“Nah, we’re just three Māori boys” wins Quote of the Year 2023

Tuesday 19 December 2023

The results of the public vote are in, and New Zealanders have chosen a humble statement by rescuers during Cyclone Gabrielle as the best quote of 2023.

Last updated: Tuesday 19 December 2023

The winning line, “Nah, we’re just three Māori Boys” was said by Mikey Kihi, Rikki Kihi and Morehu Maxwell as they rescued trapped citizens in Esk Valley, Hawke’s Bay.

The trio launched an inflatable boat and braved raging waters to help people stranded on the tops of houses, vehicles and trees.

One of the stranded residents was Chris Barber. He and his family were trapped in the roof cavity of their home as the water surged underneath it. They could hear their furniture hitting the ceiling and logs smashing into the house.

When the young men arrived wearing wetsuits, Mr Barber called out, “Are you guys from the navy?” They replied that they were just Māori boys. Then they took the Barber family to safety and returned to rescue more people.

The quote received 25.5 per cent of the 4139 votes cast in the Quote of the Year competition, edging out the Warriors fans’ rallying cry “Up the wahs!”

The annual contest, now in its 13th year, is run through Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University.

The three heroes

Mikey Kihi, Rikki Kihi, and Morehu Maxwell work in the forestry industry in Hawke’s Bay. Their bravery, along with the bravery of other rescuers, was celebrated at the Cyclone Gabrielle Recognition Awards, hosted by Napier City Council.

At the award ceremony, the Council described how the three navigated through dangerous conditions and rescued more than 50 people, as well as several dogs.

Rikki Kihi was singled out at the awards for not only being involved in the rescue, but also helping with the clean-up for weeks afterwards, and becoming a great advocate for mental health. 

Mikey Kihi is a drymill operator, and employer Pan Pac says he is an excellent worker “and the first to lend a hand to help anyone”.

Morehu Maxwell works at D G Glenn Logging. Manager Robert Scurr says Morehu’s natural ability with machinery and his passion for the outdoors “made him the right man in the right spot” on that day.

Why the quote won

Massey Speech Writing Specialist Dr Heather Kavan says she believes the quote won because of its emotional power and typical Kiwi humility.

“The young men’s words are raw and unscripted. They were shouted over the boat engine and raging waters as people clung to trees and rooftops and swam for their lives.

“There are many similar stories of heroism in Esk Valley, and the same humility runs through them.”

There is no footage of the quote but a video of the trio in their boat can be viewed here.

Second, third and fourth places

In second place, “Up the wahs!” attracted 22 per cent of votes. The rallying cry has been a cultural sensation, inspiring merchandise, a parody song and tattoos. An investigation by The Spinoff traced the phrase back to University of Otago student fans in the late 2000s.

Third and fourth places went to Finance Minister Nicola Willis’s parliamentary question “How big is his hole?” and Wairarapa bar manager Debbie Sinclair who asked Ed Sheeran for ID.

The list in order of votes

  1. “Nah, we’re just three Māori boys.” Mikey Kihi, Rikki Kihi, and Morehu Maxwell when asked if they were from the navy as they rescued trapped citizens during Cyclone Gabrielle.
  2. “Up the wahs!” New Zealand Warriors fans and most of New Zealand cheering on the rugby league team.
  3. "How big is his hole?" Nicola Willis in parliament questioning Grant Robertson about a fiscal hole.
  4. "Oh, have you got ID?" Wairarapa bar manager Debbie Sinclair to Ed Sheeran when he made a surprise visit, and she thought it was a government sting operation.
  5. “You can be a mother, or not, an ex-Mormon, or not, a nerd, a crier, a hugger – you can be all of these things, and not only can you be here – you can lead.” Jacinda Ardern’s emotional farewell speech to Parliament.
  6. “The issue is rain. We really need that to stop.” Mayor Wayne Brown as Auckland prepared to enter a state of emergency.
  7. “There is nobody who fails to be interesting.” Broadcaster Kim Hill reflecting on her years of interviewing.
  8. “I don't listen to rumours. I just start them." Taika Waititi when asked to identify the wildest rumour he ever heard about himself.
  9. “A B-grade American celebrity coming out and essentially hijacking Bird of the Century. I don’t think he even likes birds.” Save the Kiwi’s Erin Reilly reacting to John Oliver’s campaign for the puteketeke.
  10. "I encourage all of you to go out there, have more babies if you wish, that would be helpful." Christopher Luxon on how New Zealand’s economic agenda needs people.

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