Cook Islands Māori

Cook Islands Māori
Māori, Maori Kuki Airani, Māori Kūki ʻĀirani
Native toCook Islands, New Zealand
Native speakers
13,620 in Cook Islands, 96% of ethnic population (2011 census)[1]
7,725 in New Zealand, 12% of ethnic population (2013) [2]
Official status
Official language in
 Cook Islands
Regulated byKopapa Reo
Language codes
ISO 639-2rar
ISO 639-3Variously:
rar – Rarotonga
pnh – Tongareva (Penrhyn)
rkh – Rakahanga-Manihiki
Glottolograro1241  Southern Cook Island Maori
penr1237  Māngarongaro
raka1237  Rakahanga-Manihiki
ELPSouthern Cook Islands Maori
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Cook Islands Māori is an Eastern Polynesian language that is the official language of the Cook Islands. Cook Islands Māori is closely related to New Zealand Māori, but is a distinct language in its own right. Cook Islands Māori is simply called Māori when there is no need to disambiguate it from New Zealand Māori, but it is also known as Māori Kūki ʻĀirani (or Maori Kuki Airani) or controversially[3] Rarotongan. Many Cook Islanders also call it Te reo Ipukarea, literally "the language of the Ancestral Homeland".

Official status

Cook Islands Māori became an official language of the Cook Islands in 2003; from 1915 until then, English had been the only official language of the Cook Islands.

Te Reo Maori Act definition

The Te Reo Maori Act 2003 states that Māori:[4]

  1. means the Māori language (including its various dialects) as spoken or written in any island of the Cook Islands; and
  2. Is deemed to include Pukapukan as spoken or written in Pukapuka; and
  3. Includes Māori that conforms to the national standard for Māori approved by Kopapa Reo.

Pukapukan is considered by scholars and speakers alike to be a distinct language more closely related to Sāmoan and Tokelauan than Cook Islands Māori. It belongs to the Samoic subgroup of the Polynesian language family. The intention behind including Pukapukan in the definition of Te Reo Maori was to ensure its protection.

The dialects[5] of the East Polynesian varieties of the Cook Islands (collectively referred to as Cook Islands Māori) are:

Cook Islands Māori is closely related to Tahitian and New Zealand Māori, and there is a degree of mutual intelligibility with both of these languages.

The language is theoretically regulated by the Kopapa Reo created in 2003, but this organisation is currently dormant.

Writing system and pronunciation

There is a debate about the standardisation of the writing system. Although the usage of the macron (־) te makarona and the glottal stop amata (ʻ) (/ʔ/) is recommended, most speakers do not use the two diacritics in everyday writing. The Cook Islands Māori Revised New Testament uses a standardised orthography (spelling system) that includes the diacritics when they are phonemic but not elsewhere.[citation needed]


Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p t k ʔ
Tap ɾ
Fricative f1 v s2 h3
  1. Present only in Manihiki
  2. Present only in Penrhyn
  3. Present only in Manihiki and Penrhyn


Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open a


Cook Islands Māori is an isolating language with very little morphology. Case is marked by the particle that initiates a noun phrase, and like most East Polynesian languages, Cook Islands Māori has nominative-accusative case marking.

The unmarked constituent order is predicate initial: that is, verb initial in verbal sentences and nominal-predicate initial in non-verbal sentences.

Personal pronouns

Person Singular Dual Plural
1st inclusive au tāua tātou1
1st exclusive māua mātou2
2nd koe kōrua kōtou
3rd aia rāua rātou
  1. you -2 or more- and I
  2. they and I

Tense-Aspect-Mood markers

Marker Aspect Examples
Tē... nei present continuous

manako nei au i te ʻoki ki te ʻare : I am thinking of going back to the house
kata nei rātou : They are laughing
Kāre au e tanu nei i te pia : I'm not planting any arrowroot

Kia Mildly imperative or exhortatory, expressing a desire, a wish rather than a strong command.

Kia vave mai! : be quick ! (don't be long!)
Kia viviki mai! : be quick (don't dawdle!)
Kia manuia! : good luck!
Kia rave ana koe i tēnā ʻangaʻanga  : would you do that job
Kia tae mai ki te angaʻanga ā te pōpongi Mōnitē : come to work on Monday morning
Teia te tātāpaka, kia kai koe : Here's the breadfruit pudding, eat up

e Imperative, order

e ʻeke koe ki raro : you get down
e tū ki kō : stand over there

Auraka interdiction, don't

Auraka rava koe e ʻāmiri i tēia niuniu ora, ka ʻutiʻutiʻia koe : don't on any account touch this live wire, you'll get a shock

kāre indicate the negation, not, nothing, nowhere

Kāre nō te ua : It will not rain
Kāre a Tī tuatua : Tī doesn't have anything to say

e… ana habitual action or state

E ʻaere ana koe ki te ʻura : Do you go to the dance?
E noʻo ana aia ki Nikao i tē reira tuātau : he used to live in Nikao at that time

Ka Refers prospectively to the commencement of an action or state. Often translatable as the English future tense or "going to" construction

Ka imene a Mere ākonei ite pō : Mary is going to sing later on tonight
Kua kite au ē ka riri a Tere : I know (or knew) that Tere will (or would) be angry

Kua translatable as the English simple past or present tense (with adjectives)

Kua kite mai koe ia mātou : You saw us
Kua meitaki koe ? : Are you better now?
Kua oti te tārekareka : the match is over now

Most of the preceding examples were taken from Cook Islands Maori Dictionary, by Jasper Buse with Raututi Taringa edited by Bruce Biggs and Rangi Moekaʻa, Auckland, 1995.


