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Whakatauki - Proverbs

Maori proverbs called ‘whakatauki’, ‘whakatauaki’ or ‘pepeha’ are sayings that reflect the thoughts, values and advice of past generations. They are usually very succinct and often use metaphor to convey key messages. A short whakatauki will often be so accurate in capturing a thought or moment, there will be little need for any other words to explain it further. Proverbs are important to the revival of Maori language – they carry flair, imagery and metaphor embodying the uniqueness of the language.

Maori proverbs comment on many aspects of Maori culture including history, religious life, conduct, ethics, land, warfare, love, marriage, and death. Some sayings refer to cultural practices or attributes that have since changed or no longer exist. However, most can be adapted and applied to present-day situations.

Maori proverbs are featured in the formal speeches heard on the marae even today. To be considered a good orator, it is important for a speaker to be able to use these sayings appropriately. For the speaker’s point to be appreciated, it is essential for the audience to know the saying and to understand its meaning.

Some tribes and sub tribes have particular sayings that relate specifically to their whakapapa (geneology) links, history, attributes or practices. These types of sayings are called pepeha.

Here are some examples of some well known Maori proverbs.

Na to rourou, na taku rourou
ka ora ai te iwi
With your food basket and my food basket
the people will thrive
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!
Whaia te iti kahurangi
Ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Further examples of examples in relation to the tui a native bird associated with oratory can be found on the about this site page.

  • History: Find out about the history of the Maori language.
  • Whaikorero: Formal speechmaking and what is involved.
  • Tui: Proverbs about the tui and oratory.