List of English words of Māori origin

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The following Māori words exist as loanwords in English. Many of them concern endemic New Zealand flora and fauna that were known prior to the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand. Other terms relate to Māori customs. All of these words are commonly encountered in New Zealand English, and several (such as kiwi) are widely used across other varieties of English, and in other languages.

The Māori alphabet includes both long and short vowels, which change the meaning of words.[1] For most of the 20th century, these were not indicated by spelling, except sometimes as double vowels (paaua). Since the 1980s, the standard way to indicate long vowels is with a macron (pāua). Since about 2015, macrons have rapidly become standard usage for Māori loanwords in New Zealand English in media, law, government, and education.[2] Recently some Anglicised words have been replaced with spellings that better reflect the original Māori word (Whanganui for Wanganui, Remutaka for Rimutaka).[3][4]

Flora and fauna[edit]

A kea

The accepted English common names of a number of species of animal and plant endemic to New Zealand are simply their Māori names or a close equivalent:

a type of large beetle
a recently extinct bird, much prized traditionally by Māori for its feathers
a native parrot
a rare native bird
a type of large tree
a venomous native spider
large conifer in the Araucariaceae
a parrot, the world's only alpine parrot
the native wood pigeon
the sea-urchin, eaten as a delicacy
the bird, a New Zealander, or (but not in New Zealand English) kiwifruit
a rare type of bird
a type of flowering tree
sweet potato
a shark, considered a magnificent fighting game fish
a type of large tree fern
extinct giant flightless bird
a type of flowering tree
ponga (also spelt punga)
the silver fern, often used as a symbol for New Zealand
a wading bird, the purple swamphen
a type of flowering tree
a tree, the red pine
a rare wading bird
a shellfish
an evergreen tree
rare lizard-like reptile, not closely related to any other living species
the parsonbird
a flightless bird of the rail family
a large native insect, similar to a cricket
a type of tree fern


View over Greater Tauranga, taken from the top of Mount Maunganui

Thousands of Māori placenames (with or without anglicisation) are now official in New Zealand. These include:

Many New Zealand rivers and lakes have Māori names; these names predominantly use the prefixes wai- (water) and roto- (lake) respectively. Examples include the Waikato, Waipa and Waimakariri rivers, and lakes Rotorua, Rotomahana and Rotoiti.

Some Treaty of Waitangi settlements have included placename changes.

A Māori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, has gained some currency as a more acceptable alternative. It appears in the names of some political parties, e.g. Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand and Communist Party of Aotearoa.

Other words and phrases[edit]

