Maori Glossary A-N

´ indicates stressed syllable

Aoraki (úh-aw-rúh-kee)

Cloud in the sky. The highest mountain in New Zealand, it is known as Aorangi to North Island tribes and as Mount Cook to Pakeha. A Ngai Tahu myth explains that this mountain was once a man, one of the sons of Raki, the sky father. Aoraki, and his brothers were changed into the mountains known today as the Southern Alps, when their canoe tipped over on their way to greet Papatūānuku, their father’s new wife.

Ariki Tapairu (úh-ree-kee túh-puh-ee-roo)

High ranking woman. First-born female on whom rested a special tapu.

Aroha (úh-raw-huh)

In general, means love and/or compassion. Note that the word is used in two senses:

  1. A joyful relationship involving the expression of goodwill and the doing of good, empathy.
  2. Sympathy, compassion towards those who are unhappy or suffering.
Arohanui (úh-raw-huh-noo-ee)

Great love or compassion.

Atua (úh-too-uh)

The Maori word Atua has been used to describe God in the Christian sense since missionary times. Before the coming of Christianity, Maori used the word atua to describe many kinds of spiritual beings (in the way we now use the word “spirit”) and also unusual events. Only the priestly and aristocratic classes of Maori society (ariki, rangatira and tohunga) had access to knowledge of the Supreme Being, Io, also known as Io-matua, Io-matua-i-te-kore, Io-te-wananga, etc. It seems that many, but not all, tribes had this since missionary times. Maori use several words to refer to God in the Christian sense:

  • Te Atua – God, the Supreme Being
  • Ihowa – Jehovah
  • Te Ariki – Lord, more correctly used of Jesus
  • Te Matua – the father (literally, parent)
  • Io – a term used for God in some, but not all Maori circles.

(Te Atua is acceptable in all circles).

Hākari (háh-kuh-ree)

A feast.

Hapū (huh-póo)

A sub-tribe – a collective of related families all with a common ancestor. The hapu, rather than the iwi, is the operational unit of Maori society. Find out more about the relationship between hapu and iwi here.

Haumia Tiketike (húh-oo-mee-uh-tih-keh-tih-keh)

The guardian spirit of all uncultivated food.

Hawaiki (huh-wuh-ee-kee)

The legendary homeland in the east from which the ancestors of the Maori made the voyage by sea to Aotearoa.

Hē (hea as in leather)


Hēhu (héh-hoo)


Heitiki (héh-ih-tee-kee)

A greenstone ornament worn suspended from the neck.

He Tangata (heh túng-uh-tuh)

Human beings.

He Tino Atua (heh tín-aw úh-too-uh)

Fully divine.

He Tino Tangata (heh tín-aw túng-uh-tuh)

Fully human.

Hikoi Tapu (hée-kaw-ee túh-poo)

Sacred journey or pilgrimage.

Hine Ahu One (híh-neh úh-hoo áw-neh)

The woman formed from earth. Tāne shaped the earth into a female form and breathed life into it.

Hiruharama (híh-roo-huh-ruh-muh)

The settlement of Jerusalem on the Whanganui River where Suzanne Aubert was based.

Hohou Rongo (háw-haw-oo ráw-ngaw)

The restoring of tapu and mana, by a process of reconciliation which involves acknowledging violations, accepting responsibility and giving redress.

When written with initial capital letters, Hohou Rongo, refers to the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.

Hui (hóo-ee)

A meeting or gathering.

Ika (íh-kuh)


Io (ēe-aw)

The Supreme Being, greater than all other atua and spiritual forces, was already a part of Maori spiritual belief before the coming of Christianity to Aotearoa.

