Māori Language Week encourages everyone, birds included, to have a go at te Reo

New Zealand’s annual celebration of Māori Language - Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – has ruffled some feathers.

New Zealand’s annual celebration of Māori Language - Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – has ruffled some feathers.

Those ruffled feathers belong to one of New Zealand’s newest Māori language recruits – a parrot called Cocka Tumeke who has learned to perform a pūkana (bulging of the eyes) as taught by Te Wiki o te Reo Māori ambassador Pere Wihongi.

The quirky approach to Māori Language Week or Te Wiki o te Reo Māori is designed to show prospective learners that it’s all about having a go.

The yellow-crested cockatoo has had extensive lessons with Te Wiki o te Reo Māori ambassadors Guyon Espiner and Pere Wihongi. Pere managed to teach the bird to perform a pūkana, which is the eye bulging challenge often performed as part of traditional haka performances.


Te Wiki o te Reo Māori runs from 9 - 15 September (Mahuru) with events and activities held all over the country to celebrate the indigenous language. Celebrated since 1975, Te Wiki is a government-sponsored initiative that has become a major event on Aotearoa’s calendar and a national celebration involving thousands of schools, workplaces, community groups and individuals.

Ambassador Guyon Espiner – a prominent radio and television journalist, and best known for his work on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report – uses te reo Māori, not only for greetings but as a language of everyday conversation on his radio show. His increasing use of te reo Māori has enhanced the status of the indigenous language.

“When learning a new language, there is going to be some nervousness about it. What I can say is I have had no pushback from Māori, in fact, all I have had is amazing encouragement,” Guyon says.

As an official language of New Zealand, te reo Māori continues to experience a renaissance as schools, universities and community initiatives around the country struggle to keep up with the demand from keen students looking to enrol in free courses.


Not just for locals, tourists are being encouraged to have a go too, at places like Fush restaurant in Christchurch. Fush is a whānau (family) owned business that opened in 2016 with the goal to sell the perfect fish and chips. The restaurant features a menu in both English and te reo Māori, and table talkers with basic Māori words to encourage diners to speak Māori to each other while they wait for food.

“Learning te reo Māori means you get a really useful insight into someone else’s culture. It’s really important that visitors who are coming to New Zealand feel that warmth, feel that aroha (love), and feel that we are super proud of who we are,” says Fush owner Anton Matthews.

“We love our culture, we love our language, and we love sharing it with anyone who wants to listen. I think that’s what it means to be a Kiwi and hopefully that is what our visitors feel when they come to our wonderful country.”

Te Taura Whiri o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) agrees with that sentiment saying te reo Māori has a lot to contribute in developing the visitor experience in New Zealand through deeper storytelling, using and explaining the meaning of our places, our peoples and our landscape.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary since musician Hinewehi Mohi surprised the world by singing the national anthem with Māori lyrics before the All Blacks played. It was unplanned and extremely controversial at the time, but these days New Zealand celebrates the Māori version and it is sung just as loudly as the English verses.

And it’s not just in New Zealand, as expat Kiwis are keeping the language alive over the ditch. According to the latest Australian census there are 11,747 households in Australia using te Reo Māori daily in the household.

Useful Māori words and phrases

  • Kia ora – Informal greeting meaning hello and good health
  • Ka kite anō – See you again
  • Kei te pēhea koe?  – How are you?
  • Kei te pai! – I am good!
  • Ko wai tō ingoa? – What is your name?
  • Ko …. ahau– My name is ….
  • Kai – Food
  • Taonga – Treasure
  • Maunga – Mountain
  • Awa – River
  • Moana – Ocean
  • Iwi - Tribe
  • Tangata whenua  - People of the land
  • Aotearoa – New Zealand, meaning land of the long white cloud
  • Aroha – Love

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