All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 1

What Ngāti and Ngāi mean

If you have ever encountered anything or anyone even remotely Māori, you will have encountered the words Ngāi and Ngāti which precede the names of various iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes) – I’ll just write iwi from now on rather than refer to both iwi and hapū every time.

For example, this list of selected iwi:

  • Ngāti Porou
  • Ngāti Kahungunu
  • Ngāti Tūwharetoa
  • Ngāi Tahu
  • Ngāi Tūhoe

So what do these two words mean? Or do they mean anything at all?

Well, the general meaning of these words is “the descendents of”, meaning that the members of the iwi are descendents of the named ancester who founded that iwi. So, Ngāti Kahungunu are the descendents of a common ancestor named Kahungunu. Ngāti Porou are descended from Porourangi a.k.a. Porou Ariki. Ngāi Tahu‘s eponymous ancestor is Tahupōtiki, Ngāi Tūhoe descend from Tūhoe-pōtiki, and so on.

Now that you know this, some of the Māori stories and histories that you hear may have more meaning as you recognise some famous names and associate them with their iwi. You will also understand why those names and people are so important to those iwi.


Other posts in this series:


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