A Name for Poles (People from Poland…)

So I have decided on a new Māori name for Polish people/people of Polish descent.  This was done in consultation with zero Māori people and one Polish person (me), so it’s not exactly official. I’m not sure how many Polish speakers of Māori there are – there’s at least one other than me – but hopefully they will like this name.

If you have followed the Ngāti/Ngāi series (or just already know these things) you will know that Ngāti indicates the iwi’s founder from whom the iwi is descended, and that Ngāti is also used nowadays to designate and name non-iwi groups. So, the name for people of Polish descent should be Ngāti … but Ngāti what?

There is a legend that goes as follows.  One day there were three brothers who went on a hunting trip together, named Lech, Czech and Rus. Each brother followed a different prey and headed in a different direction. Rus went East, Czech went West, and Lech, the eldest, went North. There Lech found himself face to face with a white eagle silhouetted against the red sky of the setting sun. Taking this as a good sign, he settled there, and in doing so, founded Poland.

As it turned out, he made a very poor choice as despite the fertile land, the country was pretty indefensible as well as a major thoroughfare for many armies in the area. That’s not part of the legend but its always good to know where to place the blame, and the blame is on the shoulders of Lech, who could be said to be the ancestor of Poland.

Now that we have the name of the ancestor, we need to make it fit as a Māori word. The only sound within his name that exists in Māori is the “e”, so we have to translate the “l” and the “ch” into Māori sounds. The letter “l” usually becomes an “r”. The “ch” is a kind of cross between a “k” and a “h” sound – I feel more of an “h” personally. You can’t end a Māori word in a consonant, so we need to add a letter on to the end, resulting in a transliteration of “Lech” to “Reha”. You can see also that if we went with a “k” for the “ch” we’d end up with “Reka” which would just be confusing. The word “reha” does not appear to already exist, although there are a few Māori people named Reha. And thus, I have coined the term Ngāti Reha for those of Polish descent, barring any discoveries that it is somehow horribly inappropriate.

Polska – Ngāti Reha

Image result for Polish flag
Picture of Polish flag (white at top, red on bottom) with the Polish crest feat. a crowned eagle in the centre of the top white section


Ngāti/Ngāi Series of posts:


All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 4

Creating new group names with Ngāti

In the previous posts about Ngāti and Ngāi, we have seen that most iwi and hapū will use one or the other of these words – usually Ngāti – in their iwi name to indicate that they are the descendents of the same eponymous ancestor. Identifying yourself as a member of a particular iwi establishes that you are part of a particular group, and this is another way in which Ngāti is now being used.

Wikipedia says “Ngāti has become a productive morpheme in New Zealand English to refer to groups of people” – i.e. Ngāti has become part of our language and is now used to create new words. The examples provided on Wikipedia include Ngāti Pākehā – referring to Pākehā as a group; Ngāti Rānana – Māori living in London; and Ngāti Tūmataunga – the Māori language name for the NZ army.

As we saw when talking about Ngāti vs. Ngāi, Ngāti is the correct word to use to create these new group names as Ngāi is only used in certain cases – useful to know as otherwise its easy for beginners, particularly non-Māori beginners, to forget which to use when identifiying as part of a non-Māori group, e.g. Ngāti Pākehā, Ngāti Kōtimana (Scottish), Ngāti Tiamana (German), etc.


Other posts in this series:

All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 3

When neither Ngāti or Ngāi are used

In the list of iwi I used in my previous two posts, you might have noticed I was quite particular about which examples I used and how I wrote them. What if my list had been like this:

  • Kāi Tahu
  • Kāti Mamoe
  • Tūhoe
  • Te Arawa

Where’s all our Ngāi and Ngāti now, eh?!

So, first up are Kāi Tahu and Kāti Mamoe. These are two South Island iwi, Kāti Mamoe being an historic iwi present before Kāi Tahu, and many Kāi Tahu Māori whakapapa (link genealogically) back to Kāti Mamoe. Kāi Tahu uses a different dialect of te reo Māori, one of the most noticable differences being the lack of the “ng” sound, and the usage instead of “k”. This transforms Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe into Kāi Tahu and Kāti Mamoe.

Next is Tūhoe. I’m not sure why, but some iwi are commonly known by their name without the Ngāi/Ngāti signifier on the front. However for these iwi, like with Tūhoe, you can still use their “full name”, e.g. Ngāi Tūhoe.

Lastly, we have Te Arawa. Although generally used in the same way as an iwi name, Wikipedia informs me that Te Arawa is actually a “confederation of iwi and hapu” who trace their ancestry back to the Arawa waka. Thus it would not make sense to use Ngāti or Ngāi in the name as Te Arawa is a waka and not the eponymous ancester from which they are descended. Similarly, the Waikato-Tainui iwi, a.k.a. Waikato, take their name from the Waikato river, and the Tainui waka.

So as you can see, although using Ngāti/Ngāi is the most common way to identify an iwi or hapū, it is not the only way.


Other posts in this series:

All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 2

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.


Other posts in this series:

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: