May 9, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Mum lays complaint over online Te Reo tool

4 min read


(James Ihaka, NZ Herald) Look up “policeman” in an online Maori dictionary and you used to find a suggestion that police carrying warrants should be “kicked in the backside” and thrown out.

John Moorfield, author of, admitted the sentence appealed to his warped sense of humour – but has now changed it, after a complaint.

That came from Lee Baker, who was helping her son Alex, 4, learn te reo and was surprised with what she found in the online dictionary when he asked her what the Maori word for policeman was.

“I was a bit disappointed, because the sentence basically gave the word for policeman but said he would get a kick up the backside, his warrant screwed up and he’d be thrown out,” said Ms Baker.

“I didn’t think it was good for Maori people. It’s not good for New Zealand having that idea put out there. Why couldn’t it have been ‘the kind policeman helped the old lady across the road’ or something like that?”

Ms Baker, who moved to New Zealand from Britain 11 years ago, said the sentence showed a disdain for authority and could be misconstrued as police-bashing.

“My 4-year-old son had no idea about it because he couldn’t read it but my eldest daughter can read this stuff, so it’s not good,” she said.

“There’s all that police-bashing going on, so it’s not really a good look.”

The definition also raised eyebrows among police. A spokesman said, “While such comments are unhelpful, the police strongly value their relationship with Maori and our focus continues to be on building positive relationships with tangata whenua through our work in communities across the country.”

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori chief executive Glenis Philip-Barbara said the issue could be one of cultural differences around humour. She doubted it would lead to Maori relating to police any differently.

“Sometimes a Maori perspective and Pakeha perspective on things can be poles apart – we laugh at tangihanga and can even berate the tupapaku [corpse]. But in the context of language learning, which is hard enough, I would be less inclined to complain and probably more inclined to giggle.”


Tirohia te kupu “policeman” i roto i tetahi papakupu Maori ka kite koe i tetahi korero mo nga pirihimana e kawe whakamana haere me “whana te tou” ka pana.

I whaki mai a John Moorfield, kaitito o, na tona wairua ngahau rereke i puta tenei korero engari kua whakarerekehia e ia, na tetahi amuamu.

Na Lee Baker te amuamu, i te awhina ia i tana tama ki te ako i te reo ka ohorere ia i te uinga a tana tama a Alex, e 4 ona tau, he aha te kupu Maori mo te policeman, a, ka kitea e ia i te papakupu tuihono.

“I te ahua pouri au, i te mea i tukuna te kupu mo te pirihimana engari i ki ka kikia tona tou, ka kopenua te whakamana me te porowhiu atu,” hei ta Ms Baker. “Kaore tenei i te pai mo nga tangata Maori. Ehara i te mea pai mo Aotearoa kia puta tera whakaaro he aha te take kaore i ki ‘i awhina te pirihimana atawhai i te kuia ki te whakawhiti i te rori’, tetahi korero penei ranei?”

I neke mai a Ms Baker ki Aotearoa mai i Piritana i nga tau 11 ki mua, a, hei tana he whakatoatoa tenei rerenga korero i te mana, a, tera ka pohehetia pea he poke tenei i nga pirihimana.

“Kaore taku tama e wha nei ona tau i te paku marama i te mea kaore ia e mohio ki te panui, haunga taku tamahine matamua he mohio ia ki te panui, no reira kaore tenei i te pai,” hei tana.

“Kei reira nga mahi poke i nga pirihimana, no reira ehara tenei i te mea pai.”

I tumeke ano nga pirihimana ki tenei whakamarama. I ki tetahi mangai, “Ahakoa ehara enei momo korero i te awhina i a ratau, e tino uaratia e nga pirihimana te whanaungatanga me te Maori, a, me whakapau kaha tonu ki te whakapakari whanaungatanga pai me te tangata whenua ma a matau mahi i roto i nga hapori puta noa i Aotearoa.”

Hei ta te Kaiwhakahaere Matua o Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Maori a Glenis Philip-Barbara, tera pea ko take ke ko nga rereketanga ahurea mo te wairua ngahau. Kaore ia i whakapono ka whai panga ki te ahua o te Maori ki nga pirihimana.

“I etahi wa he tino rereke te tirohanga a te Maori me te tirohanga a te Pakeha ki etahi ahuatanga kata ai matau i nga tangihanga me te wau hoki i te tupapaku. Engari i roto i te horopaki o te ako reo, me te uaua ano hoki, kaore pea au e huri ki te amuamu engari ka kata ke pea au.”


(loan) (noun) policeman, police.
Ki te kitea te pirihi, he kawe tamana mai, warena hopu tangata ranei, ka kikia atu te kumu, ka pakarutia te warena, ka panaia atu ia.

If a policeman is seen bringing a summons or an arrest warrant, he’ll be kicked in the backside, the warrant screwed up and he’ll be thrown out. See also pirihimana.


(loan) (noun) policeman, police – word now obsolete.

Ka mau aua tangata i nga pirihi, a kei roto aua tangata i te herehere i naianei.
Those men were caught by the police and they are in prison now. See also pirihimana.

4 thoughts on “Mum lays complaint over online Te Reo tool

  1. Definitions of words in a dictionary are usually formal and precise. Pirihimana is a transliteration of policeman since we didn’t have any until they arrived. From day one they weren’t well liked whether they were Maori or Pakeha. In the 19th Century they picked mainly on the Irish but gradually Maori overtook all groups incarcerated.Because we are half the jail population now you can understand why the cops just don’t have a positive image amongst us. I don’t blame them entirely of course but over the top police actions like the Urewera Raids just don’t define them positively. And that’s only recent history. The past has seen scorched earth, rape, ethnic cleansing and land confiscations in Taranaki and Waikato, and past police raids in the Urewera. Given all this it’s hard to see pirihimana as people who help little old ladies across the road. Most Maori have never seen such a thing.


    John Moorfield, author of, admitted the sentence appealed to his warped sense of humor but has now changed it, after a complaint.


  3. My humble suggestion here is that people immigrating here from overseas learn more about the history of acts of injustice against Maori and to try to find the humour in that statement. If it is your intention to see it in its correct cultural context it may become clear? Maybe try a Kaaretu dictionary, written with serious intent to learn te reo? Maori TV have some excellent daily resources. A good dose of Billy T humour may suffice also? Lighten up! Value our bi-cultural uniqueness, that we may embrace your foreign tendencies more easily in the goal of becoming multicultural. Bearing in mind that many Pakeha (including myself) are of English descent also and would do well to learn and address the history of this country also. It is a privilege to live here in Aotearoa/New Zealand – Godzone. Constructive comments are the kind that will bring healing to our past disgraces. This is political correctness gone too far.

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