Cook Islands Māori

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This article is about the language. For the people of the Cook Islands, the majority of whom are Cook Islands Māori, see Cook Islanders.
Cook Islands Māori
Māori Kūki 'Āirani
Native to Cook Islands, New Zealand
Ethnicity Cook Islanders
Native speakers
14,000 in Cook Islands (2011 census)[1]
25,000 Rarotongan in New Zealand (1989)[2]
2,500 Rakahanga-Manihiki in New Zealand (1981)[3]
Official status
Official language in
Cook Islands
Regulated by Kopapa Reo
Language codes
ISO 639-2 rar
ISO 639-3 Variously:
rar – Rarotonga
pnh – Tongareva (Penrhyn)
rkh – Rakahanga-Manihiki
Glottolog raro1241  (Rarotongan)[4]
penr1237  (Penrhyn)[5]
raka1237  (Rakahanga-Manihiki)[6]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Cook Islands Māori language, also called Māori Kūki 'Āirani or Rarotongan, is the official language of the Cook Islands. Most Cook Islanders also call it Te reo Ipukarea, literally "the language of the Ancestral Homeland".


Cook Islands Māori became an official language of the Cook Islands in 2003.[7] According to Te Reo Maori Act, Māori:

  • (a) means the Māori language (including its various dialects) as spoken or written in any island of the Cook Islands; and
  • (b) Is deemed to include Pukapukan as spoken or written in Pukapuka; and
  • (c) Includes Māori that conforms to the national standard for Māori approved by Kopapa Reo; (see external links).

These dialects[8] of the Cook Islands Māori are :

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

The language is regulated by the kopapa reo created in 2003.

The Pukapukan language is considered by scholars as a distinct language closely related with Sāmoan and the language spoken on the three atolls of Tokelau.

Writing system and pronunciation[edit]

There is a debate about the standardization of the writing system. Although the usage of the macron (־) te makaroni, and the glottal (') (/ʔ/) is recommended, most speakers do not use these two diacritics in everyday writing.


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


As with most South Pacific languages, classical descriptions are generally based on the system used for Indo-European languages, especially concerning grammatical classes. Today linguists try to avoid it, considering it a form of Eurocentrism, even if any such description is adequate.[clarification needed] Most of these examples are taken from Cook Islands Maori Dictionary, by Jasper Buse with Raututi Taringa edited by Bruce Biggs and Rangi Moeka'a, Auckland, 1995.

Personal pronouns[edit]

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

Aspect markers[edit]

Marker Aspect Examples
Tē... nei present continuous

manako nei au i te 'oki ki te 'are '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 'anga'anga  : would you do that job;
Kia tae mai ki te anga'anga ā te pōpongi Mōnitē : come to work on Monday morning;
Teia te tātāpaka, kia kai koe : Here's the breadfruit pudding, eat up.

Imperative, order

'ē 'eke koe ki raro : you get down;
'ē tū ki kō : stand over there

'Auraka interdiction, don't

'Auraka rava koe e 'āmiri i teia niuniu ora, ka 'uti'uti 'ia 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 'll not rain; Kāre a Tī tuatua : Tī doesn't have anything to say

e… ana habitual action or state

E 'aere ana koe ki te 'ura : Do you go to the dance?:
E no'o 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 by and English future tense or "going to" construction

Ka 'īmene '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 by an English simple past or a 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


Like most Polynesian languages (Tahitian, New Zealand Māori, Hawaiian, Samoan, …), Cook Islands Māori has two categories of possessives, the ā and ō.

Generally the ā category is used when the possessor has, or had, control of the relationship, is superior or dominant to what is owned or when the possession is considered as alienable. The ō category is used when the possessor has, or had, no control over the relationship, is subordinate or inferior to what is owned or when the possession is considered as inalienable.

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

  • ā is used in speaking of

– Movable property, instruments,

– Food and drink,

– Husband, wife, children, girlfriend, boyfriend,

– Animals and pets,

– People in an inferior position

Te puaka ā tērā vaine : the pig belonging to that woman; ā Tere tamariki : Tere's children; Kāre ā Tupe mā ika i napō : Tupe and the rest didn't get any fish last night

Tāku ; Tā'au ; Tāna ; Tā tāua ; Tā māua…. : my, mine ; your, yours ; his, her, hers, our ours…

Ko tāku vaine teia : This is my wife; Ko tāna tāne tera : That's her husband; Tā kotou 'apinga : your possession(s); Tā Tare 'apinga : Tera possession(s);

  • ō is used in speaking of

– Parts of anything

– Feelings

– Buildings and transport

– Clothes

– Parents or other relatives (not husband, wife, children…)

– Superiors

Te 'are ō Tere : The house belonging to Tere; ō Tere pare : Tere's hat; Kāre ō Tina no'o anga e no'o ei : Tina hasn't got anywhere to sit;

Tōku ; Tō'ou ; Tōna ; Tō tāua ; Tō māua…: my, mine  ; your, yours ; his, her, hers ; our, ours …

Ko tōku 'are teia : This is my house; I tōku manako, kā tika tāna : In my opinion, he'll be right; Teia tōku, tērā tō'ou : This is mine here, that's yours over there


Pia : Polynesian arrowroot

Kata : laugh at; laughter; kata 'āviri : ridicule, jeer, mock

Tanu : to plant, cultivate land

'anga'anga : work, job

Pōpongi : morning

Tātāpaka : a kind of breadfruit pudding

'ura : dance, to dance

Tuātau : time, period, season ; ē tuātau 'ua atu : forever

'īmene : 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, there are some variations [to be completed]

Rarotonga Aitutaki Mangaia Ngāputoru Manihiki Tongareva English
tuatua 'autara taratara Araara vananga akaiti speak, speech
anau fanau hanau family
kūmara kū'ara kū'ara kūmara kumala sweet potatoes
kāre kā'ore, 'Ā'ore E'i, 'Āore Aita, kare Kaua, Kare kore no, not
tātā kiriti tātā tātā tata write
'ura koni 'ura 'Ingo,Ori ori,Ura Hupahupa kosaki dance
'akaipoipo 'akaipoipo 'ā'āipoipo 'akaipoipo fakaipoipo selenga wedding
'īkoke koroio rakiki Hikoke mokisi thin
'are 'are 'are 'are fare hare house
ma'ata 'atupaka ngao nui, nunui, ranuinui kore reka polia big
matu, Pete Ngenengene Pori Pori menemene suesue fat


  1. ^ Rarotonga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Tongareva (Penrhyn) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Rakahanga-Manihiki at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Rarotongan at Ethnologue (13th ed., 1996).
  3. ^ Rakahanga-Manihiki at Ethnologue (13th ed., 1996).
  4. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Rarotongan". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  5. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Penrhyn". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  6. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Rakahanga-Manihiki". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  7. ^ Since 1915, English had been the only official language of the Cook Islands
  8. ^ In a sense of mutual intelligibility
  9. ^ Tongarevan is sometimes also considered as a distinct language.

Dictionaries, learning methods and books in Cook Islands Māori[edit]

  • 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 Moeka'a, 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 ta'ito, Vainerere Tangatapoto et al. University of South Pacific, Suva 1984. (in Maori and English)
  • Learning Rarotonga Maori, by Maki'uti Tongia, Ministry of Cultural Development, Rarotonga 1999.
  • Te uri Reo Maori (translating in Maori), by Maki'uti 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 ta'ito no Manihiki, Kauraka Kauraka, IPS, USP, Suva. 1987.

External links[edit]