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Maori wood carving | © Pruzi/ Pixabay
Maori wood carving | © Pruzi/ Pixabay

11 Beautiful Māori Phrases We Need in English

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 27 November 2017

Te Reo Māori is one of the three official languages of New Zealand (English and New Zealand sign language are the other two). Many of its words and sayings have found their way into every day life, and proverbs (whakataukī) play a large role in the Māori culture as a whole. These 11 phrases will showcase the holistic messages and beautiful morals that English speakers should adopt for themselves.

Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua

Meaning: As man disappears from sight, the land remains

Māori values stem out of a holistic perspective, where nature and humans are spiritually combined. This is one of those proverbs that highlight this vision and the cultural respect for Papatuanuku (the mythical Earth Mother).

He waka eke noa

Meaning: A canoe which we are all in with no exception

The waka (canoe) is an important cultural symbol in its own right: not only did these vessels transport the ancestors from the homeland of Hawaiki into New Zealand, they were also instrumental for gathering food and exploring. This proverb is the Māori version for “we’re all in this together”, and can be used in moments where someone expresses some form of hardship.

Ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi

Meaning: As an old net withers, another is remade

This one is directly related to Māori respect for their elder tribal leaders. When an elder (the old net) is no longer fit to do his job, it is up to a healthier leader to take his post.

He taonga rongonui te aroha ki te tangata

Meaning: Goodwill towards others is a precious treasure

This one is pretty self-explanatory. The word rongonui here can be attributed to a tribal chief called Rongo, whose name became a synonym for peace after he set out to put end to the ongoing warfare with the Rangitāne people.

Ahakoa he iti he pounamu

Meaning: Although it is small it is a greenstone  

Greenstone (pounamu) carry their own spiritual meaning, and have long been used by Māori as a status symbol as well as a marker for peace.  The proverb is concerned with gift-giving: it is a way of humbly acknowledging that, while small, the gesture is coming straight from the heart.

Ehara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini

Meaning: My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, as it was not individual success but success of a collective

Another display of humility. It is often said when one’s achievements are being acknowledged.

Ko taku reo taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria

Meaning: My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul

As you can probably guess, this proverb is closely aligned with language revitalisation – an essential part of keeping the Māori culture alive.

Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi

Meaning: Without foresight or vision the people will be lost

Famously said by the Māori King Tawhiao Potatau Te Wherowhero as he tried to emphasise the importance of unification in Māori leadership.

He kotuku rerenga tahi

Meaning: A white heron flies once

A phrase used when something special and very unusual has taken place. Namely because white herons are rarely seen unless you actively go out of your way to look for them.

E hoa ma, ina te ora o te tangata

Meaning: My friends, this is the essence of life

An exclamation used to express satisfaction or surprise. Often spoken by a guest at the dinner table who is appreciative of the meal their hosts cooked for them.

E kore te patiki e hoki ki tona puehu

Meaning: The flounder (fish) does not return to his dust

A symbolic way of saying that you shouldn’t make the same mistake twice