It’s cool to kōrero — November 2023

November 23, 2023

Ngeru — cat

The traditional Māori string game displayed by these tamariki in this 1939 photo is known in te reo as whai or maui. In English it is known as the cat’s cradle. (Photo: Children holding Māori string patterns. Making New Zealand :Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2424-1/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22324030)
This punua ngeru (kitten) enjoys the comforts of a welcoming home. Photo: Adobe Stock
When feral cats kill rabbits, rats and mice, their hunting is welcome. But they are also a serious threat to native birds, bats, insects and lizards. Photo: iStock

Last year marked 140 years since the formation of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in this country. This stamp, released in 1982, marked the 100-year anniversary. Picture: Adobe Stock
Haere mai and welcome to the November kōrero column. Ngeru is a commonly used word for cat in te reo Māori (it is also known as poti, puihi or tori).

This introduced animal is the most popular pet in Aotearoa, where we have a total population of 1.2 million domestic cats. Just over a third of Māori households have at least one cat, and Māori cat-lovers are quite fond of purebreds — Asian NZers are most likely to own a purebred, with Māori second in line, and then European NZers.


Cats are good hunters, and have been valued through history for catching pests such as rats, mice and rabbits. However the large numbers of feral cats in this country pose a serious risk to endangered birds, lizards and insects.

In terms of Māori tradition, there is a popular string game, known in te reo as whai or maui, and in English as the cat’s cradle. A long circle of flax string is looped over the hands and the fingers are used to weave complicated patterns. Sometimes the pattern would be so complicated it would take two or three people to hold it, and often a chant accompanied the finger movements.

Kupu hou (new word)
  • Ngeru (cat)– pronounced “ne-(as in ‘net’)-rroo”
  • Kua patua e te ngeru te kiore. — The cat has killed a rat.

More words related to ngeru:


  • punua ngeru — kitten
  • whai — cat’s cradle
  • pūpū — cat’s eye or winkle, a mollusc found on rocks at the seashore, much favoured for eating by Māori
  • hāmoemoe — catnap
  • matihao — paw
  • moenga ngeru — cat bed
  • kaitiaki kakarehe — vet
  • kai ma te ngeru — cat food

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

  1. Companion animals in New Zealand 2020
  3. Words for cat owners in Māori.