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Cook Islands Māoriis an Eastern Polynesian language. It is the official language of the Cook Islands, as well as being an indigenous language of the Realm of New Zealand. 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, 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,[1] but has no official status in New Zealand, despite the fact that New Zealand is signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Te Reo Maori Act definition[]

The Te Reo Maori Act states that Māori:[2] Template:Quote (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[3] of the East Polynesian varieties of the Cook Islands (collectively referred to as Cook Islands Māori) are:

  • Rakahanga-Manihiki
  • Penrhyn (Tongarevan or Mangarongaro);[4]
  • Southern: Rarotongan, Ngā Pū Toru (the dialects of Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke), Aitutaki, Mangaia.

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 Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA
Plosive Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA
Tap Template:IPA
Fricative Template:IPA1 Template:IPA Template:IPA2 Template:IPA3
  1. Present only in Manihiki
  2. Present only in Penrhyn
  3. Present only in Manihiki and Penrhyn


Front Central Back
Close Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA
Close-mid Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA
Open Template:IPA Template:IPA


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[]

Template:See also

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 '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 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 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

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, 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


  1. Since 1915, English had been the only official language of the Cook Islands
  2. Template:Cite web
  3. These are ‘dialects’ in the sense of having mutual intelligibility.
  4. Tongarevan is sometimes also considered as a distinct language.



  • 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[]

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