Word of the day – kai

kai /kai̭/ [Māori]

  1. (verb) to eat, consume, feed (oneself), partake, devour.
  2. (noun) food, meal.

Related expressions include:

  • kai moana = seafood, shellfish
  • wāhi kai = café, restaurant (wāhi = place)
  • hari kai = a song to entertain visitors as food is set out (hari = joy, happiness)

The Māori word kai is mentioned quite a lot in the book I’m reading at the moment, Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson: a memoir about the author’s life with her Māori husband which also discusses the history of the Māori, and contacts between them and other peoples.

Other Māori words and concepts are also discussed, include iwi, which means an extended kinship group, a tribe, a nation, a people, a nationality or a race, and often refers to a large group of people descended from a common ancestor, and utu, which means revenge, cost, price, wage, fee, payment, salary, reciprocity, and is an important concept in Māori culture.

Kai also means food in Tok Pisin, and kaikai means to eat. In Japanese kai (海 かい) means sea, among other things, though this reading of the kanji 海 is derived from Chinese (hai) – the native Japanese word for sea is うみ (umi).

In Hawai’ian, kai means sea, sea water, gravy, sauce or soup, while food is ʻai, or mea’ai.

This entry was posted in Hawaiian, Japanese, Language, Maori, Words and phrases.

12 Responses to Word of the day – kai

  1. Christopher Miller says:

    Tagalog ‘eat’ is kain.

    The Hawaiian equivalent is an example of how the /k/ kept in most other Polynesian languages turned into a glottal stop in Hawaiian. (And the older Polynesian /t/ then became Hawaiian /k/.)

    For the New Zealand bird called kiwi Hawaiian has one called ‘i’iwi. And Hawaii’s Mauna Kea (white mountain) has an equivalent in Easter Island’s Maunga Tea Tea (and the tea Aotearoa ‘cloud-white-long’ ; the Kona ‘south/leeward’ coast in the Kingdom of Tonga [toŋa] ‘south’.

    It’s remarkable how many cognate words are recognisable from one end of the Austronesian area, from Malagasy in the west to Hawaiian in the north and Rapa Nui in the southeast.

  2. Qcumber says:

    “To eat” is _mákan_ in Malay and _káin_ in Tagalog.
    “Food” is _makánan_ in Malay and _pagkáin_ in Tagalog
    It seems the root is KA.

  3. Petréa Mitchell says:

    For that matter, Hawai`i itself is another example, being cognate with Maori Hawaiki (and the Samoan island Savaii).

  4. Petréa Mitchell says:

    And cognate with Hawaiian kai, the Maori dictionary has tai meaning “(at) sea”, “coast”, or “tide”.

  5. Yenlit says:

    “Kai” means ‘nourishment’ in the Taino language.

  6. Andrew says:

    Re: “utu” there’s a great New Zealand film about the Maori wars by that name. It’s a little hard to get hold of but well worth watching.

  7. Tommy says:

    In Japanese, the sound “kai” can mean “shell” (貝) along with “sea” (海). The former cooperates with other Kanji to form words for a number of shellfish, such as 帆立貝 (hotategai, “scallop”) and 赤貝 (akagai, “red clam”). This makes me wonder about the relationship with Korean word for “shellfish”, 조개 (jogae).

    Japanese also has the reading ばい (bai) for 貝, although rare, and I wonder if this is related to Chinese 贝 (bei4), also meaning “shell”, right?

  8. Petréa Mitchell says:

    And the “shell” radical is also in 買う kau “to buy” (the overall stem being ka-).

  9. Yenlit says:

    Is it just a coincidence that “kai” means ‘nourishment’ in Taino – what’s the Polynesian link with the Caribbean?

  10. Qcumber says:

    The shell radical is found in the Chinese / Japanese logogram for “buy”, and is placed under the eye-like net radical.
    I think these two concepts “net” and “shell(s)” are associated because originally cowries (Cypraea moneda) were used as money from the east coast of Africa to southern China. These shells were also kept in net bags representing larger units (supposedly 10 or 100).
    I also think that -gae in Korean jogae, Japanese kai “shell”, and -gay in Tagalog sígay “cowrie” are cognates.

  11. Qcumber says:

    Yenlit, I am of the opinion that if Austronesians were able to navigate as far as Easter Island, there is no reason why some shouldn’t have reached southern America and central America, and from there the Antilles. If so, some must have mixed with Amerindian tribes, or settled as independent tribes.

  12. Seumas says:

    ‘Kai’ means ‘and’ in Koine Greek. It’s also the name of Wayne Rooney’s son!

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