Maori Proverbs

Posted on 3 October 2012 | 0 Comments


470 kaumatua maori proverbs


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Maori proverbs play a large part in Maori culture. Māori proverbs called ‘whakataukī’, ‘whakatauākī’ or ‘pepeha’ are sayings that reflect the thoughts and values of the past and carry alot of messages and meaning.

Māori proverbs comment on many aspects of Māori culture including history, religious life, conduct, ethics, land, warfare, love, marriage, and death. Most of the old proverbs can be adapted and applied to present-day situations. Here are some of the most popular ones used today.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!


Whāia te iti kahurangi. Ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei

Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain


Whatungarongaro te tangata toi tu whenua

As man disappears from sight, the land remains

Man is not the be all and end all of this earth, we are only here for a fleeting moment, however the land will remain.


Tangata takahi manuhiri, he marae puehu

A person who mistreats his guest has a dusty Marae (Meeting house)

Refers to the importance of hospitality, those who do not treat their visitors well will find themselves without any.


Tangata ako ana i te whare, te turanga ki te marae, tau ana

A person who is taught at home, will stand collected on the Marae (meeting house grounds)

A child rasied with home values will be able to stand strong against the world.  


Te anga karaka, te anga koura, kei kitea te Marae

The shells of the karaka berry, and the shells of the crayfish, should not be seen from the Marae

Refers to discipline and the ebing organised.


Ka mate te kainga tahi, ka ora te kainga rua

When one house dies, a second lives

Historically used when two houses or families are merged due to the unfortunate circumstances of one particular family. However this could be used when something good emerges from misfortune


Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi

As a old net withers another is remade

Everything has its time.


Te amorangi ki mua, te hapai o ki muri

The leader at the front and the workers behind the scenes

Both leaders and workers are important.


He kai kei aku ringa

There is food at the end of my hands

Said by a person who can use his basic abilities and resources to create success.


Kaua e mate wheke mate ururoa

Don't die like a octopus, die like a hammerhead shark

Octopus lack of resistance when they are captured, however a hammerhead shark will fights to the end. Don't give up!


He mahi te ataa noho, e kii ana te wheke

It is the octopus who says sitting is working

A proverb for someone who is lazy.


Tama tu tama ora, tama noho tama mate

An active person will remain healthy while a lazy one will become sick


Ma whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi

With red and black the work will be complete

When we co-operate the work is completed.


Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi

With your basket and my basket the people will live

Again referring to co-operation and the combination of resources to get ahead. This proverb can be very useful and is often said.


He waka eke noa

A canoe which we are all in with no exception

We are all in this together.


Ehara taku toa, he taki tahi, he toa taki tini

My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, as it was not individual success but success of a collective

Success usually comes at the support of other


Kaore te kumara e whaakii ana tana reka

The kumara (sweet potatoe) does not say how sweet he is

Be humble.


Waiho te mihi ma te tangata

Leave your praises for someone else

Again referring to humbleness.


E kore te patiki e hoki ki tona puehu

The flounder (fish) does not return to his dust

Do not make the same mistake twice.


Ahakoa he iti he pounamu

Although it is small, it is greenstone

Even small gestures can carry alot of value.


He kotuku rerenga tahi

A White heron flies once

It is rare to sight the White heron, usually said to people who you don't often see.


Ko taku reo taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria

My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul

This is a proverb closely associated with language revitalization, a struggle which is very important in maintaining culture.


Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi

Without foresight or vision the people will be lost

Said by Kingi Tawhiao Potatau te Wherwhero


Toi tu te kupu, toi tu te mana, toi tu te whenua

A proverb was spoken by Tinirau of Wanganui and is a plea to hold on to your roots. 


He kakano ahau i ruia i Rangiatea

I am a seed that was sewn in the heavens of Rangiatea

Proverb that shows the imporatance of past and geneology


He tangata kii tahi

A man who speaks once

 A person with prestige needs only to speak once.



Hohonu kaki, papaku nana

A deep neck, but a shallow outcome

This refers to people who have a health appetite, but are lazy 


He manako te koura i kore ai

There are no crayfish as you set your heart on them

This is similar to not putting all your eggs in one basket.



He maroro kokati ihu waka

The flying fish which jumps across the nose of the canoe

Here the Maroro or flying fish is a metaphor for someone who crossed a war party and is killed to ward of bad luck. If something bad happens in a superstitious way, you say this to acknowledge that something is a fault. It's a bad omen that someone bumped into you when you're on the way to war so you have to kill them.

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