Ko tēnei te wiki o te reo Māori. It’s Māori Language Week and to celebrate we thought we’d profile some beautiful Māori words from nature and share with you their meanings.
While we often hear scientific names used for species in conservation, their indigenous names can invoke, inspire and reveal some of the many wonders of nature in Aotearoa…
Werewere-kōkako (meaning: wattles of the kōkako)
The name for this beautiful, blue native mushroom takes its name from the wattles of our stunning kōkako bird. ‘Werewere’ can mean hanging or suspended, but in this case it’s the name for the wattles of a bird.
Wētāpunga (meaning: god of ugly things)
In Māori mythology Punga was the god and ancestor of all ugly things. Our most famous insect, the giant wētā, is named after the god himself – wētāpunga. ‘Te aitanga a Punga’ meaning the progeny of Punga refers to a wide range of sea and land creatures including lizards and octopuses.
Pua o te Rēinga (meaning: flower of the underworld)
Pua o te Rēinga, meaning flower of the underworld, is our only fully parasitic flowering plant. It parasitises the roots of trees and remains underground until it flowers, when its pushes through to the forest floor and is naturally pollinated by pekapeka/short-tailed bats.
Toka pokapoka (meaning: rock of many holes)
Coral polyps are tiny little animals that are related to anemones and jellyfish. They secrete calcium carbonate that builds up rock-hard external skeletons but leave small holes where the polyps live – hence the Māori name toka pokapoka.
Tauhou (meaning: stranger)
The silvereye was first recorded in New Zealand in 1832 and since there is no evidence that it was artificially introduced, it is classified as a native species. Its late arrival has earned it the Māori name, tauhou, means ‘stranger’ or more literally ‘new arrival’.
Hura te ao (meaning: the break of dawn)
Hura te ao geckos have black eyes, yellow-orange lips, and fine white spots. They are found in two mountain ranges in North Otago. Hura te ao means ‘to reveal the light’ but can also mean the break of dawn. Their Māori name is inspired by their colour pattern, the colour around the mouth resembling light appearing at sunrise.
Pāhau kākāpō (meaning: beard of the kākāpō)
New Zealand’s tallest moss, Dawsonia superba can grow up to 60 centimetres, reaching heights normally reserved for vascular plants. It is the tallest self supporting moss in the world. The Māori name pāhau-kākāpō meaning ‘beard of the kākāpō’ is a reference to the spiky whiskers of our largest native parrot.
Kōtare (meaning: platform or stage)
The word kōtare sometimes referred to the elevated platform in a pā, used to watch for enemies. This is perfect for the kōtare which finds the perfect lookout spot, perches motionless then attacks its prey from out of nowhere.
Please note that te reo Māori is a diverse language and there are many names and stories attributed to nature. These are just some of the names and meanings that are used.