand (known as Aotearoa, or the Land of the Long White Cloud). You may have seen examples of Maori costume on TV or in the movies. One particularly famous film which showcases Maori culture in modern New Zealand is The Whale Rider.

The Maori are known to be ferocious warriors, who held their own against invading soldiers in many different conflicts. Maori are also associated with the haka, a war dance. The All Blacks, the national New Zealand rugby team, performs the haka before every match to intimidate the opposing team.

A Maori warrior's costume will generally include a flax piupiu (a kind of skirt), some tattoos, a bone or jade carving, and a weapon. You might also wish to wear a cloak, particularly if the nights are getting cold, and a feather headdress.

The Haka

Maori Dancers
Maori Dancers

The Piupiu, or traditional flax skirt

The Maori traditionally wear a kind of skirt made from dried flax, although it can also be made from beads. This is one of the main components of your costume, and you have several options to buy it if you wish. Generally, black shorts are worn underneath the skirt, and in some cases, only shorts are worn (they usually have a black and red belt with a traditional pattern if only wearing the shorts). On men, the piupiu is worn higher than the knees (all the better to display those well muscled legs!)

If you are very keen, you can make a traditional skirt from flax. There are several online guides to this, including this one There is a video below, detailing how to make a piupiu in the traditional way.

Or you can find a red and black belt and stitch or staple strips of leather, or strings of long, thin tube beads (preferably in black and white) onto it. You can see a typical pattern in the photo.

If it all seems like too much, or you are running late with your costume, you can try substituting a Hawaiian grass skirt. There are plenty of tutorials for making these online. They are often made from paper, which you can mark with Maori patterns before cutting. Remember to keep it above the knee and not to make it too thick.

Make Your Own Piupiu

This video will show you a traditional technique for making the piupiu.

The Carved Pendant

Maori pendants are beautiful and meaningful works of art. You can get a cheap ox bone carving for a few dollars or spend hundreds on a jade (greenstone) or whalebone pendant. The symbols are important and for a Maori warrior costume you'll probably want to go with the fish hook, which symbolises leadership and courage.

See here for more information about the symbolism of Maori pendants.

The Tattoo

Maori tattoos have a long, rich history. Known today as Ta moko (a term which once applied to only a particular kind of tattoo), they were originally carved directly into the face with a sharp instrument like a chisel, by a sacred artist. This would leave a deep groove of color.

The process was considered a rite of passage and a true warrior (male or female) would remain calm and still while the tattooing process took place, and while the wounds healed over many days.

Today they are still worn with pride by many Maori, but are usually created with needles pricking color under the skin, like modern tattoos.

All the patterns and shapes of the tattoos are personal and relate to the achievements and family lineage of the wearer, as well as their job and place in the tribe. They were so individual, the pattern of a tattoo was once used as a signature for binding contracts.


It is not generally considered prohibited for non-Maori to wear Maori tattoos as long as they are used with respect. If you are considering getting a permanent Maori influenced tattoo, please do your research and ensure that you aren't co-opting any sacred symbols for any purposes they aren't intended.

See here for more about controversy surrounding the Maori tattoo.

The Weapon

A long straight stick (like a broomstick) will do as a weapon. Tie some feathers to one end and it will look somewhat like the taiaha.

The Maori developed a variety of different close combat weapons, including elaborately carved clubs and axes. Many of these weapons were made from jade or whalebone. They were considered to be sacred objects and some were symbols of status or chieftainship. If you are fortunate enough to receive an authentic traditional weapon, it should not be used as a costume piece.

Remember to treat weapons, even costume weapons, with respect.

Putting it all together

There is a great deal of value in Maori culture and customs for anyone to consider, but it is important to remember that this is a living culture with people who have been marginalized many times. Treat the traditional costume with the same respect that you would show the costumes and traditional wear of your own people.

And remember:

Whaia e koe ki the iti kahurangi; ki the tuohu koe, me maunga teitei

Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain

The Whale Rider

Watch The Whale Rider, a beautiful story about a young Maori girl and her struggle to understand her history and where she belongs in a modern world.

The Whale Rider combines a realistic look at modern rural Maori life with fantastic elements of mythology.

The Original Novel

Whale Rider Poll

Have you seen The Whale Rider?

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    Post Comment

    • indigomoth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New Zealand

      @SusanDeppner: Thank you! :)

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      6 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Nicely done! Lots of really neat information here - and a great costume suggestion!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana

      Maori warriors are always good source of inspiration. An I always enjoy All Blacks at their 'dance':)


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