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Title: Iwi  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Māori King Movement, Ngāpuhi, Māori people, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou
Collection: Iwi and Hapū, Māori Society, Māori Words and Phrases
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


In New Zealand society, iwi (Māori pronunciation: ) form the largest social units in Māori culture. The word iwi means "'peoples' or 'nations',[1][2][3][4] and is often translated as "tribe",[5][6][7][8][9] or confederation of tribes.

Most Māori in pre-European times gave their primary allegiance to relatively small groups such as hapū ("sub-tribe"[10]) and whānau ("family"[11]).


  • Naming 1
  • Structure 2
  • Iwi and politics 3
    • Self-determination 3.1
    • Problems of identification 3.2
    • Pan-tribalism 3.3
  • Well-known iwi groups 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


In Māori, as well as in many other Polynesian languages, iwi literally means "bone". Māori may refer to returning home after travelling or living elsewhere as "going back to the bones" — literally to the burial-areas of the ancestors. Māori author Keri Hulme's novel, The Bone People (1985), has a title linked directly to the dual meaning of bone and "tribal people". (It won the Booker Prize.)

Many names of iwi begin with Ngāti or with Ngāi (from ngā āti and ngā ai, both meaning roughly "the offspring of"). Ngāti has become a productive morpheme in New Zealand English to refer to groups of people: examples are Ngāti Pākehā (Pākehā as a group), Ngāti Poneke (Māori who have migrated into the Wellington region), and Ngāti Rānana (Māori living in London). Ngāti Tūmatauenga, "Tribe of Tūmatauenga" (the god of war), is the official Māori-language name of the New Zealand Army.


Iwi groups trace their ancestry to the original Polynesian migrants who, according to tradition, arrived from Hawaiki. Some iwi cluster into larger groupings based on genealogical tradition, known as waka (literally: "canoes", with reference to the original migration voyages), but these super-groupings generally serve symbolic rather than practical functions. Each iwi has a number of hapū ("sub-tribes"). For example, the Ngāti Whātua iwi has hapū including Te Uri-o-Hau, Te Roroa, Te Taou, and Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei.

Iwi and politics

In modern-day New Zealand, iwi groups may exercise significant political power in the recovery and management of land and of other assets. (Note for example the 1997 settlement between the New Zealand Government and Ngāi Tahu, compensating that iwi for various losses of the rights guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840.) Iwi affairs can have a very real impact on New Zealand politics and society. A 2004 attempt by some iwi to test in court their ownership of the seabed and foreshore areas, polarised public opinion (see New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy).

Each iwi has a generally recognised territory (rohe), but many of these overlap, sometimes completely.[12] This has added a layer of complication to the long-running discussions and court cases about how to resolve historical Treaty-claims. The length of coastline emerged as one factor in the final (2004) legislation to allocate fishing-rights in settlement of claims relating to commercial fisheries.


Iwi can become a prospective vehicle for ideas and ideals of self-determination and/or tino rangatiratanga. Thus the "Rules of the Maori Party" (Māori Party Constitution) mentions in its preamble "the dreams and aspirations of tangata whenua to achieve self-determination for whānau, hapū and iwi within their own land".[13] Some Tūhoe envisage self-determination in specifically iwi-oriented terms.[14]

Problems of identification

Increasing urbanisation of Māori has led to a situation where a significant percentage do not identify with an iwi. The following extract from a 2000 High Court of New Zealand judgment (discussing the process of settling fishing-rights) illustrates some of the issues:

... 81 percent of Māori now live in urban areas, at least one-third live outside their tribal influence, more than one-quarter do not know their iwi or for some reason do not choose to affiliate with it, at least 70 percent live outside the traditional tribal territory and these will have difficulties, which in many cases will be severe, in both relating to their tribal heritage and in accessing benefits from the settlement. It is also said that many Māori reject tribal affiliation because of a working class unemployed attitude, defiance and frustration. Related but less important factors, are that a hapu may belong to more than one iwi, a particular hapu may have belonged to different iwi at different times, the tension caused by the social and economic power moving from the iwi down rather than from the hapu up, and the fact that many iwi do not recognise spouses and adoptees who do not have kinship links.[15]

In the 2006 census, 16 percent of the 643,977 people who claimed Māori ancestry did not know their iwi. Another 11% did not state their iwi, or only stated a general geographical region or merely gave a canoe-name.[16] The proportion who "don’t know" dropped relative to the previous censuses,[16] perhaps helped by measures such as the "Iwi Helpline".


Some established pan-tribal organizations may also undercut the otherwise important iwi. The Ratana Church, for example, operates across iwi divisions, and the Māori King Movement, although principally Waikato/Tainui, aims to transcend some iwi functions in a wider grouping.

Well-known iwi groups

Prominent iwi include:

See also


  1. ^ Back cover: Ballara, A. (1998). Iwi: The dynamics of Māori tribal organisation from c.1769 to c.1945. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.
  2. ^ See also: Durie, A. (1999). Emancipatory Māori education: Speaking from the heart. In S. May (Ed.), Indigenous community education (pp. 67-78). Philadelphia, PA: Multilingual Matters.
  3. ^ See also: Healey, S. M. (2006). The nature of the relationship of the Crown in New Zealand with iwi Māori. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
  4. ^ See also: Sharp, A. (1999). What if value and rights lie foundationally in groups? The Maori case. Critical Review of International, Social and Political Philosophy, 2(2), 1–28.
  5. ^ Taylor, R. (1848). A leaf from the natural history of New Zealand, or, A vocabulary of its different productions, &c., &c., with their native names. Retrieved from [1]
  6. ^ White, J. (1887). The ancient history of the Maori, his mythology and traditions. Retrieved from [2]
  7. ^ Smith, S. P. (1910). Maori wars of the nineteenth century; the struggle of the northern against the southern Maori tribes prior to the colonisation of New Zealand in 1840. Retrieved from [3]
  8. ^ Best, E. (1934). The Maori as he was: A brief account of Maori life as it was in pre-European days. Retrieved from [4]
  9. ^ . Retrieved fromThe coming of the MaoriBuck, P. (1949).
  10. ^ Ballara (1998, p. 17)
  11. ^ Ballara (1998, p. 164)
  12. ^ Waitangi Tribunal – About the Reports
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ , from 2000"Paterson J noted the changes in Maori society since 1840, and in particular urbanisation, which, it had been submitted, meant that an allocation to iwi would not deliver the benefits of the settlement to the beneficiaries. He said (at 320-321)"
  16. ^ a b Table 30, QuickStats About Māori, 2006 Census. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.

External links

  • Map of tribal areas
  • Te Kāhui Māngai – Directory of Iwi and Māori Organisations
  • Urban Māori article in The New Zealand Herald (details on the creation and rationale for the National Urban Māori Authority)
  • Tribal organisation in Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
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