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A pepeha cites iconic ancestral and geographical entities that tie the individual to inherited legacies of bloodlines and locations.


Te Waka – The ‘Carrier’

The pepeha will start by introducing the voyaging vessel that brought the predecessors (or individual reciting the pepeha) to the country. Some latter-day or more recent arrivals will use a wider interpretation of waka to mean any mode of transport (i.e. British Airways, Qantas, Air New Zealand or a Cruise ship, Royal Caribbean International, Oceania Cruises etc.,) or carrier air or sea it was that brought them to the whenua, the land.

Te Maunga – The Ancestral Mountain

Identification of the waka is followed by any geographical pinnacle, mountain or mountain range as an iconic landform to mark the boundary of occupation and habitation. For practical purposes, ancient Māori travelling great distances by foot or waka meant, that without sign posts or billboards, easily visible landmarks like maunga were essential to quickly identify rangatiratanga of mana whenua and tangata whenua.


Te Awa, Te Moana – The Waterway

For life to flourish waterways are essential; accordingly identifying an awa (river) or moana (lake or ocean) provides the next essential connection to the land. These waterways would often have associated spiritual ties through local legends, for iwi to come to terms with unknown phenomena or significant events. i.e. Waikato, taniwha rau, he piko, he taniwha. Waikato of many magical beings, at each river bend, a chief. Taniwha present as metaphors for rangatira, nobles.


Te Papa Kainga – Occupation and Habitat

The connection to iwi, (tribe) and hapū, (sub-tribe) are followed by identifying the Pā (village), wharenui (meeting house—named after a leading historical dignitary) and finally the wharekai (dining room.) In modern times the Pā is often referred to now as the marae. The marae is actually the name of the courtyard in front of the meeting house, where all manner of discourse between tangata whenua, home people and manuhiri, (guests) takes place.

The name change to marae has been generated out of the shift in status with the Pā no longer being a place of habitation by Māori; Instead, since the urbanisation of Māori to cities, the occupation of papakainga at the pā has seriously diminished, leaving a few kaumātua (elders) and kaitiaki (guardians) to maintain ahi kā. As a result, the marae is now a place where intermittent interactions and discourse takes place and whereby people only stay for sporadic periods of time. Attendance turns on the manner of the occasion, weddings, tribal meetings, whānau reunions etc. The most important hui of all according to tikanga Māori, (Māori customs,) is the tangihana, (a funeral ceremony.)


Ngā Tūpuna, ngā mokopuna – Legacy

Identification of leading iconic ancestral patriarchs and matriarchs provides a whakapapa, a genealogical link to predecessors that is an imperative element in terms of mana tangata, inherited legacies through bloodlines. The pepeha then is similar to a passport or identikit to validate, associate and locate the individual to the place one would call home and to whānau, (family).

Pepeha Template

Filling in the spaces of the following introductory pepeha format will provide an appropriate legitimising of identity in Te Ao Māori, the Māori world view. It denotes the relationship to the universe and connection to the people of the land. Particularly predecessors, ending with the individual who now has a speaker’s platform both through ancestry and tūrangawaewae, a place to stand.


The sharing of pepeha provides key personal information to set down the parameters of engagement from a relationship perspective that identifies connections to each other.


In the modern context and for non-Māori in particular, simply choose the elements that apply to personalise your own pepeha. A Londoner for example may choose the Thames as their river and Big Ben as their mountain! Conversely, a native of India may choose Mumbai and the Ganges in the same way. The pepeha is a traditional practise that continues today as a key component of the Māori world view, one that recognises all people, all cultures and the reality that we are all one, under the sun. Its singular purpose is about identifying or creating significant connections.


Later, there is scope to provide more detail about wider family relations, grandparents, parents, one’s spouse and children and may also include details about occupation or profession, particularly when applied in a work-related setting.

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko            te waka

Ko            te maunga

Ko            te awa/moana

Ko            te iwi

Ko            te hapū

Ko            te marae

Ko            te wharenui

Ko            te tūrangawaewae

Ko            te tupuna matua

Ko            te tupuna kuia

Ko            te tangata

Ko            taku ingoa

Tēnā koutou

Tēnā koutou

Tēnā tātou katoa

Greetings to you all

The canoe is           

The mountain is           

The river/ocean is           

The tribe is           

The subtribe/clan is           

The marae is           

The meeting house is           

The ancestral home is           

The ancestral patriarch is           

The ancestral matriarch is           

The man is           

My name is           

Greetings to you

And you

Greetings one and all

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