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2017 Te Reo Maori - Maori Language

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As of 2017 only 3 per cent of New Zealanders, fewer than 130,000, can hold a conversation in te reo Māori. However, more than 300,000 young people are studying te reo Māori at school, and 10,000 are studying it at a tertiary level. Te reo Māori is being revitalised and the language is growing to meet our ever-evolving, modern world.  

Issue information

New Zealand Post worked closely with the Māori Language Commission - Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori, designer David Hakaraia and artist Elisabeth Vüllings to create a stamp issue that celebrated the growth and adaptability of the Māori language. The idea was to demonstrate that te reo Māori is a living language, adapting to change and keep up with the constant stream of new items and technology. David and Elisabeth were then able to create a system of portraying the words in Māori and English, with their corresponding illustrations, to depict how the new words were built.

Te reo Māori is endangered, but it has strengths - 130,000 people can use it to talk about everyday things, more than 300,000 are learning it in school, and it is being learnt as a home language by thousands of children. More people speak Māori today than in 1840, but there are fewer highly proficient speakers. 

New Zealand’s parliament has set up a number of organisations to help with the rejuvenation of the Māori language. These include: Te Mātāwai, a new entity that will lead a revitalisation of te reo Māori among Māori and their tribes and subtribes; Māori Television, Te Māngai Pāho, the broadcast funding agency; and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission.

Government agencies such as Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Department of Internal Affairs also make a huge contribution to government efforts. Through ‘language planning’, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori intends to support government agencies, businesses and private organisations to do more to support what was once known as ‘the New Zealand language’. 

Māori Language is Ever-evolving 

‘Language planning’ involves people thinking about how they can help to produce more awareness and status of te reo Māori, as well as developing new words and terms for use in te reo Māori.

This stamp issue illustrated one aspect - the development of words and terms to ensure that the Māori language can deal with the modern world.

It’s called ‘lexical expansion’. Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori approves new words and encourages the consistent use of them. New words are sometimes not new at all; they are already in use but not widely known. For example, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori worked with Māori-speaking hunters to produce a set of words for the TV programme Hunting Aotearoa. Sometimes old terms that are little used are brought back - an example is tīkoke, used on one stamp in this issue in the term whare tīkoke. Tīkoke is an old word for ‘highest heavens’ and is used for ‘skyscraper’. Words can be made from descriptive terms such as ahokore, or ‘no wire’, for wifi.

The word Aotearoa is used alongside New Zealand on each of the stamps. It is the word used for ‘New Zealand’ when people are speaking Māori. In the 1835 Declaration of Independence the term Niu Tireni is used as the name for New Zealand, as it is in the Treaty of Waitangi. Niu Tireni is now rare in speech, while Aotearoa features on our passports and our currency. Aotearoa appeared in a Māori language newspaper as early as 1854, and as Māori had no need for a word for all the islands that now make up our country, it can also be considered a ‘modern word’, even if an old one!

Developing modern words is just one aspect of the work needed for the Māori language to spread throughout New Zealand and be used everywhere, by everyone, whenever they want to and for whatever purposes they want.

Te reo Māori is a taonga, a valued possession of Māori and all New Zealanders - it is an essential part of what makes Aotearoa New Zealand. Everyone can contribute to the revitalisation of te reo Māori by making it welcome at work and in the community.

The Journey Home First Day Cover 

This first day cover was about transport-related words. Waka, the Māori word for vehicle, and a waka rererangi (aircraft), were pictured along with items such as a GPS, a passport and an electric car. The components of the Māori words were illustrated on the first day cover so that people could put words together and essentially translate what they were seeing. 

A Day at Work First Day Cover 

This first day cover featured stamps that linked to the word rorohiko or computer. The components of the word were illustrated with images; for example, roro was illustrated with the image of a brain and hiko with an electric plug. The cover was a fun way to learn some Māori words and to celebrate te reo Māori.

Product Listing for 2017 Te Reo Maori - Maori Language


Image Title Description Price

Mint used or cancelled sheetlet of ten stamps.

The individual stamps in this issue were:

Single $1.00 'Mobile phone - Waea Pūkoro' gummed stamp.

Waea means phone and comes from the 19th-century Māori word for telegraph, which in turn came from the English word ‘wire’. Pūkoro is a traditional word for a wide range of soft containers and is also used to mean pocket.

Single $1.00 'Text - Pātuhi' gummed stamp.

Pā is a word meaning to touch and tuhi means to write. It also means to point. Tuhi is often written and pronounced as tuhituhi. The little line above the letter ‘a’ is a tohutō or macron. It means it’s a long vowel, so sounds more like ‘are’ than ‘uh’.

Single $1.00 'Computer - Rorohiko' gummed stamp.

The Māori name is a compound of two words, roro and hiko. A roro is a brain and hiko, from a word for lightning, means electricity. Te reo Māori has a full range of computing terms.

Single $1.00 'Flash drive - Pūmahara' gummed stamp.

Pū comes from pūrere, the word for device or machine. Mahara means memory. So a flash drive is a memory machine. The same word is used for computer memory in general.

Single $1.00 'Passport - Uruwhenua' gummed stamp.

The New Zealand passport has been fully translated into te reo Māori since 1993, reflecting our national pride in our indigenous language. Uru means to enter. Whenua means country, from the word for land. It is also the word for afterbirth, which is ceremonially buried in the land. 

Single $1.00 'Airport - Taunga Rererangi' gummed stamp.

A taunga is a port. An aircraft is a waka rererangi, a vehicle (waka) that flies (rere) in the sky (rangi). Rangi is from Ranginui the ancestral sky father, eternally separated from his beloved partner Papatūānuku the earth mother. Rain is his tears. Mist is her sighs. 

Single $1.00 'Global positioning system - Pūnaha Kimi Ahunga' gummed stamp.

A pūnaha is a system of any sort. Kimi means to find or search for. Ahunga is your position or where you are heading. If you used the initials as in ‘GPS’, you would have to use the Māori name’s initial letters and pronounce PKA as ‘pih, kih, are’.

Single $1.00 'Skyscraper - Whare Tīkoke' gummed stamp.

A whare is a building. The word can be widely recognised in Polynesia: it is fale in Samoa, fare in Tahiti and hale in Hawaii. Tīkoke means the highest heavens. ‘Wh’ in te reo Māori is pronounced like an ‘f’ in English, but with less puff behind it.

Single $2.20 'Wifi - Ahokore' gummed stamp.

Aho means cord, string or line. Kore means no; that’s the point of wifi - no strings attached. If you call it waiwhai when speaking te reo Māori you might cause confusion, as waiwhai is a Ngāi Tahu word for flounder.

Single $2.70 'Electric car - Waka hiko' gummed stamp.

A waka is any sort of vehicle. You hear this word in modern New Zealand English to mean just that, or even political parties as in the term waka jumper, a person who changes allegiance. Hiko is the word for electricity, from a word for lightning.  

Set of First Day Covers Set of two first day covers with ten gummed stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $13.90

Technical information

Date of issue: 6 September 2017
Number of stamps: 10 gummed stamps
Denominations: 8 x $1.00, $2.20 and $2.70
Stamps designed by: Dave Hakaraia and artist Elisabeth Vüllings, Wellington, New Zealand
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print by offset lithography
Number of colours: Four process colours with syneal overgloss
Stamp size and format: 30mm x 40mm (vertical)
Paper type: Tullis Russell 104gsm red phosphor gummed stamp paper
Number of stamps per sheet: 20
Perforation gauge: 13.33 x 13.66
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 5 September 2018. First day covers remained on sale until 5 November 2017. 
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