Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A is for Aotearoa

If you were to pick only one A word relevant to New Zealand, it would have to be Aotearoa. Quite what it means, and how it came to be the Māori name for New Zealand, are unclear. But that situation’s not unique to New Zealand.

The word Aotearoa (pronounced in English something like OW-tay-eh-ROW-uh, with a lightly rolled R) is generally translated as “Land of the long white cloud”, though it could be translated differently, too. In a sense, the other possible meanings don’t matter because this is now the accepted meaning.

However, it’s only in relatively recent times that the name became the alternate name for the country. As late as 1893, Aotearoa was used by some Māori to refer to the North Island only, and Waipounamu (why-poh-NAH-moo) referred to the South Island. By 1898, however, Aotearoa was beginning to be used to apply to the entire country. It didn’t start to become common until well into the 20th Century.

Now, however, it’s very common for people to say “Aotearoa”, though this is most common among younger people. Use of the word has probably picked up in recent years since the singing of the national anthem was changed to sing it first in Māori, then in English.

Some people refer to “Aotearoa-New Zealand”, and if I was to bet, it’d be that this will become the name of New Zealand one day. If nothing else, it would mean our athletes wouldn’t have to wait as long to march into the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games.

It may seem odd that so little is known of how the name Aotearoa came to be, or what it means. But considering how long ago it was coined (centuries), it’s not that surprising, really. And, anyway, there’s a lot of confusion about how America came to be the name for certain landmasses in the Western Hemisphere, so confusion over Aotearoa isn’t unique.

What’s even more odd to people is that the two main islands of New Zealand are called North Island and South Island, though always referred to as the North Island and the South Island. They do have Māori names: The North Island is Te Ika a Māui (teh icka ah mahwi, meaning The Fish of Māui), and the South Island is Te Wai Pounamu (teh why poh-NAH-moo, The Waters of Greenstone). The Māori names are never used, however, a few years ago it was proposed that these names be officially adopted, though nothing ever came of it and the islands still, technically, have no name.

Here’s a bit of local knowledge: One never says, “Auckland is a city on the North Island”. Instead, it is always in, so it would be “Auckland is a city in the North Island.” Same for the South Island. No one has ever been able to explain to me why this is the case.

And that’s a bit about Aotearoa.

The image acommpanying this post shows New Zealand on December 27, 2004, and is from NASA's Visible Earth team.

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Lmkazmierczak said...

Sounds exotic and unique which is a good thing. Thanks for the lesson on the local customs♫♪

Roger Owen Green said...

A great public service, as usual. Even if I can't pronounce half the geographic terms!

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Leslie: said...

Fascinating - I've always wanted to go there. I hear it's a beautiful country.

abcw team

Chubskulit Rose said...

I like the meaning of the name.

Aero 360's Arrows
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team.

Ann said...

Isn't it wonderful to be able to see images that NASA takes--how beautiful this is. I also love the name.

Wanda said...

I so love learning new things an new words in this ABC meme.

ChrisJ said...

Really interesting post. Glad to know the other (real?) name for New Zealand. We were there a few years ago and had a wonderful time. The in and on thing about the islands is rather like in England where you always go UP to London, no matter how far south you have to go to get there.

Tania A said...

How interesting! New Zealand fascinates me anyway, and this bit of insight into the country is amazing!