Te Tai – Treaty Settlement Stories

Story: Te Mana o te Reo Māori

Teacher support material: Te reo Māori origins

Teacher support material

Chapter 1: 1200s–1300s Te reo Māori origins: a Polynesian language

The first chapter of Te Mana o te Reo Māori gives students an overview of the origins of the Māori language and how it links to other languages across the Pacific.

Teacher support material: Te reo Māori origins

It describes how Eastern Polynesians brought their language with them when they arrived in what became known as Aotearoa in the late 13th century, and how this evolved into a unique and distinct language Indigenous to Aotearoa.

Te Mana o te Reo Māori – Chapter 1

On this page, you’ll find materials to support your students as they learn about the origins of te reo Māori, including key focus questions, suggested activities, and language support.


Introducing this chapter to your students

This chapter contains a short YouTube clip called He Whenua Rangatira – A Māori Land (4.10 mins). It shows the migration of people to Aotearoa New Zealand and then throughout the country.

Watching the video is a great way to introduce students to this chapter of the digital story. Here’s a suggested approach:

  • Before watching the video, ask your students the focus questions below. Then invite them to watch the video.
  • When they have finished watching, take them through the quick-fire questions below to check their understanding of what they have just watched.
  • Then go back to the focus questions you asked before they watched the video and see if their answers have changed.
  • Support your students to formulate some questions for further research – what else do they want to find out? See the table below for some ideas.

Focus questions

To share with students before they watch the video to focus their learning, then come back to these questions at the end of viewing so that students can respond to these questions

  • Who do you think were the first people to arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand?
  • Where do you think they came from?
  • When do you think they arrived?
  • Did they all go to the same place when they arrived here?
  • How do you think they arrived here?

Quick-fire questions

To check student engagement with and understanding of the content at the end of viewing.

  • What island was settled more quickly – the North Island or the South Island?
  • Did people move between the North Island and South Island?
  • What were some of the items that were used for trade?
  • What kinds of professions and skills did the people arriving from Europe arrive bring with them?

Questions for further research

To share with students at the end of watching the video to encourage them to undertake further research to deepen their learning and understanding of this topic.

  • What languages do you think those first ancestors spoke when they arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand?
  • Did all iwi speak the same language?
  • Do all iwi speak the same language now?

Chapter 1 poster image activity

Map showing Pacific islands with their language groups.

The Chapter 1 poster from the picture pack He Pūkei Whakaahua o Te Mana o te Reo Māori has an image of the language families of the Polynesian Triangle. It provides some key questions and information to introduce this chapter to your students. Using this content to facilitate discussions with your students can be a great way to help them identify what they already know about the history of te reo Māori.

Key themes

This resource tells the history of the decline and revitalisation of te reo Māori with a focus on five themes from Te Takanga o te Wā.

Te Takanga o te Wā Māori History Guidelines Year 1–8 (Te Kete Ipurangi)

Here are some key questions that relate to each of these themes. These questions are intentionally broad so that students can explore them in multiple ways.

  • Whakapapa

    Tūpuna – Connections – Belonging – Identity – Culture – Community – Tikanga – Mana Whenua
  • Where do I fit in?
  • How and when did my tūpuna (ancestors) arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand?
  • Tūrangawaewae

    Belonging – Identity – Culture – Community – Place – Continuity
  • Where is my tūrangawaewae (place of belonging)?
  • Why do I identify that place as my tūrangawaewae?
  • Who are the iwi and hapū connected to my tūrangawaewae?
  • Mana Motuhake

    Belonging – Identity – Mana – Controversy – Conflict – Consequences – Tino Rangatiratanga
  • How do we know Māori exercised tino rangatiratanga over their language when Pākehā first arrived in Aotearoa?
  • Kaitiakitanga

    Time – Context – Perspective – Knowledge – Tikanga – Guardianship
  • What values did Māori ancestors bring with them to Aotearoa New Zealand?
  • What values did European settlers bring with them to Aotearoa New Zealand?
  • What values are important to me and my whānau?
  • Whanaungatanga

    Whānau – Hapū – Iwi – Whakapapa – Tūpuna – Connections – Community – Manaakitanga – Kotahitanga – Unity
  • Where do I come from?
  • What whānau/hapū/iwi/communities do I belong to and what languages do we speak?

