Māori pronunciation guide

Photo: Te Puia

Māori pronunciation guide

Māori words can look like tongue-twisters to the uninitiated, but master a few simple rules and you’ll be fine.

Note that Māori words do not take an ‘s’ when they become plural, and that each syllable is stressed equally. The Māori alphabet uses 15 letters.

The vowels are pronounced as follows:

A – as in ‘bar’;
E – as in ‘egg’;
I – as the ‘ee’ in ‘free’;
O – as in ‘or’;
U – as the ‘o’ in ‘to’.

There are long and short versions of each vowel: the long may be denoted with a macron. The eight consonants – H, K, M, N, P, R, T and W – are pronounced as in English. The two additional consonants are: ‘WH’ – usually pronounced like the ‘f’ in ‘far’ – and ‘NG’ – pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing’. There are dialectical differences around the country though – expect to hear ‘ng’ replaced by ‘k’ in the South Island, where members of the main iwi, Ngai Tahu, increasingly use the dialect form ‘Kai Tahu’. The ‘k’ instead of ‘ng’ also appears in Aoraki, the original name for Mount Cook.

Māori culture is full of fascinating concepts and belief systems. Here are some of the most important terms:

Aotearoa New Zealand – the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Atua – Gods or spirits.
Haere mai – Welcome.
Haka – Posture dance including rhythmic movements, facial contortions and shouted words. Famously performed before All Blacks rugby games.
Hui – Meeting or gathering of people.
Hongi – The hongi, a traditional Māori greeting, is an integral part of the powhiri (welcoming ceremony). Noses are pressed together and the ha, or ‘breath of life’, is exchanged and intermingled.
Kai – Food. Kai moana, for example, is seafood.
Kaitiakitanga – Māori concept regarding human beings as the guardians of natural and cultural heritage, responsible for protecting the natural environment, traditional stories and artistic treasures.
Moko – Traditional Māori tattooing on the face or body.
Taniwha – Mythical water creature.
Tino rangatiratanga – Referring to Māori independence, this concept dates back to the Treaty of Waitangi. Māori chiefs agreed to cede sovereignty to the British Crown and in return they were guaranteed tino rangatiratanga, or ‘absolute chieftainship’, of their land and culture.
Whānau – The name given to family. In Māori society the word applies not only to the immediate family but also to all those related by blood or marriage. Māori people define themselves by their iwi (tribe), hapu (sub-tribe), maunga (mountain) and awa (river).

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