Like most other Polynesian languages (Tahitian, New Zealand Māori, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan ...), Cook Islands Māori has two categories of possessives, "a" and "o".

Generally, the "a" category is used when the possessor has or had control over the initiation of the possessive relationship. Usually this means that the possessor is superior or dominant to what is owned, or that the possession is considered as alienable. The "o" category is used when the possessor has or had no control over the initiation of the relationship. This usually means that the possessor is subordinate or inferior to what is owned, or that the possession is considered to be inalienable.

The following list indicates the types of things in the different categories:

  • a is used in speaking of
    • Movable property, instruments,
    • Food and drink,
    • Husband, wife, children, grandchildren, girlfriend, boyfriend,
    • Animals and pets, (except for horses)
    • People in an inferior position
Te puaka a tērā vaʻine : the pig belonging to that woman;
ā Tere tamariki : Tere's children;
Kāre ā Tupe mā ika inapō : Tupe and the rest didn't get any fish last night
Tāku ; Tāʻau ; Tāna ; Tā tāua ; Tā māua…. : my, mine ; your, yours ; his, her, hers, our ours…
Ko tāku vaʻine tēia : This is my wife;
Ko tāna tāne tērā : That's her husband;
Tā kotou ʻapinga : your possession(s);
Tā Tare ʻapinga : Tērā possession(s);
  • o is used in speaking of
    • Parts of anything
    • Feelings
    • Buildings and transport (including horses)
    • Clothes
    • Parents or other relatives (not husband, wife, children…)
    • Superiors
Te ʻare o Tere : The house belonging to Tere;
ō Tere pare : Tere's hat;
Kāre ō Tina noʻo anga e noʻo ei : Tina hasn't got anywhere to sit;
Tōku ; Tōʻou ; Tōna ; Tō tāua ; Tō māua…: my, mine  ; your, yours ; his, her, hers ; our, ours …
Ko tōku ʻare tēia : This is my house;
I tōku manako, ka tika tāna : In my opinion, he'll be right;
Tēia tōku, tērā tōʻou : This is mine here, that's yours over there


Pia : Polynesian arrowroot

Kata : laugh at; laughter; kata ʻāviri : ridicule, jeer, mock

Tanu : to plant, cultivate land

ʻangaʻanga : work, job

Pōpongi : morning

Tātāpaka : a kind of breadfruit pudding

ʻura : dance, to dance

Tuātau : time, period, season ; ē tuātau ʻua atu : forever

ʻīmene : to sing, song

Riri : be angry with (ki)

Tārekareka : entertain, amuse, match, game, play game


Although most words of the various dialects of Cook Islands Māori are identical, but there are some variations:

Rarotonga Aitutaki Mangaia Ngāputoru Manihiki Tongareva English
tuatua ʻautara taratara araara vananga akaiti speak, speech
ʻānau ʻānau ʻānau fanau hanau family
kūmara kūʻara kūʻara kūmara kūmara kumala sweet potatoes
kāre kāʻore, ʻāʻore eʻi, ʻāore ʻāita, kāre kaua, kāre kore no, not
tātā kiriti tātā tātā tātā tata write
ʻura koni ʻura ʻingo, oriori, ʻura hupahupa kosaki dance
ʻakaipoipo ʻakaipoipo ʻāʻāipoipo ʻakaipoipo fakaipoipo selenga wedding
ʻīkoke koroio rakiki tūngāngā hikoke mokisi thin
ʻare ʻare ʻare ʻare fare hare house
maʻata ʻatupaka ngao nui, nunui, ranuinui kore reka polia big
matū, pete ngenengene pori poripori menemene suesue fat


Place Cook Islands Māori-speaking population
Cook Islands 13,620
New Zealand 7,725
New South Wales 1,612[7]
Queensland 1,609[8]
Victoria 1,468[9]
Western Australia 308[10]
South Australia 63[10]
Australian Capital Territory 28[11]
Northern Territory 21[12]
Tasmania 10[13]


