New Zealand literature review of Māori groupings

New Zealand literature review of Māori groupings (…
01 Apr 2016

This literature review presents an analysis of contemporary Māori social organisation – within the framework of traditional Mäori groupings. Māori culture and society is organised around the principles of kinship as reflected through the whanau, hapū, and iwi groupings. Although hapū are generally understood to be smaller kinship groups within iwi, the boundaries between these concepts are not clearly defined. Presently, iwi affiliation is the most common means of recognising Mäori group identification.

Following World War II there was a large shift in Mäori society, from one of rural, tribal living to integration within urban communities for a majority of Mäori. Living away from tribal lands and from other group members, urban Mäori have adapted – building new non-traditional tribes based on residential location rather than whakapapa. Urban Mäori feel the spiritual connection to their ancestors, but at the same time they affiliate more with physical markers in their proximity (urban marae, church, or club) that fulfil their need for collective belonging.

The census plays an important role in gathering statistical information on iwi affiliation, for government agencies and iwi organisations to use for policy planning and resource distribution. Unfortunately, defining and measuring tribal groupings such as iwi is problematic. We have no definitive criteria for differentiating iwi from hapū, or other types of social groups, and iwi affiliation is merely one part of the larger whole that is Mäori identity.

Researchers need a broader collective identification spectrum than iwi affiliation alone to fully understand the identity of Māori living in towns and cities. The current standard for defining and measuring Mäori groupings does not fully capture the complexity of what it means to be Mäori and further work in this area is needed.


New Zealand literature review of Māori groupings provides an analysis of contemporary Māori groupings in New Zealand. The urbanisation of Māori has resulted in changes to the ways that traditional social groupings, such as iwi and hapū, are organised and understood, which required investigation into potential implications for defining and measuring Māori identity.

This literature review used a qualitative approach to do this, to allow the words of Māori scholars and theorists to speak for themselves. Statistics New Zealand has no commitment to any perspective outlined in this report.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018