Ngā awa me ngā manga: rivers and streams

We can get a sense of just how important rivers and streams are in the Māori world from the whakatauki or proverb ‘Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – I am the river and the river is me’. In addition to their huge spiritual significance to Māori, waterways played a crucial role as a source of food, and as transportation routes through the dense bush that covered Aotearoa in pre-European times.

In more recent times, Māori values have played a key role in protecting waterways from pollution and degradation. One notable example is the Treaty settlement of Whanganui iwi, which saw the Whanganui River given its own legal status, as befitting the tribes’ view of it as an ancestor, and adding considerable legal weight to its ongoing protection.

Here are some words, phrases and well-known place names around the theme of rivers and streams. Use the tips in the text box below to have a go at saying them.


Awa: river
Manga (and also mā): stream
Rere: flow (also to fly)
Puna: spring
Wai māori: fresh water
Wai tai: salt water
Hōhonu: deep
Pāpaku: shallow
Waterfall: hīrere
Ika: fish

Some well-known rivers:


And some phrases:

He awa hōhonu tērā: That is a deep river over there.
He mā pāpaku tēnei: This is a shallow stream.
He manga tere tēnei: This is a fast stream.

Pronunciation tips:

  • Start with the basic vowel sounds (are, air, ee, oar, ooh)
  • Join them together for blends (ie ao = areoar)
  • The ‘r’ is always rolled in te reo Maori. It shouldn’t be too difficult, especially for those of us with Scottish heritage. If you have trouble, try replacing the R with a soft D.
  • The ‘ng’ blend is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing’
  • A macron indicates that the sound of the vowel is lengthened and can completely change the meaning of a word. For example, manu = bird; mānu = float.
  • Typing a Māori word into the search engine at will allow you to listen to audio of a fluent speaker pronouncing it!

Ko tātou tēnā mo te wā nei! If you want to take your learning to the next level, be sure to check out the great online learning resource at

Mā te wā,


Ben Douglas is a keen hunter and conservationist with an interest in Māori language and culture, particularly in relation to the outdoors. This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of FMC’s Backcountry magazine. To subscribe to the print version, please visit