Ko wai koe?

Traditional Māori practices of personal introductions, whether formal or informal, usually begin first and foremost with ‘kōrero whenua’. That is, the concept of introducing sacred landmarks and historical information, such as maunga (mountains), awa (rivers), waka (migratory canoe), iwi (tribal affiliations), marae (communal complexes), whare tipuna (ancestral house), tīpuna (ancestors), whakapapa (genealogical connections) and whānau (family relations) before yourself. In the order of creation, this introductory format beautifully acknowledges three important values of tikanga Māori (protocols), 1) a strong connection to the environment and its natural role as part of tribal identity and sustenance, 2) a collective reverence and active practice in reciting tribal origins, and 3) a belief that all these entities should take precedence in the introductory format. This reflects Māori tūturu (traditional values).


Contemporary norms vs. traditional purist

In contemporary times, however, when one is asked “Ko wai koe?” (“Who are you?”) the reply is often one that reflects ‘individualism’ of that person by stating their name first (“Ko Mikaere au” = “I’m Michael”), and although this is ok, for example, when cutting to the chase, it turns traditional practices upside down on its head, by reversing the introductory format. It seems to indicate a disconnect, and a loss of knowledge in traditional practice that has become a contemporary accepted norm.

Without going into a long drawn out introduction, the next time I’m asked “Kia ora matua, ko wai koe?” I’ll make sure that I begin by stating one or all of my pepehā entities (tribal identity) first before myself, for example, “Kia ora e hika, ko Hikurangi maunga, Waiapu awa, nō Ngāti Porou, Mikaere tōku ingoa” or “Ngāti Porou, ko Mikaere au” may suffice. The point being that I acknowledge those things that went before me, before me (if you know what I mean).

Although I had knowledge of this aspect of tikanga Māori, I’m grateful for the reminder lesson we recieved at the noho Marae (a stay at a Marae) over this weekend from a stalwart Māori language teacher. Kia ora e hika. Take thought the next time someone asks you…

“Ko wai koe e hoa?”

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