Monday, February 24, 2014

100 Maori words

One of my good friends comes from New Zealand. Another of my good friends just spent a few weeks in New Zealand with his wife. Both of these friends seem perfectly happy with New Zealand, and the second friend recommends that I get my ass down there at some point before I die.*

Out of idle curiosity, I typed "basic Maori expressions" into Google and was rewarded with this site, which offers 100 basic Maori** words and expressions that plunge you into the thought-world of that culture. Simple, straightforward, and very educational.

When I finally buy my two dogs, I'm going to name them Raho and Tou.

*A friend and coworker from my previous job also visited New Zealand, and she was just as charmed by the land of Peter Jackson.

**The word Maori is not pronounced "mey-yori." It's pronounced "mao-ri." Like the Chinese Mao. Think of a confused Chinese-Korean guy named Mao Rhee.



Charles said...

Neat find!

I counted 17 words from that list that I learned during my stay in NZ. Whakapapa and Whenua, for example, featured prominently in displays at Te Papa, the national museum in Wellington. (You may also recognize Whakapapa as the name of the ski field on Mt. Ruapehu where they shot the Mt. Doom climbing sequences.) And anyone who does not come away from NZ knowing at least "kia ora" must have spent their visit with their ears sewn shut.

I tried to learn as much as I could about the Maori when I was there. Being a folklorist by training I found the culture fascinating. It also just so happened that the paper I was working on dealt with the relationship between orality and literacy, and the Maori offer some excellent evidence against such a black-and-white dichotomy. I spent some time in bookshops looking for interesting books to bring back with me (I came home with three: an illustrated encyclopedia of Maori culture, a book on Maori arts, and a collection of Maori tales). I'll have more to say when I get my travel journal all tidied (and typed) up.

The Maximum Leader said...

Leave it to me to be low-brow...

List has testicles, anus and penis; but no vagina. (I was about to write that it didn't have breast; but I found that one on there.)

Kevin Kim said...


Yeah; the closest I saw to "vagina" was the word for "womb," which is technically the uterus. Ah, well. Can't win 'em all.

Kevin Kim said...


Would like to know more about the orality/literacy concept, and why people think it's dichotomous. Does this have anything to do with, say, the move from oral literature to written literature among many peoples, such as the Hebrews and the Hindus, both of whom began with oral traditions—often lyrical in nature for ease of memorization by the storytellers—then evolved into something more codified and calcified, i.e., a literary tradition in which the traditional stories and wisdom were reified and enshrined on parchment, paper, etc.?

If so, I can see why you might be inclined to deny the dichotomy: very often, written literature, as it's been written, takes a form that begs for public recitation, which automatically gives it a social valence (since it assumes the need for an audience to hear the good word). So the dynamic can almost be envisioned as a sort of loop: literature prompts oral recitation, and an oral tradition demands that its content be preserved in a more permanent form than frail human memory.

There was once a time when there was nothing but the oral tradition, but once writing entered the picture, I'm pretty sure the causal loop established itself.

Charles said...


Your comment is pretty much spot on. In the West, at least, communication theory scholars such as McLuhan and Ong argued that the introduction of writing (or, in McLuhan's case, print) brought about a sea change in human consciousness. Finnegan, a cultural anthropologist, went on to argue that the distinction is not that clear, citing the "loops" that you mention. I agree with both you and Finnegan.

One of the things that dichotomy-based scholars insisted was that oral cultures had memory, but they could not have history. The Maori are an interesting exception to this idea; they did not have writing before the arrival of the Europeans, but they used other art forms (such as wood carving) as aids to memory and, as far as I'm concerned, means of recording history.

It's a rather complex topic (I could comment, for example, on the oral-formulaic theory, which you mentioned), as you can see, but that's the gist of it.

John said...

I am sadly ignorant of a large portion of the Maori language and I know more than most kiwis. Being from this country I have a more jaded opinion of Maori culture than most foreigners. Being down south we don't get exposed to a lot of the "cultural issues" that the north gets - and of that I am glad.

Kevin Kim said...

Ah—all of my favorite intellects consolidated in one comment thread! A momentous harmonic convergence. Mike—Charles. Charles—Mike. Charles—John. John—Charles. Mike—John (whom you'll remember from 1995). John—Mike (same).


I imagine some of those cultural issues parallel some of the problems we deal with in America re: recompensing the native folks after having taken over their land. True—the picture is complicated by the fact that, unless you think magically, it's hard to fix blame on current generations of white folks for the sins of their forebears. (Something like that problem crops up when talk turns to reparations for chattel slavery in the US: today's white folks have to assign a dollar value to yesterday's transgressions? How is that even possible? Trans-generational blame is a sticky topic.)

Charles said...

With regard to John's comment, I should say that I was not unaware of the tension in NZ. I heard a lot of differing opinions, on which I will comment when I write up my journal, but I don't really know enough about the situation to go beyond commenting on what it looks like to an outside observer.

One thing I can say is that I met people who seemed to be terrified of criticizing the Maori, or to be seen as being critical of them. It was very... interesting.