Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

The Story of Tūī

Did you know that kōkō is the traditional name for tūī? This name is still preferred by many native speakers. Here we explore the origin and significance of some of the different Māori and English names for this bird.

Kōkō – a gift to Tāne

The kōkō is also associated with the star Rehua (Antares). In a story retold here by Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe), Tāne ascended to the heavens to seek knowledge.

Before Tāne returned to Papatūānuku, the supernatural being Rehua gifted him kōkō and other creatures to populate Papatūānuku, the earth. The kōkō, the tātarakihi (cicada), the kēkerewai (mānuka chafer beetle), the hākūwai, and the pihareinga (black field cricket) were collectively referred to as Ngā manu a Rehua (the ‘birds’, or flighted creatures of Rehua). Other creatures, including the korokoro (lamprey), the moki, the kohikohi (trumpeter fish), the kaiherehere (a type of eel), the maomao and the inanga were referred to collectively as Ngā pōtiki a Rehua (Rehua’s infants).

Ngā manu a Rehua and Ngā pōtiki a Rehua are a group of stars near Rehua and below the constellation of Te waka o Mairerangi (the body of Scorpio).

Rehua adorned the kōkō with a whetū (star) on its neck to bring a voice and to remind everyone of its origin.

Kōkō (or tūī) - a bird with many names

As the tūī (or Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae in Latin) is such a lively and beautiful bird, it is not surprising it has many different Māori and English names. Although most of the tūī’s names reflect its behaviour and appearance, Māori names for tūī also vary depending on the time of year, the bird’s location and sex. Here we illustrate with a few examples how the tūī’s name has changed over time.

Māori names

Did you know that kōkō is the traditional name for tūī? Learn more about some of the other 13 Māori names that have been recorded for this species.

Colonial names

Since Captain Cook’s second voyage to New Zealand in 1772, Pākehā have also used different names for tūī. Learn more about how this species’ name has evolved over New Zealand’s colonial history.


This material was prepared by Priscilla Wehi, Catriona MacLeod and Karen Scott (Landcare Research), Hēmi Whaanga and Rangi Matamua (University of Waikato), Paul Scofield (Canterbury Museum), and C. Mary Brake (Reflection Graphics).