Heads up

A couple months back I was at Kura Reo and we did a 5-minute exercise recalling all the kīwaha we could that referenced a part of the body. Being the geek and kīwaha fan that I am, I kept adding kīwaha to my initial list of 30, supplemented with various phrases and a few choice whakataukī until I had over 300 different phrases! Obviously I can’t share all of them at once, so over the next few months expect to see a whole lot of kīwaha to do with the body, and what better place to start than at the head.

Upoko pakaru (here I am!) is not so common as a kīwaha, instead deriving from a whakataukī related to fighting (of which there are several variations).

Kaua mā te waewae tutuki, engari mā te upoko pakaru
Don’t turn back due to a stumbling foot, but a cracked head.

In other words don’t be disuaded by little falls but fight to the bitter end. Upoko pakaru is synonymous with perseverance (i.e. stick-to-it-iveness) and a never-surrender, never-say-die attitude, kind of like it’s not over until the fat lady sings. The reason I picked this for my nom de plume is because of it’s double entendre – sometimes learning te reo feels like I’m smashing my head against a brick wall.

Kātahi te upoko pakaru o Hēni ki ngā take whenua!
Hēni is such a battler when it comes to land issues!

Upoko mārō is a very common kīwaha with the parallel meaning in English of ‘hard-headed’.

Kaua e moumou hā ki tērā upoko mārō.
Don’t waste your breath on that stubborn man.

Upoko tūtakitaki is a metaphor for obstinance (that can be used for anyone you like) but it’s said to be a defining characteristic of Arawa people.

Arawa upoko tūtakitaki!
Typical pig-headed Arawa!

Upoko mahora is a good phrase to fling out at your kids. It means a ‘head of greasy, lank hair’.

Upoko mahora! Hoatu ki te uwhiuwhi.
Grease-head! Go and have a shower.

Upoko taka has two meanings, one for forgetfulness and the other for being a bit slow on the uptake.

Tō upoko taka! Kātahi anō ia ka kī mai.
You dim-wit! He just told us that.

Māhunga wai is another kīwaha for forgetfulness (for some reason I always imagine this as thoughts trickling out of your ears like water).

Auē, taku māhunga wai hoki!
Oh man, I forgot! What a scatter-brain I am!

Whiu te māhunga is a phrase refering to having a headache.

Kua whiu tōku māhunga i te hoihoi.
I’ve got a headache from the noise.

Hinengaro makere and upoko makere are two more phrases for forgetfulness (because one is never enough). Makere means to drop or fall off; as my grandmother used to tell me on a regular basis “you’d forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on”.

Nō whea kē tō hinengaro makere?!
Why on earth are always you so forgetful?!

Hinengaro hihiri is a phrase that refers to discernment and being ‘switched on’ generally.

Kia hihiri tō hinengaro ki te whiriwhiri kupu
Be discerning in your choice of words.

Hamo pango is a kīwaha for cowardice. When you’re running away all that can be seen of you is the black hair of your hamo (i.e. the back part of your head).

Hamo pango!
Chicken-livered, yellow-bellied, scaredy-cat!

Pane hapa (crooked head) means wry-necked (torticollis) which is when you have an abnormal head or neck position. But pane hapa can also be used as a kīwaha for “rubber-neck”, when you gawk at something with unsophisticated curiosity such as a gory car accident.

He pane hapa te hei tiki.
The hei tiki is wry-necked.

Roro more is a kīwaha for someone who has no talent, ability or position. Roro of course means brains, and more can mean blunt, bare and toothless.

E moko, he roro more tō whaiāipo!
Darling, your boyfriend’s a waste of space!

Tū ngā pihi is a great expression to describe somebody who has become raging mad. Pihi are antlers or any other thing that springs or sprouts up, so this is similar to the English expression of growing horns out of your head.

Kia mataara, kua tū ngā pihi o Māmā i a koe.
Watch out, Mum’s absolutely furious with you.

And if that isn’t enough head-related kīwaha for you, you can always revisit the profanities that have already been featured in the swear words post.

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