Ancient Kauri tree in the Northland Region.


Urupa (Maori burial ground), Piripai, Whakatane, as seen from Wairaka Marae.



1. Maori Language Pronunciation:

  • Until the coming of Europeans, Maori did not possess a written language. They were an oral culture that is, their history and culture were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and embodied in highly stylised carvings. Their acute powers of listening and memorising which accompanied this oral culture are still to be found today. It is still possible to find individuals who can recite their genealogical history – whakapapa - (with all the accompanying stories) back forty or fifty generations without a single mistake.

CaveEntrance_1.jpg As with most other cultures, Maori will respond positively and kindly to attempts by the traveller to communicate in the Maori language. All Maori speak English, but a “Kia Ora!” will go a long way with a people who have struggled to preserve their language over two hundred years of colonisation. Learning a few Maori words or phrases will help to build the warm relationships that can enhance any travel experience.

There are five major vowel sounds, each of which may be said either long or short. Both long and short forms are written in the Roman symbols a, e, i, o, u.

Maori long vowels are marked my a macron, ie. , , , , , or are doubled, ie. aa, ee, ii, oo, uu. Short vowels are written singly and unmarked.

The difference between long vowels and short vowels in Maori language is very important, because it can make an enormous difference in meaning. For example:
  • kaka means clothes
  • kk means parrot
  • peke means to jump
  • pke means bag
  • pipi means shellfish
  • ppi means chick
  • ruru means owl or morepork
  • rr means to shake hands

When two Maori vowels are combined, each retains its original sound. Examples are Taupo, Rotorua.

The nearest equivalent English sounds are pronounced as shown below:

short a as in ta (thank you)
long aa  as a in father
short e as e in egg
long ee as ai in pair
short i as i in pit
long ii as in ee in wee
short o as or in report
long oo as aw in saw
short u as in u in put
long uu as in oo in moon

Key words for the pronunciation of Maori short vowels are:

a haka
e keke (cake)
i piki (to climb)
o oma (to run)
u huri (to turn)

Key words for the pronunciation of long Maori vowels are

rkau (stick)
ppe (baby)
  tma (team)
ptai (hat)
rma (room)

Maori consonants sound very like their English counterparts except for ng, wh and r.

The sound ng is pronounces ng as in singer and not as in finger. Examples are: Ngaio, Rangi, Ngaire, runga (on).

The sound wh is pronounced as an f. Examples are: Whangarei, Whakatane, whare (house).

The sound r is very short and rolled. Examples are: Rangi, rere (to fly), rr (to shake hands)

2. Common Phrases:

Tenakoe (formal), Kia Ora (informal)
Excuse me! Arohamai!
Sorry! Arohamai!
How are you? Pei hea koe
I am very well! Ka pai!
Goodbye! (formal) Haere ra! (to the person leaving) E noho ra! (to the person staying)
(informal) Ka kite! or Ka kite ano!

3. Treaty of Waitanga (Tiriti o Waitangi)

The Treaty between European immigrants and the indigenous people was signed on February 6th 1840 at Waitangi in what is now the Bay of Islands. It is generally considered to be the founding document of New Zealand, in which a number of Maori chiefs agreed to the sharing of their turangawaewae – their land - with British immigrants. The meaning of this important document is contested by Pakeha and Maori. The British believed that Maori were ceding their sovereignty to them, while Maori believed that they were only ceding Governorship. This is perhaps because there were two versions of the Treaty, one in English which mentions Sovereignty, the other in Maori which mentions Kawanatanga (Governorship) and not Rangatiratanga (sovereignty, independence). Maori understood and signed the latter version of the Treaty, and ever since have maintained their right of self-determination – that is, as equal partners with the Crown in the constitutions of State.

4. Kaitiakitanga (Stewardship)

Maori believe they have a sacred duty, handed down from their ancestors to take care of the environment for future generations. Their tikanga lays down specific rules or codes of behaviour for this task – like issues of “resting” fishing grounds and shellfish beds by imposing ceremonial rahui (prohibitions) at certain times of year or seasons. A rahui could also be placed on a river, lake or coastal area if a drowning had taken place, preventing the taking or consumption of kaimoana (seafood) for specified periods.