Ngāti vs. Ngāi – What’s the difference
In the last post, I mentioned that Ngāi and Ngāti indicate that the iwi are “descendents of” whomever their iwi is named after.
For example, this list of selected iwi:
- Ngāti Porou
- Ngāti Kahungunu
- Ngāti Tūwharetoa
- Ngāi Tahu
- Ngāi Tūhoe
But why do we have two words – Ngāti and Ngāi – which are very similar sounding and used for the same purpose? Why isn’t there just one word? And why is one used sometimes and the other used at other times?
Firstly, Ngāti is the most common word of the two, essentially the default. So if you can’t remember which word goes with a particular iwi, guess “Ngāti” and you will usually be correct.
You’ll notice in the list above that the two iwi with Ngāi in their name both begin with “T”. This is not a coincidence. Ngāi is only used before iwi names that begin with “T”, such as Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāi Tahu. Not all iwi beginning with “T” use Ngāi – for example Ngāti Tūwharetoa doesn’t.
- If it begins with “T” it might use Ngāi
- If it doesn’t begin with “T” it will always use Ngāti
It seems likely to me that Ngāi is a shortened version of Ngāti, which makes certain iwi names easier, or perhaps nicer, to say without a double t-sound – similar to how we use a/an depending on the initial sound of the following word.