Written by:
Feb 21, 2019

10 Maori Words and Expressions You Should Know

There is a Maori expression, ko te reo Māori te hāo te Māoritanga that means “the Maori language is the essence of Maori identity.” Languages and the words they’re comprised of have this magical way of capturing and illustrating the identities and cultures tied to them. And that’s why the team here at Drops is constantly amazed by the power behind words.

Building up your vocabulary is one of the best ways you can begin to really explore a new language and its culture, and in just five minutes a day with Drops, you can begin building a strong foundation in your new language. And if that new language is te reo Māori, here are 10 words and expressions to give you a jump start.

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Tikanga has a wide range of meanings, but in short, it can be used to describe the customs and Māori way of doing things. A kind of guideline for daily life and interactions in Māori culture. Tika in Māori means “right, or correct” and so tikanga is the right way of doing things in etiquette, culture, customs, and all things.


This word roughly translates to “hospitality”, but it means more than that. It includes showing respect to guests and even expressiveness in your welcome. Plus, food plays a big part in how manaakitanga is shown, and you can never go wrong with food.

Reo ma-whitiwhiti

Reo ma-whitiwhiti literally means “grasshopper speech”, but it’s used to refer to language mixing. Specifically the insertion of English words in Maori speech. This type of code-switching happens in a lot of languages, but we love that Maori has a specific expression for it.

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The marae is a traditional meeting place and is fundamental to Māori culture. Most public spaces in New Zealand, including schools and universities, have a marae. They’re used for meetings, celebrations, education, and other events.


In Māori, iwi means “tribe” or “nation”. It refers to one’s ancestral or genealogical background.


Even those with little experience with or knowledge of Māori culture may have heard of haka, a ceremonial Māori dance. It’s often translated as “war dance” and it involves shouting and vigorous body movement. It is used to express defiance, welcome guests, make political points, and even entertain.

Maori words and expressions

Tā moko

Tā moko is a traditional Māori tattoo that serves as a symbol of commitment and respect. Men may often have tā moko tattooed onto their face, arms, and thighs whereas women often have them on their lips and chin. They can be used to convey information about the wearer’s iwi, status, and achievements.


In Māori culture, mana is used to refer to “power”, “pride”, “prestige”, or “integrity” of someone or something and can be regarded as supernatural.

Maori expressions


Hongi is a customary greeting where the nose and forehead are pressed together. Hongi can be loosely translated as the “sharing of breath” and the gesture holds great significance.


In Māori culture, poi are tethered weights that are used in dance, typically by women. The dancers swing poi in rhythmic, geometric patterns, often while singing.

Maori vocabulary

We invite you to come learn these words and more with us at Drops!

What about you? Are you learning te reo Māori? You can check out our favorite Maori language resources here.

What are some of your favorite words in the language? We’d love to hear what they are in the comments below!

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