Greetings from Te Ao Maori

This week we’ll be celebrating Waitangi Day with a public holiday. It’s a holiday special to New Zealand and a chance to reflect on what it means to come from our beautiful country of Aotearoa.

Many people will have heard and know basic greetings in Maori. Being able to introduce yourself in te reo is a useful skill to share and learn that makes people from this country distinctive. How we greet others can also be also a reminder of family connections and the importance of place and land in all our identities.

In Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) a pepeha is a type of greeting used to introduce yourself and your whanau (family).

This is a brief guide on how to write your own pepeha. Knowing the connections between people can be a good way to help set out a co-operative relationship.

A pepeha can also be a good thing to know if you travel overseas. Being able to speak a little bit of te reo will impress people who may not know much about New Zealand. Being able to do a pepeha and explain its meaning is even more impressive.

A pepeha starts with telling people something about the place that belongs to you, or that you belong to. This means telling listeners what your māunga (mountain).

We have used Kā Huru Manu (the Kai Tahu mapping project) to learn how to incorporate Te Reo names for local geography in our pepeha.

1. Mt somers from springburn.png


The mountains you might want to use if you are from Ashburton district are:

Mahaanui (Mount Harper)
Te Kiekie (Mount Somers)
Ōpīhako (Mount Winterslow)
Te Maka Kaha (Mount Alford)
Huirapa or Ōpuke (Mount Hutt)

Some of these names have meaning behind them. Mahaanui is the name of waka of the fabled Māori navigator Māui. Te Kiekie was a voyager on the Ārai-te-uru waka, a boat which capsised in Otago. Many passengers never made it back to the waka, and became the geographical features of Te Waiponamu (The South Island).

If you are not sure which mountain to use as yours, I suggest using either Huirapa, Ōpuke or Te Kiekie or Mahaanui as these are significant māunga in the area.

You could also use Pūteawhatiia (Big Hill Range). Pūteawhatiia was another passenger of the Ārai-te-uru waka.

So you could say:

Ko Ōpuke toku māunga (I belong to Mt Hutt/Mt Hutt is my mountain) or Ko Pūteawhatiia te māunga (I am affiliated with the Big Hill Range)

3. Rakaia Gorge.JPG

Awa or Roto

The next geographical feature you mention is your water. This could be an awa (river) or a roto (lake).

If you come from Ashburton you probably want to go with Hakatere for your river.

Hakatere was used by Māori to travel inland to the mahinga kai (food preparation) sites. These mahinga kai sites are still called The Māori Lakes in English.

If you are from Hinds, you may want to use Hekeao (Hinds River) as your awa. If you are from further south you could also use Rangitata, which bears the same name in English as it does in te reo Māori.

Finally, if you are from Rakaia or north of Ashburton, you could use Rakaia as your awa. The Rakaia was important for Māori in Te Waipounamu, because they would often travel through Nōti Raureka (Browning Pass) when travelling across Kā Tiritiri-o-te-moana (The Southern Alps).

Rakaia specifically refers to the river between its mouth, and the junction of the Waitāwhiri (Wilberforce River) and Rakaia-wai-pākihi (Mathias River).

If you want to use a river in pepeha, you might say:

Ko Hakatere toku awa (I belong to Hakatere/Hakatere is my river) or Ko Hekeao te awa (I am affiliated with Hakatere).

You could also use a roto (lake). The reason a pepeha starts with geographical features is because of the importance māunga and water in defining identity in Te Ao Māori. Rivers were like highways for Māori people, and they also provided food. If you spend time around the Ōtūwharekai (Ashburton Lakes), you may want to recognise this in your pepeha.

4. hakatere aerial view ashburton.png

Ōtūroto is Lake Heron. Te Puna-a-Taka is Lake Clearwater. Ōtautari is Lake Camp. Finally, Kirihonuhonu is Lake Emma. All of these lakes were important mahinga kai sites for Māori in the area, making them suitable for to have in your pepeha.

If you want to use a roto in your perpeha, you can use it instead of, or alongside, your awa.

You could say Ko Ōtūroto toku roto or Ko Te Puna-a-Taka te roto.

This gives you the first two or three lines of your pepeha. The next step would be to tell your listener who you are descended from, but we can save that for another time.

If you are interested in learning more about Kai Tahu place names, make sure you look up Kā Huru Manu ( You can also learn more about the history of the region and the people of Kai Tahu. Many of the atlas entries have information on why the place was given a name, or what its importance is.

If you want to learn more about writing a pepeha there are numerous places online you can look at, but one of the best guides I’ve found is Otago University’s guide found on their website. It will also help you learn why pepeha are structured the way they are.


By Max Reeves



  1. Mt Somers from Springburn
  2. Rakaia Gorge
  3. Aerial view showing Hakatere River.

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