Māori culture is an important part of New Zealand’s history and culture today. Te Reo Māori is an official language of New Zealand. Once you’ve been in this country a while you may want to know more about our indigenous people. Learning some basic words is a great way to do that. Here are nine words we think are crucial to know if you want to begin learning about Māori culture.

This is the Māori name for the country, its most popular meaning is ‘land of the long white cloud’, however it has many names depending on which authority you check. Other meanings include: big glaring light, land of abiding day, long bright land or long white world. In Māori mythology, Māui took the jaw-bone of his ancestress Muri-ranga-whenua and used it to haul up a great fish from the ocean’s depths. This fish is known as Te Ika-a-Māui (the Fish of Māui) and what we know today simply as the North Island. In the story of Māui, the South Island became Te Waka-a-Māui (the canoe of Māui) and today is officially called Te Waipounamu.

  • Haere mai (Welcome!)

This is the Māori way of saying welcome and hello. It is arguably the most well-known greeting after kia ora (life be well/hello).

  • Aroha (compassion, tenderness, sustaining love)

Translated simply to mean love, compassion and tenderness. Aroha puts together two words; that of aro – “mind, seat of feelings” and ha – “breath’, which in Māori refers to the breath of life. In Māori tradition, spirituality, family, upbringing and culture is all important. Therefore, those that uphold their values and reject greed, aggression, ignorance or behaviour that damages others are strong in spirit and connected to aroha. If someone lives an unbalanced or valueless life they have lost their connection with their creative spirit and therefore their connection with aroha.

  • Whānau (family)

This is the Māori word for all the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions that tie people together. Through their whānau individuals learn their roles in their family and tribe, as well as their history. A whānau has whakapapa (geneology), spirituality and a responsibility to their māraehapū (descendents) and iwi (tribe).

  • Mārae (the area for formal ceremonies in front of a meeting house)

The whole mārae complex, including meeting house, dining hall, forecourt, etc.

You’re doing great and are over halfway there now. Here is a pronunciation guide to help you with your Māori language journey. Four words to go!

  • Mana (authority, power; secondary meaning: reputation, influence)

This is a spiritual power or honour that can be transmitted, inherited, provide strength or bring shame. Mana is bestowed upon you from birth (according to who your descendants were, to your grandparents and parents). Mana can be given to you by others who recognise your deeds and actions. The way someone conducts themselves is important and the way they act will either weaken or strengthen their personal mana. Humbleness and selflessness are important if someone is to have strong mana. A group may also have mana, for example, the mana of a mārae or of a hapū.

  • Atua (ancestor or God)

An atua is an ancestor with continuing influence in Māori tradition.

  • Tapu (sacred, not to be touched, to be avoided because sacred, taboo)

Something that is tapu is considered sacred and protected. The violation of tapu is said to result in death or catastrophe for the violator and any others involved. Tapu can be lifted by karakia (incantations, prayers and ceremonies). Another form of tapu is a rāhui, which is a restriction of access placed on a resource to prevent unauthorised persons from using it. These are normally imposed by Māori elders to prevent damage to artefacts and/or the environment and to protect people’s safety.

  • Haka (chant and dance – challenge)

This ancient Māori dance has been used for centuries to inspire fear in the enemy and/or to display a tribe’s strength and unity to other tribes. The haka may include a war cry, vigorous body movements and fearsome facial expressions.

haka is also used before a match by the All Blacks rugby team to inspire the home side and strike fear in opponents.

If you would like to learn more Māori words, here are two lists of 50 Māori words every New Zealander should know and 100 Māori words every New Zealander should know.

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