This Supreme Being had a number of names and was described in different ways:

  • Io – the core of all spiritual powers
  • Io Nui – the greatest of all Beings
  • Io Roa – everlasting, not knowing death
  • Io Matua – the parent of human beings and of all things
  • Io Matua Kore – the parentless, nothing but himself
  • Io TakeTake – permanent, all enduring, complete, immovable
  • Io Te Pukenga – the source of all things
  • Io Te Wananga – the source of all knowledge, whether good or evil
  • Io Te Toi O Nga Rangi – the crown of heavens
  • Io Mata Nui – the all-seeing
  • Io Mata Ngaro – the hidden (unseen) face
  • Io Uru Tapu – the totally sacred.
Iwi (short i as in tin – like Kiri)

A tribe, a collective of hapu, all with a common ancestor. Can also mean a race of people, as in te iwi Maori (the Maori people), te iwi Pakeha (Pakeha people), etc. Negotiations with government are usually carried out at iwi level.

Kai (kúh-ih)

To eat food. Food.

Kai Moana (kúh-ih máw-uh-nuh)

Sea food.

Kāinga (káh-ih-nguh)


Karaiti (kuh-rúh-ee-tee)


Karakia (kúh-ruh-kee-uh)

Prayer, ritual.

Karanga (kúh-ruh-nguh)

The call of welcome on to a marae.

Katekita (kúh-teh-kee-tuh)


Kaumātua (kúh-oo-máh-too-uh)

Tribal elders.

Kawa (kúh-wuh)


Kāwanatanga (kah-wúh-nuh-tuh-nguh)


Kete (kéh-teh)


Kia Ora (kée-uh áw-ruh)

Literally, “Have life!” Learn about other greetings in Te Reo.

Koha (káw-huh)

Gift or donation.

Kōrero (káw-reh-raw)

To talk or speak.

Kūmara (kóo-muh-ruh)

Sweet potato.

Lift the Tapu

The ceremony performed to remove the restriction or prohibition placed on a person or thing (see entry on tapu) is referred to as ‘lifting the tapu’.

Mana (múh-nuh)

Spiritual power and authority. Its sources are both divine and human, namely, God, one’s ancestors and one’s achievements in life. Mana comes to people in three ways: Mana tangata, from people, mana whenua, from the land, and mana atua, from the spiritual powers.

Please note: when mana refers to Mana of God it is written as Mana.

Mana Atua (múh-nuh úh-too-uh)

The power of God.

Manāki (muh-náh-kee)

To care for or protect.

Manuhiri (múh-noo-hih-ree)

Visitors to a marae.

Marae (múh-ruh-eh)

The traditional meeting place of the Maori people.
Traditional meeting place, consisting of a meeting house (whare hui) and dining room (whare kai). Strictly speaking, the term refers to the marae atea, the courtyard in front of the meeting house.

Marae ātea (múh-ruh-eh áh-teh-uh)

The open area of land directly in front of the carved meeting house. The area between the hosts and the guests during a welcome.

Maramataka (múh-ruh-muh-tuh-kuh)

Monthly calendar.
Visitors to a marae.

Mātāmua (máh-tah-moo-uh)

The firstborn of the family.

Matua (múh-too-uh)

This means father or parent. It is the word used for father in the Lord’s Prayer in Maori. Matua wahine means mother in the Hail Mary. Matua tane means father.
Note that mātua, with a long vowel, is the plural of this word.

Mātua Tūpuna (nguh máh-too-uh tóo-poo-nuh)

Ancestors. Some areas use the term mātua tīpuna.

Mauri (múh-oo-ree)

The life force or principle of all creation.

Nga Rongo Pai (nguh ráw-ngaw púh-ee)

The Gospels.

Nga Mātua Tūpuna (nguh máh-too-uh tóo-poo-nuh)

Ancestors. Some areas use the term matua tipuna.

Noa (náw-uh)

Free from tapu restrictions, which have been lifted by ceremony or ritual. This form of noa is positive, it is the freedom to go on with life after being released from restricting factors, eg after a powhiri; on leaving a cemetery; after a reconciliation; etc. Noa can also be negative: a state of weakness and powerlessness which affects both people who have suffered violation or abuse and also those who have caused violation or abuse.