Story: Rural language

Page 2. Māori influences

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During the first phase of European settlement, the Māori language strongly influenced rural vocabulary.

Adopting words

The letters, diaries and published accounts of early British land-seekers in New Zealand show their wide use of Māori nouns, including:

  • kōrari – a flax flower stem
  • mōkihi – a raft made from flax stalks or raupō reeds
  • pīkau – a load carried on the back
  • piripiri – a clinging, creeping plant, usually Acaena spp.
  • tauhinu – a native shrub daisy, Ozothamnus leptophyllus
  • tī – cabbage tree, Cordyline australis
  • tomo – a sinkhole, in which stock can be trapped
  • tutu – a shrub with seeds and leaves poisonous to stock, Coriaria spp.
  • whare – a house, hut or shed
  • whata – a storehouse raised above ground to protect the contents from rodents.

Explorers and settlers adopted verbs as well. In 1851 J. C. Richmond recorded, ‘His grass is very low and he has sent his 52 ewes and 56 lambs to “kai” [eat] our grass.’ 1

Spelling and pronunciation

Settlers often modified Māori pronunciation, and spelt words as they heard or pronounced them, for instance:

  • koradi (kōrari)
  • moki or moggy (mōkihi)
  • biddy-bid or bidi-bidi (piripiri)
  • tawhini (tauhinu)
  • toot (tutu)
  • warry (whare)
  • futtah (whata)
  • matagouri (tūmatakuru, a thorny tree found mainly in the South Island).

Adapting Māori words

Farmers adapted Māori terms for their own uses.

The Māori word for sledge is kōneke. Europeans used the modified term konaki to describe a wheeled sledge, usually horse-drawn.

Nati, spelled variously as ngati, naaiti and naati, was used by settlers to describe a brumby breed of horse. This term was borrowed from the Ngāti Porou tribe, who called their horses nāti. Taipo (goblin or devil in Māori) came to mean a temperamental horse.

Plant names

Māori words have been used to name new cultivars and breeds of plants, including:

Tama, a type of ryegrass (tama means son or uncle)

Kawa, a poplar used in land conservation (kawa means ceremony)

Huia, a type of white clover (the huia was a greatly prized bird, now extinct).

Whare – a versatile word

Some words, such as whare (often pronounced ‘warry’), proved particularly versatile. On farms, the term was first used for a small hut used as an outstation or shelter – often called a back whare or out-whare. Later, around the homestead, there could be a front whare, shearers’ whare, or swaggers’ whare. With itinerant plough and harvest camps came the portable iron whare and mill whare. The large communal accommodation building for single shepherds and station hands was called the station whare, and its inhabitants were whare boys.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in Guy Scholefield, ed., The Richmond–Atkinson papers. Vol I. Wellington: Government Printer, 1960, p. 102. › Back
How to cite this page:

Dianne Bardsley, 'Rural language - Māori influences', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-language/page-2 (accessed 15 December 2019)

Story by Dianne Bardsley, published 24 Nov 2008