In the 1984 Anzac Wallace starred as Te Wheke in the movie Utu and the word has since become synonymous in NZ English with the term revenge. In reality utu is simply reciprocation, a way of balancing obligations. If you buy me a coffee now, I’ll shout you a beer later. If you beat me up, I’ll come around with my cuzzies and pay you back the same way.
Hei utu mōu.
To pay you back.
In a modern context, utu can mean the monetary price of things.
He aha te utu mō te tīhāte?
What’s the cost of the t-shirt?
Anei tō utu.
Here’s your payment.
But it can also be used to express the cost, value or payment of many things besides money.
Ko te whare pikitia, ko Makitānara rānei… kei a koe ko tēhea te utu.
The movie theatre or McDonalds… it’s up to you which one you’re willing to give up
(i.e. in exchange for the other)
He tuhinga whakapae hei utu i te tohu paerua.
A thesis to fulfill the requirements of the Masters degree.
Kotahi haora te oma kia utua ngā pūngoi o te pihikete.
It takes an hour of running to burn off the calories in a biscuit.
He aniroro mō te ata, he utu mō te pō
A hangover in the morning is the price you pay for the evening.
E toru tau kia utu ki te whare herehere.
His sentence is three years in prison.
The word utu is also used for apologies and thanks but you can’t really do either in words; you have to repay them in actions. Using the word itself is merely acknowledgment of the imbalance – either through their generosity or your offence. Unfortunately our distorted perceptions of the word utu (i.e. money/revenge) mean that these types of phrases are less common; people misinterpret it to mean you’re ‘buying’ someone’s help.
I tāngia e ngā tamariki ngā pikitia mōna hei utu i tāna āwhina.
The children drew the pictures for him to thank him for his help.
Nāku nei te mihi hei utu mō taku hē.
This is an apology to make amends for my wrongdoing.