I posted a while back about the names of New Zealand’s North and South Islands – which recently gained those terms as official monikers – along with much more interesting official names in Te Reo Maori.
The result is that I live in ‘Te Ika-a-Maui’ (‘The Fish of Maui’) – the North Island – while some of my relatives live in ‘Te Wai Pounamu’ (‘The Waters of Greenstone’).
When I posted that news, one of my readers asked me to share some of the more – er – colourful Maori place names in New Zealand…and here they are. They aren’t ‘rude’, any more than English place names like Penistone or Shitterton are rude. Te Reo is a wonderfully expressive language.
1. Urewera. This region is home to Tuhoe, a significant iwi (tribe), and is a national park. Here’s a review I wrote of the most recent book about the region’s history. In English, ‘wera’ means’ burnt’, and ‘ure’, among other things, means ‘penis’. How the name arrived is moot. Wikipedia has the clean version – a rangitira (chief) was sleeping too close to the fire. Another version is that the rangitira Murakarake was jeered by his son, had a fit and fell into a fire. The more likely story is a gruesome tale of infidelity. A cuckolded husband, seeking utu (revenge), hacked off the offending part of his rival and threw it into the flames. Ewwww.
2. Tutaekuri. This river flows through my home district. In English, ‘kuri’ is dog, and the nearest word to ‘tutae’ is ‘shit’. It’s reference to the colour the water goes after rainfall. Suspended silt from this and other rivers of the district turned the Heretaunga plains into one of New Zealand’s top horticultural and wine districts. Thanks to rivers that sometimes look like doggy do do.
3. Tikokino. This settler-age town was originally Hampden. However, it was re-dubbed with the old Maori name to avoid confusion with Hampden in the South Island. I’ve heard that the name is a reference to swampland; and it may refer to the way crops grew in the area. Either way, the literal translation is ‘bad shit’.
4. Urenui. A town north of New Plymouth. ‘Nui’ means ‘big’, and I’ve already translated ‘ure’, so go figure – though ‘ure’ also refers to ‘heroic’, and I have heard that ‘Urenui’ therefore means ‘great hero’.
5. Waimimi – near Masterton in the Wairarapa. ‘Waters of urine’. Don’t laugh. Some New Zealand streams go this colour from tannin leaching out of beech trees.
6. Tutaenui – a township near Marton in the Manawatu, named after the stream that runs through it. A glance the lexicon above tells you the translation.
Are there any places near where you live that have, shall we say, colourful names? Keep it seemly, please!
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up: Christmas fun, end-of-year wrap-ups, and more. Watch this space.