Putting down a hāngi
Terraces on Maungawhau / Mount Eden marking the sites of the defensive palisades and ditches of this former
Pounamu pendant
Waka taua (war canoes) at the Bay of Islands, 1827–8. The word has also given rise to the phrase waka-jumping, in New Zealand politics.
The foreshore and seabed hikoi approaching the New Zealand Parliament. The red, black, and white flags represent tino rangatiratanga.
love, sympathy, compassion
"lots of love", commonly as a valediction[6][7]
haere mai and haere ra
welcome and goodbye (respectively)
traditional Māori dance, not always a war dance, often performed by New Zealand sports teams to 'intimidate' opponents; see Haka of the All Blacks
(1) earth oven used to cook large quantities of food (2) the food cooked in the hāngi
clan or subtribe, part of an iwi
march or walk, especially a symbolic walk such as a protest march
traditional Māori greeting featuring the pressing together of noses and sharing of breath
meeting, conference
kai moana
sea food
kapa haka
a cultural festival or music and dance
ka pai
very pleasant, good, fine
sung prayer or welcome
policy or principle, credo, methodology or theoretical foundation
transliteration of the English word "governance," sometimes mistranslated as "sovereignty." See also: tino rangatiratanga and Differences in the Māori and English versions of the Treaty of Waitangi
kia kaha
an expression of support, lit. be strong
kia ora
a greeting, lit. be healthy
gift, present, offering, donation, contribution[9]
kōhanga reo
Māori language preschool (literally 'language nest')
to talk; to speak Māori; story
stylised fern frond pattern, used in art
Kura Kaupapa Māori
Maori language school
mahinga mātaitai
traditional seafood gathering place
regard in which someone is held; respect of their authority; reputation[10]
guardian spirit, often found in Māori artwork and carving
Māori culture, traditions, and way of life, lit. Māoriness
meeting house, the communal or sacred place that serves religious and social purposes in Māori society
midwinter festival, the Māori new year, lit. the star cluster of the Pleiades
lit. greet, acknowledge; sometimes used for internet board or forum message
facial tattoo
descendants, young children. Lit. grandchildren
woman's name, origin unknown
hill fort
broken, not working; often rendered in New Zealand English as puckeroo or puckerooed
New Zealander of non-Māori descent, usually European
land used as housing by a hapu or whanau group
A dance art that originated in Māori culture and is now popular in object-manipulation communities
greenstone, jade, nephrite
ceremony of welcome[11]
abdomen, tummy
a ban or prohibition
homeland, tribal area
tangata whenua
lit. "people of the land". The home tribe of a given marae or district; locals; by extension, Māori in the New Zealand context.[12]
mythical water monster
treasure, especially cultural treasures. Māori usage: property, goods, possessions, effects, treasure, something prized. The term whare taonga ("treasure house") is used in the Māori names of museums
sacred, taboo; to be avoided because of this; (a cognate of the Tongan tabu, origin of the English borrowing of taboo)
te reo
the Māori language (literally, 'the language')
stylised representation of a male human, found in Māori artwork and carving
tino rangatiratanga
a political term, sometimes translated as "chieftainship," but most accurately rendered as "(complete) sovereign authority", a right promised to Māori in the Treaty of Waitangi
traditional woven panels
revenge. Māori usage: revenge, cost, price, wage, fee, payment, salary, reciprocity
wāhi tapu
sacred site
water (often found in the names of New Zealand rivers)
singing, song
genealogy, ancestry, heritage
extended family or community of related families[13]
house, building

Word list[edit]

A meeting house on a marae

Many Māori words or phrases that describe Māori culture have become part of New Zealand English and may be used in general (non-Māori) contexts. Some of these are:

  • Aotearoa: New Zealand. Popularly interpreted to mean 'land of the long white cloud', but the original derivation is uncertain
  • aroha: Love, sympathy, affection[14]
  • arohanui: "lots of love", commonly as a complimentary close[6][7]
  • haere mai: welcome
  • haka: a chant and dance of challenge (not always a war dance), popularised by the All Blacks rugby union team, who perform a haka before the game in front of the opposition
  • hāngi: a method of cooking food in a pit; or the occasion at which food is cooked this way (compare the Hawaiian use of the word luau)
  • hongi: traditional Māori greeting featuring the pressing together of noses
  • hui: a meeting; increasingly being used by New Zealand media to describe business meetings relating to Māori affairs
  • iwi: tribe, or people
  • kai: food[8]
  • kapai: very pleasant; good, fine. From Māori 'ka pai'[8]
  • kaitiaki: guardianship of the environment
  • kaupapa: agenda, policy or principle[15]
  • kia ora: hello, and indicating agreement with a speaker (literally 'be healthy')
  • koha: donation, contribution[9]
  • kōhanga reo: Māori language preschool (literally 'language nest')
  • kōrero: to talk; to speak Māori; story
  • Kura Kaupapa Māori: Maori language school
  • mana: influence, reputation — a combination of authority, integrity, power and prestige[10]
  • Māoritanga: Māori culture, traditions, and way of life. Lit. Māoriness.
  • marae: ceremonial meeting area in front of the meeting house; or the entire complex surrounding this, including eating and sleeping areas
  • Pākehā: Non-Maori New Zealanders, especially those with European ancestry
  • piripiri: clinging seed, origin of New Zealand English 'biddy-bid'.
  • pōwhiri: ceremony of welcome[11]
  • puku: belly, usually a big one[16]
  • rāhui: restriction of access
  • tāngata whenua: native people of a country or region, i.e. the Māori in New Zealand (literally 'people of the land')[12]
  • tapu: sacred, taboo; to be avoided because of this; (a cognate of the Tongan tabu, origin of the English borrowing of taboo)
  • tangi: to mourn; or, a funeral at a marae
  • taniwha: mythical water monster
  • te reo: the Māori language (literally, 'the language')
  • waka: canoe, boat[17] (modern Māori usage includes automobiles)
  • whānau: extended family or community of related families[13]
  • whare: house, building

