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Iwi (Māori pronunciation:  [ˈiwi] ) are the largest social units in Aotearoa (New Zealand) Māori society. The Māori-language word iwi means "people" or "nation", [1] and is often translated as "tribe", [2] or "a confederation of tribes". The word is both singular and plural in the Māori language. Māori use the word rohe to describe the territory or boundaries of iwi. [3]


Iwi groups trace their ancestry to the original Polynesian migrants who, according to tradition, arrived from Hawaiki. Some iwi cluster into larger groupings that are based on whakapapa (genealogical tradition) and known as waka (literally "canoes", with reference to the original migration voyages). These super-groupings generally serve symbolic rather than practical functions. In pre-European times, most Māori were allied to relatively small groups in the form of hapū ("sub-tribes") [4] and whānau ("family"). [5] Each iwi contains a number of hapū; among the hapū of the Ngāti Whātua iwi, for example, are Te Uri-o-Hau, Te Roroa, Te Taoū, and Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei.

In modern-day New Zealand, iwi can exercise significant political power in the recovery and management of land and of other assets. (Note for example the 1997 Treaty of Waitangi 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 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 ).


In Māori and in many other Polynesian languages, iwi literally means "bone". [6] 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".

Many iwi names begin with Ngāti or with Ngāi (from ngā āti and ngā ai respectively, 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 to 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, and Ngā Opango ("Black Tribe") is a Māori-language name for the All Blacks.

In the southern dialect of Māori, Ngāti and Ngāi become Kāti and Kāi, terms found in such iwi as Kāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu/Kãi Tahu.


Each iwi has a generally recognised territory ( rohe ), but many of these overlap, sometimes completely. [7] 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 does the Māori Party mention in the preamble of its Constitution "the dreams and aspirations of tangata whenua to achieve self-determination for whānau, hapū and iwi within their own land". [8] Some Tūhoe envisage self-determination in specifically iwi-oriented terms. [9]

Iwi identity

Increasing urbanisation of Māori has led to a situation where a significant percentage do not identify with any particular 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. [10]

In the 2006 census, 16 per cent of the 643,977 people who claimed Māori ancestry did not know their iwi. Another 11 per cent did not state their iwi, or stated only a general geographic region, or merely gave a waka name. [11] Initiatives like the Iwi Helpline are trying to make it easier for people to identify their iwi, [12] and the proportion who "don’t know" dropped relative to previous censuses. [11]


Some established pan-tribal organisations may[ according to whom? ] exert influence across iwi divisions.[ citation needed ] The Rātana Church, for example, operates across iwi divisions, and the Māori King Movement, though principally congregated around Waikato/Tainui, aims to transcend some iwi functions in a wider grouping.[ citation needed ]

Iwi radio

Many iwi operate or are affiliated with media organisations. Most of these belong to Te Whakaruruhau o Nga Reo Irirangi Māori (the National Māori Radio Network), a group of radio stations which receive contestable Government funding from Te Māngai Pāho (the Māori Broadcast Funding Agency) to operate on behalf of iwi and hapū. Under their funding agreement, the stations must produce programmes in the local Māori language and actively promote local Māori culture. [13]

A two-year Massey University survey of 30,000 people published in 2003 indicated 50 per cent of Māori in National Māori Radio Network broadcast areas listened to an iwi station. [14] An Auckland University of Technology study in 2009 suggested the audience of iwi radio stations would increase as the growing New Zealand Māori population tried to keep a connection to their culture, family history, spirituality, community, language and iwi. [15]

The Victoria University of Wellington Te Reo Māori Society campaigned for Māori radio, helping to set up Te Reo o Poneke, the first Māori-owned radio operation, using airtime on Wellington student-radio station Radio Active in 1983. [16] Twenty-one iwi radio stations were set up between 1989 and 1994, receiving Government funding in accordance with a Treaty of Waitangi claim. [17] This group of radio stations formed various networks, becoming Te Whakaruruhau o Nga Reo Irirangi Māori. [18]

Major iwi

Largest iwi by population

  1. Ngāpuhi – 125,601 (in 2013) – based in the Northland Region
  2. Ngāti Porou – 71,049 (in 2013) – based in Gisborne and East Cape
  3. Ngāti Kahungunu – 61,626 (in 2013) – based on the east coast of the North Island
  4. Ngāi Tahu – 54,819 (in 2013) – based in the South Island
  5. Waikato Tainui – 40,083 (in 2013) – based in the Waikato Region
  6. Ngāti Tūwharetoa – 35,874 (in 2013) – based in the central North Island
  7. Ngāti Maniapoto – 35,358 (in 2013) – based in Waikato and Waitomo
  8. Tūhoe – 34,890 (in 2013) – based in Te Urewera and Whakatane
  9. Te Arawa – 19,719 (in 2013) – based in the Bay of Plenty