  1. ^ Rarotonga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Tongareva (Penrhyn) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Rakahanga-Manihiki at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "2013 Census ethnic group profiles". Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  3. ^ Sally Akevai Nicholas (2018). "Language Contexts: Te Reo Māori o te Pae Tonga o te Kuki Airani also known as Southern Cook Islands Māori". In Peter K. Austin; Lauren Gawne (eds.). Language Documentation and Description (PDF). Vol. 15. London: EL Publishing. pp. 36–37. Retrieved 27 January 2021. This practice conflicts with that of community members, who use the name Rarotongan to specifically refer to the variety spoken in Rarotonga. Non-Rarotongan Cook Islands Māori speakers can be offended by this conflation... Therefore, the name "Rarotongan" should be only be used to refer to the Rarotongan variety and never to Cook Islands Māori as a whole.
  4. ^ "Te Reo Maori Act 2003". Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2019-01-20.
  5. ^ These are ‘dialects’ in the sense of having mutual intelligibility.
  6. ^ Tongarevan is sometimes also considered as a distinct language.
  7. ^ "Language spoken at home | Australia | Community profile".
  8. ^ "Language spoken at home | Australia | Community profile".
  9. ^ "Language spoken at home | Australia | Community profile".
  10. ^ a b "Language spoken at home | Australia | Community profile".
  11. ^ "Language spoken at home | Australia | Community profile".
  12. ^ "Language spoken at home | Australia | Community profile".
  13. ^ "Language spoken at home | Australia | Community profile".


  • Cook Islands Maori Database Project, An online project created to build a collection of Cook Islands Maori Words based on existing print dictionaries and other sources.
  • Cook Islands Maori Dictionary, by Jasper Buse with Raututi Taringa, edited by Bruce Biggs and Rangi Moekaʻa, Auckland, 1995.
  • A dictionary of the Maori Language of Rarotonga, Manuscript by Stephen Savage, Suva : IPS, USP in association with the Ministry of Education of the Cook Islands, 1983.
  • Kai Korero : Cook Islands Maori Language Coursebook, Tai Carpentier and Clive Beaumont, Pasifika Press, 1995. (A useful learning Method with oral skills cassette)
  • Cook Islands Cook Book by Taiora Matenga-Smith. Published by the Institute of Pacific Studies.
  • Maori Lessons for the Cook Islands, by Taira Rere. Wellington, Islands Educational Division, Department of Education, 1960.
  • Conversational Maori, Rarotongan Language, by Taira Rere. Rarotonga, Government Printer. 1961.
  • Some Maori Lessons, by Taira Rere. Rarotonga. Curriculum Production Unit, Department of Education. 1976.
  • More Maori Lessons, by Taira Rere. Suva, University of the South Pacific.1976
  • Maori Spelling: Notes for Teachers, by Taira Rere. Rarotonga: Curriculum Production Unit, Education Department.1977.
  • Traditions and Some Words of the Language of Danger or Pukapuka Island. Journal of the Polynesian Society 13:173-176.1904.
  • Collection of Articles on Rarotonga Language, by Jasper Buse. London: University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies. 1963.
  • Manihikian Traditional Narratives: In English and Manihikian: Stories of the Cook Islands (Na fakahiti o Manihiki). Papatoetoe, New Zealand: Te Ropu Kahurangi.1988
  • Te korero o Aitutaki, na te Are Korero o Aitutaki, Ministry of Cultural Development, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. 1992
  • Atiu nui Maruarua : E au tua taʻito, Vainerere Tangatapoto et al. University of South Pacific, Suva 1984. (in Maori and English)
  • Learning Rarotonga Maori, by Makiʻuti Tongia, Ministry of Cultural Development, Rarotonga 1999.
  • Te uri Reo Maori (translating in Maori), by Makiʻuti Tongia, Punanga o te reo. 1996.
  • Atiu, e enua e tona iti tangata, te au tata tuatua Ngatupuna Kautai...(et al.), Suva, University of the South Pacific.1993. (Maori translation of Atiu : an island Community)
  • A vocabulary of the Mangaian language by Christian, F. W. 1924. Bernice P. Bishop Bulletin 2. Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
  • E au tuatua taʻito no Manihiki, Kauraka Kauraka, IPS, USP, Suva. 1987.

External links

  • Cook Islands Maori Database
  • Dictionary of Cook Islands Languages.
  • Te akataka reo Rarotonga; or, Rarotongan and English grammar by the Rev Aaron Buzacott of the London Missionary Society, Rarotonga. 1854. Old grammar in english and Rarotongan
  • "Tuatua mai!" Learn Cook Islands Maori
  • Te Reo Maori Act 2003
  • SBS Cook Islands Maori Radio Program. Updated each week
  • Cook Islands Biodiversity : Natural History Māori Dictionaries Archived 2011-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  • Cook Islands Maori Dictionary Online version of Jasper Buse and Raututi Taringa Dictionary
  • Cook Islands Ministry of Cultural Development
  • Te Reo Māori Kūki ʻĀirani i roto i te Kurakarāma o Aotearoa (Cook Islands Maori in the New Zealand Curriculum)
  • Collected songs and legends from the southern Cook Islands (c. 1883–1912) at the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
  • Box of 324 index cards of plant and animal names archived with Kaipuleohone
  • Paradisec has an open access collection of Cook Island Maori materials
  • Materials on Cook Islands Maori are included in the open access [Arthur Capell] collection (AC1) held by Paradisec.
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