Other Māori words and phrases may be recognised by most New Zealanders, but generally not used in everyday speech:

  • hapū: subtribe; or, pregnant
  • kapa haka: cultural gathering involving dance competitions; haka team
  • karakia: prayer, used in various circumstances including opening ceremonies
  • kaumātua: older person, respected elder
  • kia kaha: literally 'be strong'; roughly "be of good heart, we are supporting you"
  • Kīngitanga: Māori King Movement
  • matangi: wind, breeze ("Matangi" is the name for a class of electric multiple unit trains used on the Wellington suburban network, so named after Wellington's windy reputation).
  • mauri: spiritual life force
  • mokopuna: literally grandchildren, but can mean any young children
  • pakarū: broken, damaged
  • rangatira: chief
  • rohe: home territory of a specific iwi
  • taihoa – not yet, wait a while
  • tamariki: children
  • tohunga: priest (in Māori use, an expert or highly skilled person)
  • tūrangawaewae: one's own turf, "a place to stand"
  • tutū: to be rebellious, stirred up, mischievous [18] Used in New Zealand English to mean "fidget" or "fiddle" e.g. "Don't tutū with that!"
  • urupā: burial ground
  • utu: revenge (in Māori, payment, response, answer)
  • wāhi tapu: sacred site
  • whaikōrero: oratory
  • whakapapa: genealogy
  • waiata: song
  • wairua: spirit

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Why Stuff is introducing macrons for te reo Māori words". Stuff. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  2. ^ "Use of tohutō (macrons) a sign of respect". Stuff. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  3. ^ McLachlan, Leigh-Marama (2018-09-10). "Mixed emotions as newspaper adopts Māori spelling". RNZ. Retrieved 2019-12-23.
  4. ^ Ensor, Jamie (12 April 2019). "Misspelled Māori Wellington place and street names may be fixed". Newshub. Retrieved 2019-12-23.
  5. ^ The name "Otago", and several other placenames in the southern South Island have names from a southern dialect of Māori, and thus these names are not in keeping with standard Māori spelling. Other names of this type include Lake Waihola and Wangaloa.
  6. ^ a b 'Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Farewell from Ambassador McCormick" Archived 2012-03-05 at the Wayback Machine, US Embassy
  7. ^ a b 'Arohanui Howard Morrison, New Zealand Woman's Weekly
  8. ^ a b c "Kiwis say ka pai to pie kai". The New Zealand Herald. 3 October 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  9. ^ a b Benson, Nigel (2 April 2009). "Festival goes glam today". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011. There is also a 2pm matinee today. Entry is by koha
  10. ^ a b "Rugby: Fitzy gracious as record set to fall". Otago Daily Times. NZPA. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  11. ^ a b Constantine, Ellie (18 February 2009). "New commander for district". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  12. ^ a b Conway, Glenn (7 March 2008). "Local Maori excited about fishing reserve decision". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  13. ^ a b Fox, Rebecca (26 April 2008). "Whanau given POW journal". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  14. ^ "Kiwi in Boston feeling the 'aroha'",
  15. ^ "Our Kaupapa: We value parental choice and...", Early Childhood on Stafford
  16. ^ George, Garth (2 November 2006). "Garth George: Beware decrees from little dictators about what to eat". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  17. ^ Gay, Edward (6 February 2010). "New and old waka celebrate Waitangi". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  18. ^ "Maori Dictionary". Archived from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2011.

Further reading[edit]