Waiata in NZSL

Turi Māori experience barriers in accessing te ao Māori. The NZSL Board has committed to a five year plan to establish a Rōpū Kaitiaki to provide cultural advice to the NZSL Board to dismantle these barriers

Hui across the motu have happened to get an understanding of what Turi Māori want to see happen in terms of access to te ao Māori in NZSL, and a five-year strategy will be developed in early 2023.

In the meantime, some projects are already being carried out to provide some access, like the waiata project that ODI undertook to translate some waiata into NZSL.

There are not many waiata readily available in NZSL, and it can be a challenge for people to translate from te reo Māori into NZSL because it means relying on the English translation, a process where the original meaning can become lost. This was the rationale behind the process of translating the waiata into NZSL by breaking down the waiata from the original version rather than the English.

The process

Earlier in 2022, ODI carried out an expression of interest process to select members of the rōpū waiata.

A panel was convened to select members of the project and the following members were selected for the rōpū waiata:

  • Ngawaiata Hau
  • Cruze Kapa
  • Marjorie Rako
  • Emmie Bensley
  • Joanne Becker (NZSL support behind the scenes)

There was also support from Māori NZSL interpreters, and Melissa Simchowitz, with her theatre and media interpreting expertise to provide advice on timing and clarity of the NZSL signs used. Aperahama Hurihanganui of Engaging Well provided the te reo Māori expertise and explained the meaning behind each waiata and the karakia.

The rōpū waiata members discussed waiata they would like to translate – there are many options and they decided upon:


  • Ehara e te mea – Eru Timoko Ihaka (Te Aupori)
  • Purea Nei – Henare Mahanga (Ngāti Hine)
  • Me He Manu Rere (unknown)


  • Whakataka te Hau (unknown)

A wānanga was organised in early June.During this session Aperahama helped the members to truly understand the meaning of the waiata and the stories behind them, so the group could make sure the NZSL version reflected the te reo Māori and didn’t rely on the English translation.

Another wānanga was organised with only the Māori Deaf members of the rōpū  to continue brainstorming the NZSL for the waiata.  An innovative method was carried out where Abby of Engaging Well created audio files and these were used to develop  ‘karaoke’ type videos to help with the timing of the NZSL signs. This method helped the rōpū work together, figure out the appropriate NZSL to truly convey the meaning of the waiata. Videos were sent to Melissa Simchowitz for checking the timing and whether it made sense as she was not involved in the Turi Māori-only session so her perspective was fresh.

The process was interesting to watch as the rōpū considered the meaning of each waiata and the karakia, and they wanted to make sure the NZSL showed this. The rōpū worked together to create the NZSL, and the Deaf-only time meant they had the confidence to support each other and provide feedback in a safe manner.

The final session was a weekend in Masterton – we had initially booked a marae to film at but unfortunately, at the last minute the marae was needed for a tangi, so we had to change direction and used local scenery as a backdrop. Filming was carried out in partnership with Deaf Aotearoa. The day worked out well and the rōpū can be proud of the work they produced themselves.

Ngā waiata

Ehara i te mea (Eru Timoko Ihaka, Te Aupouri)

This is a waiata that is commonly sung at gatherings such as pōwhiri, tangihanga and other events.

This waiata is about aroha being passed down from our tīpuna, as well as whakapono (faith) and tūmanako (hope).  The NZSL sign used for tūmanakao in this waiata is based on hope coming from the head and the heart with dreams and aspirations for the future.

Ehara i te mea

Nō nāianei te aroha

Nō ngā tūpuna

Tuku iho, tuku iho


Te whenua, te whenua

Te oranga o te iwi

Nō nga tūpuna

Tuku iho, tuku iho


Whakapono, tūmanako

Te aroha, te aroha

Nō ngā tūpuna

Tuku iho, tuku iho


Not the thing

Of recent times, is love

But by the ancestors it has been

Passed down, passed down


From the land, the land

Comes the wellbeing of the people

By the ancestors it has been

Passed down, passed down


Faith, hope

And love

By the ancestors they have been

Passed down, passed down


Purea Nei (Hirini Melbourne , Ngāti Hine)

This is a waiata that is sung in more serious contexts.  It is about using nature to free yourself of restraints that bind you down.

Purea nei e te hau

Horoia e te ua

Whitiwhitia e te rā

Mahea ake ngā pōraruraru

Makere ana ngā here


E rere wairua, e rere

Ki ngā ao o te rangi

Whitiwhitia e te rā

Mahea ake ngā pōraruraru

Makere ana ngā here

Makere ana ngā here

Scattered by the wind

Washed by the rain

And transformed by the sun

All doubts are swept away

And all restraints are cast down


Fly o free spirit, fly

To the clouds in the heavens

Transformed by the sun

With all doubts swept away

And all restraints cast down

Yes, all restraints are cast down


Me he manu rere (unknown)

This is a waiata that is sung in fun contexts such as parties or when people get together to have a good time. It is typically not sung at tangihanga. The waiata is about if one was to become a bird, they would like to embrace the person that is sleeping. While their bodies are asleep, their wairua (spirit) are awake and ‘interacting’ with each other.

Me he manu rere ahau e

Kua rere ki tō moenga

Ki te awhi tō tinana

Aue, aue

E te tau, tahuri mai


Kei te moe te tinana

Kei te oho te wairua

Kei te hotu te manawa

Aue, aue

E te tau, tahuri mai


If I was a bird

I would fly to your bed

To embrace your body

Oh, oh

My darling, turn to me


Although my body is sleeping

My spirit is aroused

And my heart throbs with desire

Oh, oh

My darling, turn to me

Whakataka te hau (Unknown)

This is a well-known karakia which can also be sung as a waiata. It is about embracing the cold winds from the west to the east, and the cold on the land and coast. An important aspect of the karakia is the red-lipped dawn that appears just before the sun rises – this is a taonga. Another important part of the karakia is the getting together of people and working together.

Whakataka te hau ki te uru

Whakataka te hau ki te tonga


Kia mākinakina ki uta

Kia mātaratara ki tai


E hī ake ana te atakura

He tio, he huka, he hauhunga


Haumi e! Hui e! Taikī e!

The wind swings to the west

Then turns into a southerly


Making it prickly cold inland

And pieringly cold on the coast


May the dawn rise red-tipped

On ice, on snow, on frost


Join! Gather! Intertwine!


If you are keen to practice the waiata but at a slower pace, the rōpū have created videos signing them slower.

The Office of Disability Issues and the NZSL Board would like to thank the members of the Rōpū Waiata (Cruze Kapa, Ngawaiata Hau, Marjorie Rako, Emmie Bensley, and Joanne Becker); Melissa Simchowitz; Aperahama Hurihanganui and Abby Hauraki of Engaging Well; the NZSL interpreters; and Deaf Aotearoa for all their work on this project.


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