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Me rehe te matau, me rehe te mauī!

01 June 2018 - By Alana Thomas

As legal professionals we strive to do the best in everything that we do.

Not only for the clients we represent and the industry we uphold, but for our own continued legal development. Being experts in our fields is a part of what makes us trusted and sought-after legal professionals and understanding te reo Māori me ōnā tikanga within today’s legal sector is becoming increasingly necessary to attain (or maintain) that level of expertise.

An illustration showing common Maori words

The headline, “Me rehe te matau, me rehe te mauī” literally refers to someone who is ambidextrous but is often used to acknowledge a person who mastered their skill in its entirety. They are considered an expert in their field.

So, in our case, if the right hand, or te ringa matau, is the law that we are already knowledgeable in, and the left hand, or te ringa mauī, is te reo Māori me ōnā tikanga, we need to ensure there is balance and we need to become knowledgeable with that side too. Let’s start with saying hello. (Yes, this will take up the whole article, but bear with me).

Over the past two weeks, I have been asked questions by several lawyers, court staff and judiciary about the appropriate way to greet people, taking into account the setting, who they are, and the environment in which you are greeting that person. Easy I thought, and sent out my standard reply: you use “Kia ora” as an informal greeting and “Tēnā Koe” for a formal greeting.

But, unsurprisingly, this answer wasn’t enough and there were a number of follow up pātai (questions). Those inquisitive people then received a book-length email and I’m sure quickly regretted asking in the first place. But it made me realise that, with this profession especially, we need to ask those questions to understand fully and ensure that we are using these words and phrases in the right way and at the right time. Questioning and fully understanding is, of course, what makes an expert, yes? So, let’s get “hello” right:

Kia ora

This is informal and generally used to greet a friend, colleague, someone you may know well or see often. It’s more of a “g’day” type greeting when you walk into the office or pass someone at the coffee shop. Kia ora can also be used to agree with something someone has said, “oh yes, kia ora, kia ora”. And you may hear it during mihimihi (speeches) from people listening and agreeing with what the kaikōrero (speaker) is saying.

Literally translated, kia ora means to “be well or healthy”. And you may see or hear it used within phrases like, “kia ora te reo Māori” or “let the Māori language live”.

I would not use kia ora in the courtroom, when greeting manuhiri (guests) in a pōwhiri (formal welcome), nor when meeting clients for the first time. I would, generally, not use kia ora if I was greeting anyone for the first time (especially if they are Kuia, Kaumatua, people who hold positions of leadership or respected people within our community). E whai mai ana koutou? (Are you following me so far?) So, in all those instances, I would use Tēnā Koe.

Tēnā Koe

This also means hello. And this too can be used to agree with something someone has said, or to acknowledge that they are there. But this greeting is much more formal. It would be more appropriate to use Tēnā Koe in the situations I listed in the above paragraph.

I have been asked if there is another (more formal) greeting that could be used in court to address the judiciary. To be clear, Tēnā Koe is THE MOST formal way you can greet a person. But there are different ways of addressing whoever you are speaking to after the “Tēnā Koe” to give more mana or respect to that “hello”.

For example:

  • “Tēnā koe e te Rangatira” which refers to that person as a chief or leader;
  • “Tēnā koe e te Kaiwhakawā” which refers to a judge particularly. Or perhaps
  • “Tēnā koutou ngā Kaiwhakawā e noho ana i tēnei tēpu rangatira” to greet not one judge, but a panel of judges.

This can be differentiated from a “Tēnā koe e hoa” which is still a formal hello but by adding “e hoa” (friend) on the end, it has a more relaxed nature. (FYI, I would not use Tēnā koe e hoa to address a judge in court).

I have also heard people use “Tēnā rawa atu koe” to give more emphasis to the greeting. While this is not wrong, be careful adding modifiers in between and make sure you know it is correct.

I have also heard “Tēnā nui koe” or “Tēnā tino koe” because people have looked up words like “very” and “a lot” and mistakenly used them in this way, or this is how Google Translate has told them how to say it.

Please NEVER use Google Translate for te reo Māori. Kei hopo koe ki te whakapā mai (Don’t be afraid to ask me instead). I would suggest adding kupu whiore (following words) like I have noted above.

So now that we have mastered hello, start practising greeting everyone you see in your day with these terms, and make sure you are using the correct kupu for each situation.

Me rehe te matau, me rehe te mauī!


Alana Thomas alana.thomas@kaupare.co.nz is a director of Kaupare Consultancy. Before practising law she worked as a Deputy Registrar at the Māori Land Court in Whangarei. Alana is fluent in te reo Māori and is a strong advocate for the use and promotion of te reo Māori within the law.

Last updated on the 1st June 2018