The world's first Maori emoji keyboard, 'Emotiki' for iPhone and Android, will be officially launched by Te Puia mid-July.
The Emotiki have been in development for six months and Rotorua visitor attraction Te Puia introduced the concept to tourism trade and media at Trenz in Rotorua two weeks ago, captivating everyone who came in to contact with it.
The 150 characters, including tiki pukana expressions, taiaha, hangi, waka ama, kete and more, quickly found their way onto social media and have since been shared around the world.
Emoji is the world's fastest growing online language, with still and moving characters used in text and social media platforms to express, emphasise and reinforce emotion.
They represent a broad range of emotions - sports, situations, foods and icons that are familiar to or have been made famous by Maori, such as waka ama (outrigger canoe), piupiu (flax skirts), kapa haka moves and faces, kete (woven basket/bag), taiaha (weapon), whanau and even delicacies such as koura (crayfish), paua (abalone), eels and hangi.
Te Puia sales and marketing general manager Kiri Atkinson-Crean said the emoji smiling faces, flags, dancing senoritas, widgets and gadgets have quickly become part of the world's day to day digital language, but until now, there have been limited New Zealand icons.
"We wanted to create a unique New Zealand equivalent that represents Maori and Kiwi culture and although we were keen to wait until they were available to download to officially launch them, they have taken on a life of their own.
"We are absolutely blown away by the social media response we've experienced, so it seems only fair to share a few more of the details. It's very exciting."
She said she expected people would have their own favourites, "but I expect that the emotiki equivalent to the famous 'smiley face' icon will be a big hit". The tiki emotiki expresses as broad a range of emotions and expressions as the smiley face. And, he is distinctly New Zealand, she said.
"Some of his expressions will be quickly interpreted across cultures. Others such as pukana (fierce facial expression as evident in haka), are uniquely Maori expressions. We see these as a lighthearted and inclusive way to share the meaning of Maori words and concepts with other cultures, and with all New Zealanders."
There is also a small selection of GIFs, or moving emotikis. They include pukana, poi, taiaha movements and a winking tiki emotiki.
Ms Atkinson-Crean said the seed for the concept came from watching Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival and Te Arawa Kapa Haka Regionals, where you'd see children celebrate each other and their performances on social media.
"All they could use were expressions and symbols from other countries - we wanted to give them another form of this language with Maori culture emotikis for an opportunity to express themselves.
"We've purposely made Emotikis free so they can be used with no barriers by all people - not only Maori and not just New Zealanders. That said, we hope Maori and Kiwis in general really embrace these cool little guys."
Ms Atkinson-Crean said a great deal of thought and consideration had gone into the Emotiki development, including sharing the concept with Te Puia pakeke (elders) and being given their blessing.
"Many of them already knew about the smiley faces and they 'got' the Emotiki concept immediately. They loved them and gave us their blessing that we were on the right track.
"We can't wait until they're available for everyone to use."
The keyboard will be available through app stores for iPhone and android by mid-July and will be free to download. A range of merchandise and apparel is also in development.