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Māori Carvings | © falco/Pixabay
Māori Carvings | © falco/Pixabay

11 Beautiful Words That Will Make You Fall in Love With the Māori Language

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 19 June 2017
The beauty of Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) lies in its simplicity. Using a limited number of letters and very clear vowel sounds, this native New Zealand language manages to communicate even the most complex of terms in a relatable manner. To give you an idea, here are 11 beautiful words that anyone is bound to fall in love with.

Aroha: Love, compassion, tenderness

Aro is the mind and seat of emotions;  is the breath of life. A compound word that says everything, really. Māori is a language with rolled ‘Rs’ — as such, you should pronounce this word as uh-roh-huh.

Aroha-Love | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Aotearoa: The ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ (the Māori name for New Zealand)

Initially only used to denominate the North Island, Aotearoa is believed to have originated from ao (cloud), tea (white, clear, bright), and roa (cloud). Pronounce each distinctive syllable: ao-teh-uh-roh-uh.

Aotearoa-Land of the Long White Cloud | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Whānau: The extended family

This word incorporates both the spiritual and physical dimensions of Māori family life, from tribal traditions to genealogical ancestry. In Te Reo Māori, ‘wh’ is a letter of the alphabet commonly pronounced with a soft ‘f’ sound (this differs according to dialect). When put together, ‘au’ sounds similar to an English-language ‘oh’. As such, pronounce whānau as fah-noh.

Whanau-Extended family | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Karakia: To recite a prayer

Formerly used to describe a spell or incantation, karakia is both the act of reciting a prayer and the prayer itself. Pronounce it as kuh-ruh-kee-uh.

Karakia-To recite a prayer | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Tapu: Sacred

Similar to the word ‘taboo’, tapu can be something that is holy, forbidden, sacred or inviolable. People, places and objects seen as tapu should never be touched by human hands, and in some instances shouldn’t be approached at all. Pronounce the ‘u’ with a snappy ‘ooh’ sound, tuh-pooh.

Tapu-Sacred | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Tāngata: People, humankind

Tangata, without the macron, is the singular form. The ā in the plural tāngata should be enunciated with a stretched ‘ahh’ sound, while the other ‘As’ should be kept relatively brief. In other words, pronounce it as tahn-guh-tuh.

Tāngata-People, humankind | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Tamariki: Children

As a noun, tamarki means children. But it can also mean childhood, youthfulness and, in some cases, immaturity. Pronounce it as tuh-muh-ree-kee.

Tamariki-Children | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Kaumātua: An elder

Māori elders have always been held in high esteem and are often thought as the leaders of a tribe. Pronounce kaumātua as koh-mah-too-uh.

Kaumātua-An elder | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Taonga: Something treasured or highly precious

In contemporary parlance, taonga can describe just about anything that is of high value — including objects, words, or even a memory. It is often used when talking about special heirlooms and artefacts, as well as treasured natural resources like geothermal springs, ancestral lands or rivers. It’s pronounced as tuh-on-ga with an almost-silent ‘g’ sound.

Taonga-Something treasured | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Ihi: Power, charisma, a beam of light

Used within an interpersonal context, ihi relates to charismatic radiance — the ability to influence, impress or simply to captivate an audience. Ihi can also mean a ray of sunlight or a light beam. Keep the two ‘Is’ at an equal length, and pronounce ihi as e-he. Take care not to say it as eeh-he (with an emphasis on the first vowel sound) since that is the way to enunciate īhi – the Māori word for yeast.

Ihi-Power, charisma, a beam of light | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves

Whenua: Land, country, nation

Māori have always had a strong spiritual connection to the land and sea. The word whenua, describing the country or the nation, is often used alongside tangata — ‘tangata whenua’ being the local people, the people of the land, the indigenous owners of a territory. Pronounce whenua as feh-noo-uh.

Whenua-Land, country, nation | © Culture Trip/Thalita Alves