A basic list of the names of colours in Māori:
- kahurangi – blue (dark blue)
- kākāriki – green
- karaka – orange
- kikorangi – blue (light blue / sky blue)
- kiwikiwi – grey
- kōwhai – yellow
- mā – white
- māwhero – pink
- pango / mangu – black
- parauri / paraone – brown
- waiporoporo – purple
- whero – red
More details about colours in Māori
The names of most colours in Māori come from nature. For example, karaka from the colour of a berry, kākāriki from the colour of a bird.
You may have noticed that there is sometimes more than one word for a colour. Let’s look at these in more detail.
Blue – Kikorangi – Kahurangi
Kikorangi and kahurangi are both blue.
Kikorangi is a light blue / sky blue colour.
Kahurangi is a dark blue colour.
Some people are taught that kikorangi is the colour of the skin of Ranginui (the Sky Father) in the morning (a light blue colour) and kahurangi is his cloak in the evening (a dark blue colour).
Others are taught that kikorangi is for the sky and kahurangi for the sea.
Notice how both words end in -rangi as a reference to Ranginui.
Purū used to be used as a loan word (transliteration) from English. You may see it in some older texts though the other words are preferred nowadays.
Another word for blue that you may come across is ōrangi.
Just so you know, the rugby team BLUES (from the north of the North Island of New Zealand) is called Kahurangi in Māori.
Black – Pango – Mangu
Both Pango and Mangu are used for the colour black though pango tends to be more frequent.
Have a look at some of the names of our New Zealand sport teams in Māori
- Kapa Ō Pango / Kapa Ōpango = All Blacks (Rugby)
- Kapa Pango Tāroaroa = Tall Blacks (Basketball)
- Pōtae Pango = Black caps (Cricket)
Did you know that Manu pango is blackbird in Māori? Manu = bird – pango = black
Brown – Parauri – Paraone
You may hear three different words for brown in Māori: paraone – parauri – pākākā
Paraone: for some is a transliteration. The last part of the word one = dirt/soil/mud/earth.
Parauri: this is a dark brown. Uri means dark.
Pākākā: this is a reddish-brown. Pākākā can also mean scorched.
Orange – Karaka
The word karaka comes from the name of the berry of the same colour. They were cultivated by Māori in coastal regions though are poisonous / toxic if eaten raw. They had to be cooked / prepared in a special way to remove the toxins.
Karaka or Ārani?
Do not confuse the colour orange (karaka) with the fruit orange (ārani).
- Ārani mo te kai, karaka mo te tae.
Ārani (orange fruit) is the food, karaka (orange colour) is the colour.
Ārani is a transliteration of the English word orange. In the past ārani was used both for the colour and fruit. Nowadays you should use karaka for the colour.
Red – Whero – Kura
The most common word for red in Māori is whero, though you may also hear/read kura.
Purple – Waiporoporo – Tawa
The most common word for purple in Māori is waiporoporo, though you may also hear/read tawa and pāpura.
Poroporo is the name of a specific flower, which happened to be purple in color. Wai is the “water” of the poroporo flower … which was a purple dye. This is the origin of the colour waiporoporo.
Tawa is from the fruit of the tawa tree, which is a dark red plum colour (almost purple) that is a favourite of the kererū (NZ pigeon).
Pāpura is a loan word (transliteration) from English and is no longer used though you still may read it in older material.
Yellow – Kōwhai
The word kōwhai comes from the name of the flower of the same colour.
Green – Kākāriki
The word kākāriki comes from the name of the parakeet (parrot) found in New Zealand.
Some additional colours
- hiriwā – silver
(Rau Hiriwā = Silver Ferns – The name of the NZ national netball team)
- kōura – gold
(This is a loan word from English – Did you know kōura also means crayfish?)
Tea – light (colour)
Tea can mean white, pale or transparent.
Tea is sometimes added after a word to mean light + word
Note: There will usually be a more specific word for a light colour.
Teatea means the white of your eyes (sclera)
He aha te tae o tēnei? What colour is this?
He aha te tae o tēnā? What colour is that?
He kowhai te tae o tēna. – It is yellow. (That colour is yellow.)
Mā is white – Waiata / Song
See our lesson about the Ma is white, Whero is Red song
If you have been to school in New Zealand, you will most likely have been taught the song “Mā is white” as a kid. (Just as popular as the waiata Tutira mai ngā iwi)
Mā is white is a popular waiata (song) that teaches children the names of basic colours in Te Reo Māori.
Mā is white
Whero is red
Kākāriki is green
Pango is black
Mangu is too
A E I O U
Karaka is our orange
A E I O U
Hiriwā is Silver
Waiporoporo is our purple
A E I O U
I found this interesting text from the National Library about the names of colours in the Māori language.
“The Māori language possessed very few words that conveyed to the mind an idea of colour, apart from the object with which the particular colour was associated. There are only three colours for which terms exist, namely, white, black, and red:
White, ma (sometimes tea – very limited application).
Black, pouri, pango, mangu.
Red, whero, kura, ngangana.”
Source: Notes on the colour-sense of the Māori (Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury 1879)
In our next lesson we will look at the order of words when we give the colour of something.
(Word Order with Colours in Māori – Coming Soon)