Cook Islands Māori

Cook Islands Māori
Māori, Maori Kuki Airani, Māori Kūki 'Āirani
Native to Cook Islands, New Zealand
Region Polynesia
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 by Kopapa Reo
Language codes
ISO 639-2 rar
ISO 639-3 Variously:
rar – Rarotonga
pnh – Tongareva (Penrhyn)
rkh – Rakahanga-Manihiki
Glottolog raro1241  Southern Cook Island Maori
penr1237  Māngarongaro
raka1237  Rakahanga-Manihiki
ELP Southern Cook Islands Maori
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

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 'Āirani (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]

  • (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).

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 (ꞌ) (/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.


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 '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.

e Imperative, order

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

Auraka interdiction, don't

Auraka rava koe e 'āmiri i tēia niuniu ora, ka 'uti'utiꞌia 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 '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 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 Moeka'a, 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 vaꞌine : 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 ; Tāꞌau ; Tāna ; Tā tāua ; Tā māua…. : my, mine ; your, yours ; his, her, hers, our ours…
Ko tāku vaꞌine tēia : This is my wife;
Ko tāna tāne tērā : That's her husband;
Tā kotou ꞌapinga : your possession(s);
Tā Tare ꞌapinga : 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 'are o 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 tēia : This is my house;
I tōku manako, ka tika tāna : In my opinion, he'll be right;
Tēia 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, but there are some variations:

Rarotonga Aitutaki Mangaia Ngāputoru Manihiki Tongareva English
tuatua 'autara taratara araara vananga akaiti speak, speech
ꞌānau ꞌānau ꞌānau fanau hanau family
kūmara kū'ara kū'ara kūmara kūmara kumala sweet potatoes
kāre kā'ore, 'ā'ore e'i, 'āore ꞌāita, kāre kaua, kāre kore no, not
tātā kiriti tātā tātā tātā tata write
'ura koni 'ura 'ingo, oriori, ꞌura hupahupa kosaki dance
'akaipoipo 'akaipoipo 'ā'āipoipo 'akaipoipo fakaipoipo selenga wedding
'īkoke koroio rakiki tūngāngā hikoke mokisi thin
'are 'are 'are 'are fare hare house
ma'ata 'atupaka ngao nui, nunui, ranuinui kore reka polia big
matū, pete ngenengene pori poripori menemene suesue fat