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New Place Names Lift Māori Culture in New Zealand’s Capital

A new policy in Wellington aims to revitalize the indigenous Māori language. First up: giving new, non-colonial names to sites around town.
Māori warriors perform the haka, part of a traditional Māori welcome for China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, upon their arrival in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2014.
Māori warriors perform the haka, part of a traditional Māori welcome for China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, upon their arrival in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2014.Anthony Phelps/Reuters

On a hot weekday in late summer, Wellington’s Civic Square is full of life. Children run around shouting, parents trying to keep up. Students sprawl in the sunshine, while suited businesspeople stride purposefully from one side to the other, deep in conversation. A jogger enters the square, eyes darting, as he seeks a path through the human obstacles in front of him.

Here, in the shadow of Town Hall, at the center of the city’s urban landscape, Wellington’s heart and soul are on show. In recognition of this special area of public space, the square recently acquired a new Māori-inspired name: Te Ngākau. Meaning “the heart,” the name recognizes a place with a key role in bringing the city’s roughly 400,000 residents together.