Largest iwi groupings by population

  1. No affiliation – 110,928 (in 2013) – includes New-Zealand-based Māori with no iwi affiliation
  2. Waikato Tainui – 55,995 (in 2013) – based in the Waikato Region
  3. Ngāi Tahu Whanui – 55,986 (in 2013) – based in the South Island
  4. Te Arawa – 43,374 (in 2013) – confederation of iwi and hapū based in Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty
  5. Te Hiku, or Muriwhenua – 33,711 (in 2013) – group of iwi and hapū in the Northland region
  6. Ngāti Raukawa – 29,442 (in 2013) – group of iwi and hapū in the Waikato region, Taupo and Manawatū
  7. Te Atiawa – 23,094 (in 2013) – group of iwi and hapū in Taranaki and Wellington
  8. Hauraki Māori – 14,313 (in 2013) – group of iwi and hapū at or around the Hauraki Gulf

Other notable iwi

Related Research Articles

Te Rauparaha Māori chief and war leader of Ngāti Toa (1760s–1849)

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The Musket Wars were a series of as many as 3,000 battles and raids fought throughout New Zealand among Māori between 1807 and 1837, after Māori first obtained muskets and then engaged in an intertribal arms race in order to gain territory or seek revenge for past defeats. The battles resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 40,000 people and the enslavement of tens of thousands of Māori and significantly altered the rohe, or tribal territorial boundaries, before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The wars are seen as an example of the "fatal impact" of indigenous contact with Europeans.

Ngāpuhi Māori iwi (tribe) in Aotearoa New Zealand

Ngāpuhi is a Māori iwi associated with the Northland region of New Zealand and centred in the Hokianga, the Bay of Islands, and Whangarei.

Ngāti Whātua Māori iwi (tribe) in New Zealand

Ngāti Whātua is a Māori iwi (tribe) of the lower Northland Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island. It comprises a confederation of four hapū (subtribes) interconnected both by ancestry and by association over time: Te Uri-o-Hau, Te Roroa, Te Taoū, and Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei. The four hapū can act together or separately as independent tribes.

Ngāti Toa Māori iwi (tribe) in New Zealand

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Claims and settlements under the Treaty of Waitangi have been a significant feature of New Zealand race relations and politics since the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. Successive governments have increasingly provided formal legal and political opportunity for Māori to seek redress for breaches by the Crown of the guarantees set out in the Treaty of Waitangi. While it has resulted in putting to rest a number of significant longstanding grievances, the process has been subject to criticisms from a number of angles, from those who believe that the redress is insufficient to compensate for Māori losses, to those who see no value in revisiting painful and contentious historical issues. The settlements are typically seen as part of a broader Māori Renaissance.

Ngāti Awa Māori iwi (tribe) in New Zealand

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  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.
    - 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.
    - 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.
    - 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.
  2. 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 .
    - White, J. (1887). The ancient history of the Maori, his mythology and traditions .
    - 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 .
    - Best, E. (1934). The Maori as he was: A brief account of Maori life as it was in pre-European days .
    - Buck, P. (1949). The coming of the Maori.
  3. "Glossary of Māori terms". Te Kete Ipurangi – New Zealand Government. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  4. Ballara (1998, p. 17)
  5. Ballara (1998, p. 164)
  6. "Iwi: glossary definition". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  7. Waitangi Tribunal – About the Reports
  8. "The Rules of the Maori Party". The Māori Party. Retrieved 2008-09-07. The Maori Party is born of the dreams and aspirations of tangata whenua to achieve self-determination for whānau, hapū and iwi within their own land; to speak with a strong, independent and united voice; and to live according to kaupapa handed down by our ancestors. The vision for the Maori Party will be based on these aspirations [...]
  9. Tahana, Yvonne (2008-08-09). "Tuhoe leader backs self rule". The New Zealand Herald . Auckland: APN . Retrieved 2008-09-07. Calls from Maori activist Tame Iti for self-government arrangements for the Tuhoe tribe similar to those Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have in the UK have been backed by a leader likely to negotiate the tribe's Treaty settlement. ... While other iwi have focused on economic transfer of assets as a way of achieving tino rangatiratanga or self-determination, Tuhoe have spelled out their intention to negotiate constitutional issues.
  10. "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)", from 2000
  11. 1 2 Table 30, QuickStats About Māori, 2006 Census. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.
  12. "Iwi Helpline" (PDF). teohu.maori.nz. Te Ohu. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  13. "Iwi Radio Coverage" (PDF). maorimedia.co.nz. Māori Media Network. 2007. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  14. "The hidden success of Māori radio". Massey University. 1 August 2003. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  15. Robie, David (1 May 2009). "Diversity reportage in Aotearoa: demographics and the rise of the ethnic media" (PDF). Pacific Journalism Review. Auckland. 15 (1): 67–91. doi:10.24135/pjr.v15i1.965 . Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  16. Walker, Piripi (22 October 2014). "First iwi radio station". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  17. Smith, Cherryl Waerea-I-Te Rangi Smith (1994). Kimihia Te Maramatanga: Colonisation and Iwi Development (PDF). Auckland: University of Auckland. pp. 119–141. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  18. "Maori Radio Upgrade Project". avc-group.eu. AVC Group. Retrieved 19 September 2015.