Aloha and Aroha

By Lichen Forster

When deciding where to go on my semester abroad, one of the things that drew me most to Aotearoa (New Zealand) was Māori culture and language. Having grown up in Hawaiʻi, I anticipated that there would be similarities and differences. However, what’s been more interesting has been the difference in how Māori culture is being revitalized in Aotearoa as opposed to how Hawaiian culture is being revitalized at home.

The Te Pātaka Kōrero libraryOutside the entrance to the library at my exchange university the Te Reo Maori for The Library accompanies the English signage.

Aloha, mahalo // Kia ora, nga mihi

Even before coming here, I found a striking similarity between Aotearoa and Hawaiʻi via email exchanges with my host university. In Hawaiʻi, it’s fairly common to start emails with “Aloha” and end them with“Mahalo.” In my correspondence with my host university, I realized that the standard in Aotearoa is instead “Kia ora” to begin your message, and “Ngā mihi” to end it. Literally translated to “have life” or “be healthy,” kia ora is a standard greeting here, used like aloha is at home. Ngā mihi is an expression of gratitude, therefore equivalent to mahalo. That was one of my first hints that Aotearoa is similar to Hawaiʻi; small incorporations of Indigenous language into daily life, with the goal of keeping the culture alive.


Te Reo Māori and ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi share a lot of words, some with small differences. For example, taro, the word used by most English speakers to describe the purple, starchy vegetable that makes poi, comes from Te Reo Māori. In ʻŌlelo, taro becomes kalo. This is typical for many translations, where the ‘t’ and ‘r’ in Te Reo become ‘k’ and ‘l’ respectively, in ʻŌlelo.

This is also the case for aloha, because although a more fitting equivalent is kia ora, the direct translation to Te Reo could be aroha. Aroha means ‘love,’ so it can be used similarly to aloha, but while aloha encapsulates love, hello, and goodbye, aroha only accounts for the first.

Flag at Victoria University of Wellington stating Te Herenga WakaTe Herenga Waka typically accompanies the English name for my host university Victoria University of Wellington. It means the mooring place of canoes.

Book in New Zealand titled "Aroha"Aroha is in some ways the Te Reo Maori equivalent to aloha. Both mean love. Kia ora is the more appropriate approximation of aloha if you're using it as a greeting.

Next stop…

Some of the fancier buses here call out upcoming stops over a loudspeaker. On my first ride on one of these, I was excited to hear, “next stop, e whai ake nei…” over the speaker. I’ve seen similar things at a lot of museums, where alongside the English explanations for an art piece or exhibit, there is a translation to Te Reo Māori. For the most part, I think incorporating ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi at home is about adding little words and phrases that most locals know here and there; a fuzzy picture of the “please kōkua” message on Hawaiian Airlines’ seatback tray tables comes to mind. This is a lovely way to acknowledge the Hawaiian language. However, I think there’s a difference between that and having full translations like I’ve observed here. It seems like Aotearoa is doing more than just pointing out that there is an Indigenous language; it’s actually catering to a community of New Zealanders who know (or want to learn) it.

A badge on the side of Lichen's host university celebrating its 125th anniversaryA badge celebrating my host university's 125th anniversary last year includes both Te Reo Maori and English.

In a Perfect World

Looking over university information at the beginning of this term, I saw that it was an option to turn in assignments in Te Reo Māori. Part of this accessibility probably comes from the size of my host university (it caters to over 20,000 students), but I think it is also indicative of the higher levels of fluency in Indigenous language in Aotearoa versus Hawaiʻi.


When I arrived in Aotearoa, it shocked me slightly that I had been slightly mispronouncing kia ora. Reading it out, I was over pronouncing: key-ah, oh-rah. But when I hear it said, it flows more: key-oh-rah, with a slight roll on the ‘r.’ It has struck me many times how naturally this pronunciation, and that of other Māori words, comes to New Zealanders. It seems like, at large, more people in New Zealand have a command of Te Reo, at least in their pronunciation, than people in Hawaiʻi have with ʻŌlelo. Part of me wonders if this is only my perception as an outsider, but the statistics seem to match. 2021’s General Society Survey in Aotearoa found that 7.9% of the country speak Te Reo Māori “at least fairly well” (approximately 400 thousand people.) In comparison, a maximum of 5,000 people are fluent in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, which is less than 1% of the population of Hawaiʻi.

For anyone planning to study in Aotearoa through the Global Vulcans program, I definitely recommend learning about Māori culture while you’re here. Before you go, I suggest brushing up on your Hawaiian language and culture knowledge, as I think I could have absorbed a lot more here if I’d had more to compare to.