It’s cool to kōrero — March 2024

March 28, 2024

Upoko: head

It is good practice to ask a Māori patient’s consent before touching their head. Picture: Adobe Stock (AI)


Photo: Adobe Stock

Haere mai, and welcome to the March “it’s cool to kōrero” column. The word we are looking at this month is upoko (head).
In te ao Māori, the head is regarded as tapu, or sacred, because it is the distinguishing feature of each person — it houses the brain which makes the person who they are.Health services have tikanga guidelines which recognise the tapu of the head, including seeking consent to touch a patient’s head, using different wash cloths to wash the head and the body, not passing food over the patient’s head, and using different linen for the head than for other parts of the body.Other words for the head include māhunga, panepane and uru.

Kupu hou (new word)
  • Upoko (head) — pronounced “ooh-paw-kaw”
  • Kia tau nei tou upoko i te pera. — Rest your head on a pillow.

Other words related to upoko include:


  • Upoko mārō — to be headstrong or stubborn, a bigot
  • Pōtae — hat
  • Pera — pillow
  • Pākira — to have a bald head
  • Te Upoko-o-te-ika-a-Māui — the Wellington region (literally, “the head of the fish of Māui”)
  • Upoko whakairo — carved head
  • Upoko koura — literally “the head of a crayfish”, a derogatory expression for a person, as the crayfish head contains a yellow substance like excrement. (Another insult is to call someone an “upoko-kōhua”, ie a “boiled head”.)

E mihi ana ki a Titihuia Pakeho rāua ko Mairi Lucas.