Story: Ngā tuakiri hōu – new Māori identities

Māori Television’s flagship current-affairs show was called Native affairs, a witty reclaiming of the long-unpopular word ‘native’. Māori in Australia call themselves Maussies or Mozzies, Ngāti Rānana is a London-based cultural group. Fair-skinned Māori are waka blondes or kōtuku mā (white herons).

Story by Rawiri Taonui
Main image: Whare kura student Thomas Mason delivers his whaikōrero

Story summary

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Early Māori identities

The word ‘māori’ originally meant ordinary or local. It was only used to mean Māori as a people after Europeans arrived in New Zealand. Māori also called themselves ‘tangata whenua’ (people of the land, or those who were there first).

Early Pākehā arrivals used the words Indians, aborigines, natives and New Zealanders to describe Māori. Until the mid-20th century the term ‘native’ was used officially, although many Māori objected to it.


From the 1950s many Māori moved from rural areas to cities. They experienced prejudice from Pākehā, who sometimes saw them as lazy, and used negative terms such as Hori, boonga and nigger.

Māori gangs such as the Mongrel Mob and Black Power arose in the 1960s and 1970s, and from the 1980s young Māori adopted the Caribbean religion of Rastafarianism. More recent street gangs inspired by US gangs called themselves ‘gangstas’.

Living in urban areas brought Māori from different tribes together. They referred to themselves as ‘cuzzies’ (cousins) and ‘bros’ (brothers).


As Māori protest movements developed from the 1960s, terms like Māori protester, radical and activist became common. Māori women were prominent in the protest movement, and the term ‘mana wahine’ refers to the power and importance of women in Māori society.

Cultural revival

From the mid-1980s Māori-language education developed, including kōhanga reo (pre-schools) and kura kaupapa (primary schools). Children educated in the system were called kōhanga kids. Traditional roles such as kaumātua (elders), koroua (male elders) and kuia (female elders) were strengthened.

The growing number of Māori professionals were sometimes called muppies (Māori yuppies) or the brown middle class.

The word ‘kūpapa’ originally meant Māori who fought alongside government troops in the 19th-century New Zealand wars. It has been revived to mean Māori who act against the interests of Māori in general.

New terms

New terms for Māori in the early 21st century included:

  • born-again Māori – Māori of mixed descent, who may not have acknowledged their Māori background in more prejudiced times
  • waka blondes or kōtuku mā (white herons) – Māori with fair colouring
  • Maussies or Mozzies – Māori living in Australia
  • takatāpui – an old word meaning ‘intimate companion of the same sex’, now used by lesbian and gay Māori.
How to cite this page:

Rawiri Taonui, 'Ngā tuakiri hōu – new Māori identities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Rawiri Taonui, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 June 2017