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Counting in Maori: What Polynesians are counting.


The Following is intended as an educational guide for those interested in Maori and Polynesia and teaching or learning the language.

The following is a description of how the original counting system originated in the Maori language. Although this is mostly New Zealand and Cook Islands Maori there is an ancient connection with Japanese language (Nihongo), South American, southern Asian, all the other Polynesian and some Melanesian dialects. The system of counting dates back to the beginning of the known world when Gods ruled their domains. The counting system of Polynesia and all languages around the Pacific rim and indeed the whole world contain words developed from the day to day dealings with those Gods. Not only is this counting system numerical but the numbers are actual words with specific meanings in the Polynesian dialects that when dictated in successive order are the precursors for a set of rules. Polynesian counting predicates what will happen and what to do should 'Ru the God of Earthquakes' pay a visit. In this case it is the importance of the rules and their order of succession that precedes any numerical value. It may well have been a tool developed specifically for training the tamariki (children) on what to do when such an event arises. The simplicity of this counting system also suggests it dates back to the dawn of mankind at a time when the Earth was continuously undergoing great upheavals through both tectonic movements and volcanic eruptions.

It is presumed pronunciation of words is already known or you have access to such information.

This is the personal work of Paul Pearce.
As this is an ongoing work I would really appreciate any feedback so please feel free to leave a comment in my guestbook. In the meantime I am happy for you to use this for free knowledge, especially for those Polynesians who were unaware or forgot this information in their hectic lifestyles over the recent decades. I believe the following could be used by Kapa hapa or mapu for re-enactments or similar. ie. children acting as villagers, one child acting as Ru who steals and kills, the survivors hui and the following ihu, and an orator for the story. However if the use of this material is for pecuniary action I (a poor man) would not be happy as I have seen fit to provide this information free and would appreciate some royalty from sales as well. Indeed I am intending on submitting this to a publisher myself for a children's book.

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All English translations have been established with the Dictionary of Maori Language (Williams 1971) and through point of sensibility I will not reference every word. Where there are other languages involved they will be indicated by the language in brackets. I would like to acknowledge W. Williams (1844) and his predecessors for I believe they were led by God to undertake important work in recording not only a language but an important linguistic history for much of mankind. The various English translations for all the individual words (single syllables) are accompanied by a general statement, of which some are also direct translations of the built syllabic word. The statement that summerises the importance of that numerical value is written in blue .

1. Ta-hi, Ta-'i and Ta-si

"Ta te mea". Of the several meanings for ta, 'to hit', 'overcome', 'oblique', 'slant' or 'parallel' and 'to drop', can all be related to the reason for number one being tahi. While hi, means 'raise', 'pull up', 'hissing sound', which are verbs and adjectives related to an earthquake event. For this reason, hi meaning 'to catch on a hook', probably came about because Maui is said to have fished up many of the islands in the Pacific. Taataa means 'rain down upon', as with 'a blow' and may have eventuated from the times of Noa and the event described as 'the flood'. Or could this have been a 'deluge' more befitting a tsunami type wave, which was then followed by a long period of rain suffered by the survivors who were stranded at sea. I would place such an event, which ever way it occured, as coinciding with the ending of an ice age where large amounts of evaporated snow and ice would have created an enormous amount of precipitation around the Earth (patapata, ua). Ta 'to be hit' or 'to fall down', as with being taken by Ru the Earthquake God, either event created Tapu and hence the word ta also came to mean 'kill'.

Ta!...(ta-hi-na) Hina a name for the moon because she is dropped or released down towards Ku by Ra and the consequential effect from their changing gravitational forces pulls on Ru who dwells within Ku, causing him to bring forth seismic activity in the form of both earthquakes, volcanic erruptions and also the more continuous goethermal activity of whe-nua. Maui personification of Ma-U-io is the participant of instigation. Ma means to be possessed by or to be acted upon. U is the WORD of Ra.
The Greeks named this activity Runaa now spelled Lunar.

