niu tireni


Aotearoa () is the most widely known and accepted Māori name for New Zealand. It is used by both Māori and non-Māori, and is becoming increasingly widespread in the bilingual names of national organisations, such as the National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa.


Placenames are often difficult to translate, and the original derivation of Aotearoa is not known for certain. The word can be broken up as: ao = cloud, tea = white, and roa = long, and it is accordingly most often glossed as "The land of the long white cloud". In some traditional stories, Aotearoa was the name of the canoe of the explorer Kupe, and he named the land after it. In another version, Kupe's daughter was watching the horizon and called "He ao! He ao!" ("a cloud! a cloud!"). The first land sighted was accordingly named Aotea (White Cloud), now Great Barrier Island. When a much larger landmass was found beyond Aotea, it was called Aotea-roa (Long Aotea).


The use of Aotearoa to refer to the whole of New Zealand is a post-colonial usage. In pre-colonial times, Māori did not have a commonly-used name for the whole New Zealand archipelago. Until the 20th century, 'Aotearoa' was used to refer to the North Island only. As an example from the late 19th century, the first issue of Huia Tangata Kotahi, a Māori language newspaper, dated 8 February 1893, contains the dedication on page 1: 'He perehi tenei mo nga iwi Māori, katoa, o Aotearoa, mete Waipounamu' (This is a publication for the all Māori tribes of Aotearoa and the South Island), where 'Aotearoa' can only mean the North Island.

Historians (e.g. Michael King) have suggested that the use of Aotearoa to mean 'New Zealand' was initiated by Pākehā (non-Māori). He theorises that it originated from mistakes in the February 1916 School Journal and was propagated in a similar manner to the myths surrounding the Moriori. Influenced by this English-language usage, Aotearoa is now the term used by Māori.

Another well-known and presumably widely used name for the North Island is Te Ika a Māui (The fish of Māui). The South Island was called Te Wai Pounamu (The waters of greenstone) or Te Wāhi Pounamu (The place of greenstone). In early European maps of New Zealand, such as those of Captain James Cook, garbled versions of these names are used to refer to the two islands (often spelt Aheinomauwe and Tovypoenammoo). After the adoption of the name New Zealand by Europeans, the name used by Māori to denote the country as a whole was Niu Tireni, a transliteration of New Zealand. When Abel Tasman reached New Zealand in 1642, he named it Staten Landt, believing it to be part of the land Jacob Le Maire had discovered in 1616 off the coast of Argentina. Staten Landt appeared on Tasman's first maps of New Zealand, but this was changed by Dutch cartographers to Nova Zelandia, after the Dutch province of Zeeland, some time after Hendrik Brouwer proved the South American land to be an island in 1643. The Latin Nova Zelandia became Nieuw Zeeland in Dutch. Captain James Cook subsequently called the islands New Zealand. It seems logical that he simply applied English usage to the Dutch naming, but it has also been suggested he was possibly confusing Zeeland with the Danish island of Zealand.


Aotearoa gained some prominence when it was used by New Zealand band Split Enz in the lyrics to their song Six Months In A Leaky Boat. Their use of the name for New Zealand could have spread wider had the song not been 'discouraged from airplay' by the BBC in the UK. The ban was due to the ongoing Falklands War and a belief that the song would have been bad for British morale during the conflict.

"Aotearoa/Land of the Long White Cloud" was the name of a song from New Zealand singer Jenny Morris' seminal 1989 album, Shiver.

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