Kia ora is the most common phrase heard when visiting New Zealand, and often a gateway into the Māori language - Te Reo.
At Te Puia l New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, kia ora is heavily used and integrated into our culture and operations. From greeting visitors to our internal communications, this versatile phrase is an important part of who we are as people and as an organisation.
As the most well-used and well-recognised expression in Te Reo Māori, the history and meanings of this phrase are worth exploring.
The unexpected history of kia ora
The history of kia ora is not what many might think though. With a common misconception that it is the Māori word for ‘hello’, its use as a greeting has only come about in the last 120 years largely due to the tourism industry adopting the phrase as an opening welcome for visitors.
Despite kia ora now being predominantly used to greet others, the phrase when used in its correct context is actually a sign off at the end of a meeting to say be well, as one departs.
Over time, the term has become more general and is now commonly used as a greeting, whenever people meet or part from one another, as well to say thank you.
Dictionary meaning of kia ora
While kia ora is most commonly understood to mean ‘hello’, this is its meaning in the simplest form. The meaning of ‘kia ora’ is far deeper, complicated and wider in context.
The word ‘kia’ in Māori is a verb tense that means ‘to be’, for example kia moe means to sleep. Kia comes before a noun, positioning the noun as a verb of being; be it life, health or satisfaction.
The word ‘ora’ used as a noun means life, health and vitality. As a verb ‘ora’ takes on multiple meanings including to be well, alive, safe and healthy; to survive or escape; to recover or revive and to be satisfied with food.
Therefore, in its most literal form kia ora means to wish somebody life and health, as ‘ora’ plainly translates to life and kia (technically speaking) is a future tense particle, meaning something will happen.
Usage of kia ora
Kia ora is a term of acknowledgement, it recognises a person; not just who they are, but everything about them including where and who they come from.
It is also more of an informal term, more like ‘gidday’ or ‘howdy’ and most commonly used amongst friends and whānau; it is perhaps more a term of endearment.
Lastly, it can be used to sign off an email, particularly the phrase kia ora rā is a nice way to say thank you.