Hi!...'to raise up'... the fires. Ahi!. A, the 'driving force' or the 'urgency of' raising up existance and thus natural fires were pulled up, causing the emergence of land erupting out of Ku. This in turn caused whakatahi meaning 'to withdraw', as the tide recedes. Tahi! To raise up the sea then smash it back down. Later tahi came to mean, 'to sweep', as Ru sweeps the people away.
From the above Hi means or relates to a vagina in various languages. For example, Hi means 'vagina' in Isaan Lao; or said, 'ika, Cook Islands Maori; hiku, means, 'pull out' in Nihongo. Ku is 'Mother Earth'.
Ma is one name for the moon because it comes and goes from the Earth and thus used in an imperative sense (instigation to others) as ma mai, ma ake, ma atu. From ma comes the meaning for 'to clean' and 'freed from tapu'. Ma the shame of being stingy, not being prepared with gifts for when Ru arrives (see o and manga iua tiri and ihupuku). Tiki, an unsuccessful person, a person who through whakatiki causes aitua, a bad omen by neglecting to provide the whaangai sacrificial food. Or whaka-ma for having to grab hold of something to keep balance? Ma meaning white and shiny would likely be secondary to the previous meanings. I means 'in' or 'into' and o the possesive sense for 'of' or 'belonging'.
O are also the provisions required for the journey meaning you should be prepared (spiritual mana hiki) for such an eventuality. Hoe ki (hoki) tiri (a gift) comes from iri, 'to be elevated upon something', 'rest upon', 'hang being suspended' or to 'enbark upon' such as a journey in a waka.

This is the way of the io of Ra (io o Ra,), the dual pathway and umbilical connection between man and our 'Sky Father'. This dual pathway should also be reciprocated amongst kinsmen when expressing the greeting Kia Ora na (Good health). Ra is in control.

I have a vague memory of being told Ru may sometimes jump up out of the ground to take people to the underworld, this could possibly be wrong. However, from the use of Ru within the languages of people from larger islands, such as New Zealand Maori and Japanese Nihongo, it may be appropriate that Ru can arrive underground as well, without possibly any visible relationship to a tsunami occurance. It may just have depended on whether the people were coastal dwellers or not when the earthquakes struck. However I believe that the ancients had scientific knowledge that both occurred together whether seen or not. Most traditions of inhabitants of smaller islands and coastal areas recognise Ru as being associated with tsunami activity caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Ru is likened to an atua of the underworld never born. One good example of this can be found in the gestation cycle of a particular marsupial with an obviously related name. You guessed it! The female ka-nga-ru delays development of the blastocy. This means that during diapause, the embryo is carried in the uterus for long periods of time (many months) with its development arrested in the blastocyst stage. This embryo remains on hold until hormonal signals from lactation convey that its predecessor has vacated the pouch. After gestation it finds its way to the pouch, another internal organ.

Ru arrives riding a tsunami in his waka (canoe) Vanoa to take away those captured.
The over-populated and irreverent people are seen as being equivalent to body lice, or as given when counting in Basa we are parasitic worms.
Kura (An Indigenous Australian word for God) is why Ru comes. Ra is grooming Ku his forcefully estranged wife Whae (term of respect for a woman) kutu. In Isaan Lao the sky is named Wha not Ra'i the relavence here being opposing points represented as i positive or providing and e negative or receiving. Ra'i or Rangi would be Sky Father Wha'i and Earth Mother Whaea, Whae-ne, Wha-ereere. It could be envisaged that whai as described in Williams (1985) are the behaviours of the Sky Father. Why Indigenous Australians called God Kura would imply they realised that for us to exist both have to coexist.
wha = taro tumanake

2. Ru-a

Emphatic statement, calling his name It's the earthquake God as the as the ground shakes then opens up observation, past tense and hence became the word for grave and holes in the ground where heavenly spirits come and go to the underworld).

3. to-Ru

Earthquake towards you, Ru stretches forward, and drags you down into the earth. Toru also means 'Capture' or 'to take' (Nihongo).

4. Wha or 'a

'Wha', Take in the hand, lay hold of , (whawha) Wha and Aa are the determination of the Sky Father.

5. ri-Ma or li-Ma

'Ri' means 'bind' and 'ma' means clean (God) (the moon is the causative effect, A name for the moon is Ma-Ra-ma. Ra controls Hi-na (another name for moon but regards erruptions from the earth) who reacts with Maui to instigate Ru) or Protect yourself in consequence of actuality!, Therefore use your hands which coincidentally have five fingers each. Riaki meaning to lift up raise stand high erect. Using your hands to hold on to something for protection pull yourself up free of demigod Ru so you are not swollowed up by Ku. Also earthquakes are a weapon of God to ensure subjugation from man, therefore another form of protection is prayer. (It is probable 'rima' is related to praying on ones knees with hands together, fingers pointing up. This would have developed from the necessity to pray when it was impossible to stand on their own two feet because of Ru.) Ru is sent by God. (See Revelations Holy Bible.)

6. o-no

O, to go (Nihongo) O, from, No, on account of, and onoi, move i added making it a positive action (Maori) (explanation on positive and negative words to follow) To go from or move away from Ru.

7. whi-Tu or 'i-Tu

To be able to stand means to be at war with Ru. See 'Tu' , God of War, invincible to 'Ru' as he soars 'tiu', above the ground on wings and therefore once worshiped for his superiority. (Also known in Teutonic as 'Tiu').