Each of these themes provides a way for learners to connect with the history of te reo Māori. Keep an eye out for these icons to see how activities and content in these resources link to each of these themes.

Activities and learning experiences

Here are some suggested activities that you could try with your students.

Activity 1: Ngā mo tu o Te Moananui-A-Kiwa – Islands of the Pacific Ocean

Theme: Whanaungatanga

Choose one of the islands or island groups within the Polynesian Triangle to research.

  • What do you already know about this place and its people?
  • What would you like to find out about it?
  • How will you find information about your chosen place and its people?
  • Are there people you know in your whānau or community from this place that you can interview or who might be able to help you?
  • What similarities are there between te reo Māori and the language(s) spoken on your chosen island(s)?
  • What differences are there?
  • What similarities are there between Māori culture and the culture(s) of the people you have chosen to research?
  • What differences are there?

You can present your findings as:

  • an oral presentation to your class
  • a visual poster
  • a written report with images (e.g. photos or illustrations)
  • a Google Slides presentation
  • a short video tutorial for your peers
  • a news item that you can record on video.

Your presentation should show the information, findings and understandings you have gained through your learning and research about your chosen island or island group.

Alternative or extension activity: Some students may want to use this opportunity to research where their own ancestors or whānau come from. If this helps them develop a closer connection to their identity, language and culture, then encourage and support them to do so.

Activity 2: He waewae tapu – visitors to a new land

Themes: KaitiakitangaWhakapapa

Imagine you are one of the first Māori ancestors who arrived to Aotearoa New Zealand in one of the early migrations featured in the video He Whenua Rangatira – a Māori Land. Research what it would have been like for these early ancestors.

Describe your experience of arriving to this new land. Think about all the similarities and differences compared to the home you have left behind.

You could do this by:

  • composing a waiata and presenting this to the class
  • creating a pros and cons list of this new land, comparing it to the home from where you have come
  • writing a personal essay about your experience and how it makes you feel
  • creating an illustration of your settlement on this new land
  • videoing an interview with one of your classmates as one of the people who has migrated here with you.

Alternatively, imagine you are one of the first European settlers who arrived to Aotearoa New Zealand in the migrations featured in the video He Whenua Rangatira – a Māori Land. You might be a European whaler, a missionary, or someone else. You have spent your first month in Aotearoa New Zealand and you want to share with your family what your experience has been like.

You could do this by:

  • writing a letter to your family to describe what you have seen, heard, tasted, felt, and experienced
  • drawing a picture or pictures of some of the things you have experienced
  • creating a diary to track what you do on a day-to-day basis as a record for your family of your experiences.

Don’t forget to include a description of any new skills you have learned (including any new words or phrases you have picked up), new food you have tried, or challenges you have had to face.

Here are some links to help with your research:

Activity 3: He kākahu hou – A new wardrobe

Theme: Kaitiakitanga

You have arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand as one of the first migrants from the Pacific. The weather is much colder than you expected, so you need some new clothes to keep you warm. Research what kind of clothing these early ancestors would have worn.

Māori and colonial clothing (Te Ara)

Design a new set of clothes to use from materials you find in your environment. Think about what you need your clothes to do and how you will use them e.g. keep you warm, need to be comfortable, etc.

You could:

  • create a visual portfolio of your new clothing items, with samples of materials, and descriptions explaining your reasons for your design choices
  • make a sample item of clothing from natural materials found in the environment
  • create and video a catwalk show featuring your new designs – you could do this as a whole class or whole school activity.

Activity 4: He reo anō – Other voices and languages

Themes: WhanaungatangaWhakapapa

Research some other languages in the Polynesian triangle. Create a table showing the similarities and differences between different languages in the Pacific. Choose up to ten words and find how these words translate into different languages around the Pacific. For example:

Aotearoa aroha
Hawai'i aloha
Tonga 'ofa
Tahiti aroha
Niue ofa
Cook Islands aro'a
English love
  • What similarities can you find with te reo Māori?
  • What differences can you find?
  • How can you tell these languages are related?
  • What does this tell you about the peoples of the Pacific and Polynesia?

Language support


Te Moananui-a-Kiwa
Pacific Ocean

tino rangatiratanga
self-determination, the right to determine and control your own destiny

waewae tapu
visitor, new arrival, sacred feet – this term is used in reference to someone who is a firsttime visitor to a place


proverb, saying

Other resources

Downloads for this chapter