Definitions of Māori words used in New Zealand English


(literally, ao = cloud, tea = white, pale, roa = long). This could be translated as (the) long white cloud. It does not mean "Land of the Long White Cloud". In Māori that would be Te Whenua o Aotearoa.

As with many Māori place names, the context from which the name derives is important. Traditional accounts suggest that Hine-te-aparangi, wife of well known pacific navigator/explorer Kupe, after a long ocean going voyage, sighted a particular cloud aotea that usually indicates the presence of land. The term roa can also indicate a length of time. Thus, a more accurate translation could be 'It has been a long time since seeing a cloud that indicates land'.

Aotearoa is commonly given as the Māori name for New Zealand. Before the arrival of Europeans to the New Zealand, it probably only referred to the Te Ika a Maui (i.e., the North Island).


assembly, gathering (noun) to gather, to assemble (verb), generally applies to a group of people.




prayer, spiritual incantation.

kōhanga reo

(literally, reo =language, kōhanga = nest)  Māori immersion pre-school (years 0 to 4).

kura kaupapa Māori

(literally, kura = school, kaupapa = principle or theme)  Māori immersion school based on Māori practices and philosophies.


work or an activity.


dictionaries usually translate this as 'authority, prestige, pride, or status'. Fluent speakers of Māori are aware that this concept in Māori can mean something else that is not always expressed well by the English translations.


indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, the language of the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand.


European inhabitants living in New Zealand, any non-Māori. Despite much debate, including many spurious myths, the origins of this term remain unclear.

Te Papa

(literally, te = the, papa = flat (surface/area)) Māori name of a museum in Wellington, which was opened in 1998.

te reo Māori

(literally, te = the, reo = language) The Māori language.

tino rangatiratanga

(literally, rangatira = chief, -tanga is a nominalising suffix, tino is an intensifier). Used to refer to concepts such as sovereignity, self determination, autonomy.


Traditionally this means canoe, vehicle or vessel. Sometimes used figuratively to mean a group, party or theme.


Traditionally this refers to an extended family. Also used in modern times to refer to the nuclear family. Can be used in both literal and figurative senses and is often applied to other groups of people or organisations.


(literally, whare = building, kura = school) Often used in modern Māori to refer to the secondary component of a kura kaupapa Māori.

Notes and References

Further details on Māori words used in New Zealand can be found in the authoritative NZ Oxford Dictionary:

Deverson, T., & Kennedy, G. (Eds.). (2004). The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary. South Melbourne, Vic. ; Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.


Other useful references include:

Barlow, C. (1991). Tikanga whakaaro: Key concepts in Māori culture. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Macalister, J. (Ed.). (2005). A dictionary of Māori words in New Zealand English. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ministry of Justice. (2001). He Hinatore ki te Ao Māori: A glimpse into the Māori world. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Justice.

Orsman, H. W. (Ed.). (1997). The dictionary of New Zealand English. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Williams, H. W. (1971). A Dictionary of the Māori language (7th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Government Printer.

Also see 100 Māori Words  people in New Zealand should know.


Last modified: 22 April 2019.

This page is Copyright © Peter J Keegan, PhD, 2003-2024.