Maori Language Week: Te Mahi Kai

He KupengaEach year The Māori Language Commission sets a theme for the focus of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori /Māori Language Week. The theme this year is ‘Te Mahi Kai’, which we can interpret as ‘all activities around the finding, preparation and partaking of meals’. Here are some places and ways of getting historical and current information about Te Mahi Kai.

In the Library

  • For recipe books, search under the subject, Maori cookery.
  • For information on the tikanga of kai, try subject headings, Maori food, or kai.
  • To learn where kai fits into te ao Māori (the Māori world), search in browse catalogue for specific categories of kai, such as kai moana (seafood) and Haumie Tiketike (the god of uncultivated food).
  • If you’re looking for those lovely study guides on Maori food, try a subject search for technology New Zealand Maori


KeteThere’s a lot of information on our very own site! Start at the Māori tab on the library Home Page, choose Arts and culture and then kai or Ara ipurangi – whenua land, hauora health, and kai moana fisheries.

Chef Peter Peeti from the television series Kai time on the road features on which has downloadable recipes from all the series. Just follow the links.

Another yummy site is created by Roera Ltd to promote indigenous New Zealand herbs. Chef Charles Royal caters for and teaches about the gourmet kai experiences available through the site. The traditional cooking techniques link has information about hangi and infusion techniques although, annoyingly, the other links are still to be filled. Talking of hangi, how about a hangi pie? hangi pies. No, I haven’t tried one …

There are some fascinating articles and recipes in Te Ao Hou online. Use ‘food’ as your search term.

Tikanga of kai

If you’ve been welcomed onto a marae, you will have experienced the sharing of food as the last stage of the powhiri or welcome ceremony. The sharing of kai, which could be a cup of tea and a biscuit or a Hākari (feast), marks the time when nga manuhiri or visitors have become part of the whanau of the marae for the length of their visit.

Here are some tikanga guidelines regarding kai on a marae from Hiwi and PatTauroa’s book Te marae:

  • In te ao Māori (the Māori world) all people are important therefore don’t save the seat next to you at the table in the whare kai (dining room) for someone you know, but take the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of someone new.
  • Before you dig in, wait for karakia (grace) to be said. A member of the tangata whenua will say grace once there is a number of people seated.
  • Once you have eaten, rather than lingering to chat, move on so that someone else can sit and eat, or the dishes can get cleared away.
  • Remember to thank the ringa wera (cooks and kitchen workers). They do not get to eat until all manuhiri have eaten and the dishes cleaned up!
  • Never ever sit on a table. This is where food goes, and nothing else.

Other meanings of the word ‘kai’

As in all languages, words can have more than one meaning. Kai means food but also to eat. Kai plus a verb means ‘the doer’ of the verb as in kaiāwhina, the person who helps. The word ‘kai’ has the same meaning as the word ‘ngai’ when said in front of an Iwi or tribe. For example ‘Kai Tahu’ is the same as Ngai Tahu’. The difference exists to accommodate the different dialects of various Iwi. The words ‘mahinga kai’ mean to cultivate or an area of food-gathering, and kaitiakitanga is ‘guardianship’. There are many more as you’ll see here: Māori Dictionary

Background on related topics

Try this from the New Zealand Conservation Authority: Māori customary use of native birds plants and other traditional materials

This is a great site from Land Care Research, to discover traditional Māori uses of plants. People Plants Infobase Ngā Tipu Whakaoranga

Every year this lucky little town on the coast west of Hamilton has a kai festival: Kawhia Traditional Māori Kai Festival. This site also contains a lot of interesting historical information.

As July 26 to 30 is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, here are two great Websites for learning Te Reo Māori: – learn and practice Te Reo Māori anyway you choose, via this site. – just subscribe and you are taught and tested on a regular basis. There is a kupu o te rā, (word of the day) and any number of words from a variety of categories to teach and remind you of basic te reo and grammar. Check out the list of kai or food words/concepts by clicking on browse nga kupu on the left of the home page, then choose from the lists – food time, shopping etc.

There’s also a wordfind/puzzle based on kai to use in Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori in TRIM record no.10/341130

Gin Boss
Kaiāwhina, Te Kete Wananga o Ihutai/Linwood Library

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