Maori Numeracy and Measurement


If you’ve seen the Youtube clip for our content on Maori literacy and numeracy, you’ll probably know that I’m fascinated by concepts to do with Maori numeracy in particular.

I’m not an expert, but I’m lucky to have spent time with some people who are. Such as my friend in the image above.

One of our NCALNE (Voc) students recently found a link to some more info on Maori numeracy and measurement.Check out the

Check out the page, but here’s some snippets and a summary of the concepts:

Due to the geographical isolation of New Zealand, pre-European Māori had little contact with neighbouring islands. Trade and commerce were internally based so there was no need for a precise measuring system. However, activities such as wharenui construction, waka making, woodcarving and weaving did require a high degree of precision. This precision was achieved more through the eye of the operator than by reference to a defined standard.

Human body used for measurement

  • The mārō, whanganga or aronui: The span of the arms outstretched horizontally.

When constructing a wharenui, the arm span (whanganga) of a designated person, most often a person of importance such as a high-ranking chief, would be marked on a cord or rod (rauru) for measuring purposes. These rauru were often handed down over many generations, particularly on the East Coast, and considered a taonga (treasure).

  • Pae: the outstretched arms bent to form a circle such that the girth of a tree or similar objects.
  • Takoto: this was for longer measures. It was the length of the body with one arm outstretched
  • Kumi: 1 kumi equated to 10 mārō, a distance of about 18 metres.

Shorter measures based on the hand and arm

Tuke – the length from the elbow to the finger tips (cubit).
Kōiti – the length of the little finger.
Kōnui – the length of the first joint of the thumb.

Astronomical phenomena used for time measurement

Pre-European Māori based measurement of time on astronomical phenomena such as the transition of the sun (Rā) through the seasons. The phases of the moon featured as time measure, and ‘nights of the moon’ were referred to rather than days – 30 nights of the moon were commonly identified and named.

  • Whiro: The night of the first appearance of the new moon
  • Huanga: Full moon. Covered 3 nights – ohua, turu and rākau-nui.

Several series of names were in use for the 12 lunar months that were recognised. Each tribe recognised proper names for the months but also the use of ordinal numbers. For example, the 1st month was commonly named Pipiri but also known as te tahi.


With any of these concepts, you should expect variations between different Iwi and regions.

Personal standards of length measurement would vary from person to person as well. According to the article, within any one tribe, one particular person may have been selected to act as the standard for measurement.Check out the article

Check out the article here for more including in relation to New year and seasons.

Hat tip: Patya Green


Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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