The Māori Language, Music & Revitalization In New Zealand

Music and language is so integral to nearly every culture in the world, especially in Te Reo Māori (Māori language) culture.

Image by Bernd Hildebrandt from Pixabay 

Their language has had one of the biggest revitalization efforts in the world and stands proudly as one of New Zealand’s official languages alongside English and New Zealand Sign Language today. According to nzhistory.govt, The Māori Language Act of 1987 sparked monumental change for the Māori people and their language. This act made Māori the official language as well as setting up a slew of institutions that aimed to reboot and preserve Māori culture. Currently, nearly 150,000 people can hold a conversation in Māori and this number continues to grow along with many language learning institutions.

One prominent language learning institution which arose after the Māori Language Act of 1987 was the Kōhanga Reo, also known as language nests or pre-school immersion schools. As stated in Medium, Kohanga Reo teachers are majority Māori speaking adults. As the students progress by levels, the amount of Māori in their education decreases. Overall, this method of revitalization is extremely successful and has aided the steady growth of basic Māori speakers in New Zealand. Today, there are over 460 Kohanga Reo alongside many more Māori immersion secondary and tertiary schools. An educational system like Kohanga Reo that is based in another language also greatly deconstructs the stigma against indigenous languages by making them approachable, useful, and celebrated within their communities.

Lake Taupo, Waikato, New Zealand
Lake Taupo, Waikato, New Zealand. UNSPLASH Aaron Mickan

Other than education, music is also a great tool for language restoration. Just think about the spread of English on a global scale and the effect that music had on its spread. Nearly everyone around the world knows one English song and can sometimes even sing some of its lyrics regardless of their language education. In general, when you are learning a new language it is very helpful to listen to it in music form so you can understand its rhythm and pronunciation. Māori is no exception, especially when the music scene there is extremely expansive and diverse. Below, is a playlist curated exclusively for Jetset Times readers so that you can hear what Māori music is all about. One song, Poi E, became a New Zealand one hit wonder that featured Māori poi (swinging balls) infused with contemporary hip hop. Another interesting fact about this song is that the writer was a linguist who intended to spark joy and pride in the Māori language. An infusion of Māori music and language with other contemporary genres continues to attract Māori people to their language. Take a look for yourself and listen to our playlist to discover more:

Lastly, before you take your grand trip to New Zealand, why not learn some Māori words and phrases yourself! I always believe that wherever you travel to, you should learn some of the local language so that you can do your best to connect with the people around you. Here are some greetings that will be helpful on your New Zealand adventure:

Kia ora – Hello/thank you.

Morena – Good morning.

Kei te pēhea koe? – How’s it going?

  • Kei te pai – Good.
  • Tino pai – Really good.

Haere rā – Goodbye.

Until European missionaries arrived in New Zealand, Māori did not have an orthographic system, but today the writing can be found all over. Here are some common words unique to the New Zealand landscape and Māori culture:

Tangaroa – In Māori mythology, it means the god of the sea and fish.

Marama – Moon or brightness.

Tāwhiri-mātea – God of the wind, storm, cloud, rain, hail and snow.

Kōhanga Reo – Language nest, Maori immersion pre-school.

Kiwi – Native flightless bird.

Haka – Generic term for Māori dance.

Aroha – Love.

Photo by Charl Durand from Pexels

Vivian Bauer


Vivian is passionate about everything related to music, art, and language. When traveling, she loves to walk for miles, try all kinds of food, and visit every museum. She has lived in Singapore, Belgium, and Brazil while hoping to one day travel to Mongolia and East Timor.

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