Māori proverbs called ‘whakataukī’, ‘whakatauākī’ 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 whakataukī 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 Māori language – they carry flair, imagery and metaphor embodying the uniqueness of the language.

Māori proverbs comment on many aspects of Māori 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.

Māori 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 pēpeha.

Here are some examples of some well known Māori proverbs:


Nā tō rourou, nā 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!


Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei

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



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