What can we learn from the Maori tribe about education? What this tribe does beats many expensive corporate training programs.

New Zealand Maori rowing ceremonial coreography Education is a cultural universal. While we tend to think that we have reached the zenith of education in our times, the reality is that there used to be sophisticated ways to learn that many societies had developed, which we have forgotten and are condemned to rediscover at great costs.

I bring to you an excerpt from a book “Right of Centre- Experiential initiatives for Action Learning” by Anand Upadhyay that may throw some light on what could be your best way to learn things. Before I tell you more – I want you to read this chapter he has graciously allowed me to share with readers of this blog. You will now read about a very unique practice of the Maori tribe – that advanced training programs are adopting as preferred method of learning.

Over to Anand.


My first tryst with experiential learning happened in the year 1990, on a Maori ‘Marai’ (tribal community centre) in New Zealand, during a 5 year assignment with a Maori development enterprise in Auckland. Maoris are the indigenous people of New Zealand and the legend has it that they arrived in New Zealand on boats, having fled from their home (a mythical island named ‘Hawaikii’) which was consumed by volcanoes.

Every Maori tribe has a Marai, which is named after the boat in which they arrived in NZ.  The walls of the Marai have murals and carvings depicting their ancestors. Families congregate and spend the weekend together as one big extended family.  All the chores like cooking, serving food, cleaning up are divided between the families and it’s a perfect example of community living.

The weekend also provides a platform for the Maori elders to teach the young ones about Maori art & crafts, its cultural heritage, values and language.

In a Marai, elements like storytelling, learning the ‘Poi’ (a straw / sponge ball attached to  the end of a short string) movements and the ‘Hakka’ (traditional war dance ) as also the ‘Hangi’ method of traditional underground cooking without using conventional cookers, are all part of the experiential ‘action’ learning that takes place during a Marai weekend.

The teaching methodology is not unlike the ‘Gurukul’ system of learning that prevailed in ancient India centuries ago.  Historians have traced the origins of the Gurukul system to the Maurya Empire founded in 321 BC.  British records show that Gurukul education was widespread in India in the early 18th century, with a school for every temple, mosque or village in most regions of the country.The ‘guru’ (elder / teacher) would gather the group of learners at the end of the day and ‘de – brief’ their experiences and guide them to arrive at insights which would shape their personalities by instilling value systems.

The concept of learning with ‘engagement’ is as central to the Gurukul and the Marai, as it is in our modern day experiential workshops.


Excerpt From: Upadhyay, Anand. “Right of Centre.” KKIEN Publ. Int., 2013. iBooks.

This material may be protected by copyright.


You can get Anand’s book if you are interested in education or if you are an educational professional @ the following links: http://store.kobobooks.com/ebook/right-of-centre; http://www.ultimabooks.it/right-of-centre

About Ramanuj Mukherjee

Ramanuj Mukherjee is former corporate lawyer and an alumnus of National University of Juridical Sciences. He co-founded iPleaders, a startup that is making legal knowledge and education easily accessible to everyone. You can follow him here: https://twitter.com/law_ninja or connect with him here: in.linkedin.com/in/ramanujm

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