In the Māori language, iwi also means "bones". The Māori author, Keri Hulme, named her best-known (1985 Booker Prize) novel The Bone People, a title linked directly to the dual meaning of bone and "tribal people". 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. Many societies might use the analogous concept of "roots".
Iwi groups trace their ancestry to the original Māori settlers who, according to tradition, arrived from Hawaiki. In turn, one can conceptualise some iwi as clustering into even 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 sub-divides into a number of hapū ("sub-tribes"). For example, the Ngāti Whātua iwi consists of four hapū: Te Uri-o-Hau, Te Roroa, Te Taou, and Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei.
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 current claim by some iwi that they own the seabed and foreshore in their areas has polarised public opinion (see New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy).
However, increasing urbanisation of Māori has led to a situation where a significant percentage do not identify with an iwi. The following extract from a recent 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.
In the 2001 census, 32.6 percent of the 604,110 people who claimed Māori ancestry did not state their iwi, or only stated a general geographical region or merely gave a canoe-name. It seems that the number who "don’t know" has remained relatively constant over the last three censuses, despite measures such as the " Iwi Helpline".
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". Some Tūhoe envisage self-determination in specifically iwi-oriented terms.
In recent years, "urban Māori" have challenged the established tribal (iwi-based) power-base. Urban Māori form groups of people that, while unashamedly Māori, either choose not to identify with any particular iwi, or are unable to do so (possibly because they do not know their ancestral iwi). Individual Māori persons or groups may decide to support non-tribal structures because (for example) they believe the existing iwi do not give significant value to them, or that they believe that iwi cannot understand their point-of-view.
Urban Māori, typically urban bred, may identify with European culture to a much larger degree than rural Māori, and often feel that a non-iwi group may best represent their needs. It remains unclear how the traditional iwi groups will respond to this phenomenon. (Thus far, some appear dismissive of these notions.) Notably, one such urban group established itself in the belief that urban Māori do not get their fair share of " Treaty settlements" between the Māori people and the New Zealand government.
Some established pan-tribal organizations may also undercut the otherwise important iwi. The Ratana Church, for example. operates in may respects across iwi divisions, and the Māori King Movement aims to transcend some iwi functions in a wider grouping.
Prominent iwi include:
Note that each iwi has a generally recognised territory (rohe), but many of these overlap, sometimes completely. 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 commercial fisheries claims.
Many names of iwi begin with Ngai or with Ngāti (from ngā āti, meaning "the offspring of"). Ngati has become a productive morpheme in New Zealand English to refer to groups of people: Ngāti Skippy (Australian Maori), Ngati Pakeha (Pākehā as a group), Ngati Ranana (Maori living in London), Ngati Cloggy (New Zealanders of Dutch descent).
A group of Central North Island iwi have banded together for another attempt to resolve their competing claims to major Rotorua forestry land.
Nov 17, 2007; A group of Central North Island Iwi have banded together for another attempt to resolve their competing claims to major...