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Like many countries around the world, New Zealand has an indigenous people that called this country home far before European settlers arrived here. Māori are a proud and spiritual people, whose culture holds many great myths, legends and beliefs. Of those beliefs is a strong bond to the land and a community spirit that lives on today. Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) is rich and almost musical, especially during passionate speeches of welcome or thanks.
In this blog, we’ll share a brief history plus some tips on pronunciation and simple words to get you started.
The land of the long white cloud
The very first arrivals to this country, it is currently understood, came from East Polynesia in the 13th century. As more and more East Polynesians, who had set off on their voyages of exploration (navigating solely by ocean currents and the wind and stars), arrived at their new home, a unique and rich culture was formed, complete with its own language. They called their new home Aotearoa, which is translated to “land of the long white cloud”.
Māori people lived in communities or tribes called iwi, and in these, family groups called whanau. Having no written language, they relied on stories, myths and legends that were passed down from generation to generation by way of spoken word.
Ka pai! Māori pronunciation
There are fewer letters in the Māori alphabet than there are in the English alphabet (only 5 vowels and 10 consonants), but there are many ways to say things, and certain accents above letters can make one word have multiple different meanings. It’s all in the pronunciation. For example, the noun keke means ‘cake’, but the long vowels of kēkē give the meaning ‘armpit’!
Māori vowels are pronounced:
A great song for learning these is A Haka Mana – an easy and catchy way to learn how the Māori vowels are pronounced.
W’s can be tricky - when used in a word like waka (which is a Māori canoe), the w is pronounced quite strongly. However, when used in a word like wharenui (meeting house), the h softens the w to be pronounced as a fa sound.
Here are some great common words to try:
Kia ora – Used as an informal “hi” or “hello”
Haere mai – Welcome, come here
Tēnā koe – hello (to one person), thank you
Tēnā kōrua – hello (to two people), thank you
Tēnā koutou – hello (to more than two people), thank you
Haka – Māori dance or war dance
Hongi – The Māori greeting where noses are pressed together
Ka pai – Well done, or good
Karakia – Prayer
Rangatira – Chiefly, Esteemed
Tāne – Husband, male, man
Wahine – Woman, female, lady, wife
Waiata – Song
We also recommend you take a look at Te Aka – a comprehensive Online Māori dictionary. For quick translations, when you can’t be online, download their App which is particularly useful if you visit a Marae or Pa on a field trip or holiday. It’s exciting to learn about Māori culture and to try the language – “give it go!”