8. Wa-Ru or Va-Ru

'Wa' means 'in the time' or 'the place' of the earthquakes, 'to be separated', To try to get away from Ru.

9. i-Wa or i-Va

Wa, in time or place (to be separated) 'iwa means 'thief' (Hawaii) and hiwa means 'watchful' (Maori) (to be separated from belongings and loved ones) Watchout! Ru takes your belongings into the ground so keep a look out, LISTEN! in case he may return.

10. Ta-hi nga-hu-Ru or Ta'i nga-u-Ru

Taking account of the tapu. Te hui a Ru e angi tu take e u'ia e waewae. Te u'ia tangi to. Number ten is when the survivor takes acount of those absent due to being devoured, wiped away or carried away by Ru. Nga is plural for 'the', hu is the word for 'people' as pu is for 'tribe' while Ru is the 'Earthquake God'. The Spirit gave me the words ho'e iki tamo which is Maohi (Tahiti) equivalent for the meaning. Ho'e is hokehoke or 'solitary' in New Zealand Maori and is used for the number 'one' in Tahiti.

Ngauruhoe mounga tonga nganga (tore ngingingingi). maonga toa hi ke rawerawe toketoke. rau uke raauwaauawe Rangi ngu hai, u ha i, oke-to rere.

This can mean the earthquakes reach their limit, they arrive by water or strike home at the place. E nga Ru comes again.

Ho'e iki tamo, for Tahitian counting systems see here, Ancient Tahiti (Henry 1928).

Tekau became the new ten for NZ Maori because they believed Ru had stopped coming. However the 'Book of Revelations' tells us otherwise. Also in Cook Islands Maori number ten is ta'i nga'uru. I had chosen nga'uru (Cook Is. Maori) as being the predecessor of ngahuru simply on my personal opinion that the words have 'been built upon vowels' and it is the name of the mountain Mounga Ngauruhoe. However this is not yet conclusive for either instance and hopefully what I am writing off line may conclude the differences in meaning and provide a clue to which was first. Hu is also regarding noise and thermal or volcanic activity from the earth, of the said mountain and the call of birds, some of whom may have been considered a warning system.

Hu - the birds cry out a warning?, still silence?, then the rumbling starts? as, "Konei Kareare" Ru sounds his arrival.

This is counting to ten (Polynesian) in a society whose language evolved from the beginning of Wa. I believe this counting would have existed when the North Islands Tongariro was still in the area of Tonga precisely at the point of Vavau and the tail of 'te ika' curved around what is now the north eastern barrier reef of Fiji which like the rest of the land bridge (Melanesian Islands) was pulled south west by the action of, Maui, Tonga riro i, Ta neke. [tu ara ke au wai, tu eke taa u wai, hongei apu, awanga tiki, wake a taauwaa, a-ua-na-ke taka; taanga teitei.] Further evidence of Tonga traveling south from Tongatapu can be found when joining other words.

Tahitian counting systems, Ancient Tahiti (Henry 1928).
Tongan counting systems, An Account of the Natives of Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean (Mariner and Martin 1827). [Please note that on this paper the vowel now written as uu was written as 'oo'.]
Basa (Bali, Java) counting systems, Basa Counting definition in Maori
Numic and Takic counting systems, Under Construction
Comparisons between Polynesian counting systems (Fornander 1969) [Fornander recorded Rarotonga Ta'i as Tai, a word for 'the sea' because of its smashing down action onto tae 'the headland". Therefore ta'i and tai may not necessarily be of one and the same.]

pae rienga pu tu
toa ranga tupu,
hei waanga ti pere, Pi'ea
hei wananga tuutuu
Ake ta i wai iki
U aaka tinei


Henry, T. 1928, Ancient Tahiti, (Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin No. 48). Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press. pp. 323-335.

Kuwata, M, 1959, A guide to reading and writing Japanese, Charles Tuttle Co., Tokyo.

Williams, H. W., 1971, A Dictionary of the Maori Language, (7th ed.) Department of Education, New Zealand Government, Wellington. developed from Williams, W. 1844, A Dictionary of the Maori Language, (1st edition)Paihia.


TaPuVare, Tu Ra, Kohi Kana Keke, Kara'i i Tu Ru, Mo Ihi Koo Tok'tok' [ke pee, kai, kama tita whai. Aro'a puunga, kete kava ai? ]

Are all myths fantasy? No they are not. It is true some may be rather stretched lele, especially over the length of time retained. But most have been a means of storing knowledge and truth. The problem confided in us is how to unravel them.

Taku io My Poetry

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Created by Paul Pearce 2005    Last modified 2006-29-06

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