Ngāi Tahu

Ngāi Tahu, or Kāi Tahu, is the principal Māori iwi (tribe) of the southern region of New Zealand. Its takiwā (tribal area) is the largest in New Zealand, and extends from White Bluffs / Te Parinui o Whiti (southeast of Blenheim), Mount Mahanga and Kahurangi Point in the north to Stewart Island in the south. The takiwā comprises 18 rūnanga (governance areas) corresponding to traditional settlements.

Ngāi Tahu
Iwi (tribe) in Māoridom
Rohe (region)South Island
Waka (canoe)Tākitimu, Arahura, Āraiteuru

Some definitions of Ngāi Tahu include the Waitaha and Kāti Māmoe tribes who lived in the South Island prior to the arrival of Kāi Tāhu.[2] The five primary hapū (sub-tribes) of the three tribes are Kāti Kurī, Ngāti Irakehu, Kāti Huirapa, Ngāi Tūāhuriri and Ngāi Te Ruakihikihi.


Early history

Ngāi Tahu trace their traditional descent from Tahupōtiki, the younger brother of Porou Ariki, founding ancestor of Ngāti Porou, a tribe of the East Coast of the North Island. They originated on the east coast of the North Island, from where they migrated south to present-day Wellington. Late in the 17th century they began migrating to the northern part of the South Island. There they and Kāti Māmoe fought Ngāi Tara and Rangitāne in the Wairau Valley. Kāti Māmoe then ceded the east coast regions north of the Clarence River to Ngāi Tahu. Ngāi Tahu continued to push south, conquering Kaikoura.

By the 1690s Ngāi Tahu had settled in Canterbury, including Banks Peninsula. From there they spread further south and into the West Coast.[3]

19th century

In 1827–1828 Ngāti Toa under the leadership of Te Rauparaha successfully attacked Ngāi Tahu at Kaikoura. Ngāti Toa then visited Kaiapoi, ostensibly to trade. When Ngāti Toa attacked their hosts, the well-prepared Ngāi Tahu killed all the leading Ngāti Toa chiefs except Te Rauparaha. Te Rauparaha returned to his Kapiti Island stronghold. In November 1830 Te Rauparaha persuaded Captain John Stewart of the brig Elizabeth to carry him and his warriors in secret to Akaroa, where by subterfuge they captured the leading Ngāi Tahu chief, Te Maiharanui, and his wife and daughter. After destroying Te Maiharanui's village they embarked for Kapiti with their captives. Te Maiharunui strangled his daughter and threw her overboard to save her from slavery.[4] Ngāti Toa killed the remaining captives. John Stewart, though arrested and sent to trial in Sydney as an accomplice to murder, nevertheless escaped conviction.[3]

In the summer of 1831–1832 Te Rauparaha attacked the Kaiapoi pā (fortified village). After a three-month siege, a fire in the pā allowed Ngāti Toa to overcome it. Ngāti Toa then attacked Ngāi Tahu on Banks Peninsula and took the pā at Onawe. In 1832–33 Ngāi Tahu retaliated under the leadership of Tuhawaiki, Taiaroa, Karetai and Haereroa, attacking Ngāti Toa at Lake Grassmere. Ngāi Tahu prevailed, and killed many Ngāti Toa, although Te Rauparaha again escaped. Fighting continued for a year or so, with Ngāi Tahu maintaining the upper hand. Ngāti Toa never again made a major incursion into Ngāi Tahu territory. By 1839 Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Toa established peace and Te Rauparaha released the Ngāi Tahu captives he held. Formal marriages between the leading families in the two tribes sealed the peace.[3]

Modern history

The New Zealand Parliament passed the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act in 1998 to record an apology from the Crown and to settle claims made under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. One of the Act's provisions covered the use of dual (Māori and English) names for geographical locations in the Ngāi Tahu tribal area. The recognised tribal authority, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, is based in Christchurch and in Invercargill.[2]


In the nineteenth century many Ngāi Tahu, particularly in the southern reaches of Te Wai Pounamu, spoke a distinct dialect of the Māori language, sometimes referred to as Southern Māori, which was so different from the northern version of the language that missionary Rev. James Watkin, based at Karitane found materials prepared by North Island missions couldn't be used in Otago.[5] However, from the 20th century until the early 21st century the dialect came close to extinction and was officially discouraged.[6]

Southern Māori contains almost all the same phonemes as other Māori dialects (namely: /a, e, i, o, u, f, h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w/), along with the same diphthongs. But it lacks /ŋ/ ("ng") — this sound merged with /k/ in prehistoric times: for example: Ngāi Tahu as opposed to Kāi Tahu). This change did not occur in the northern part of the Ngāi Tahu area, and the possible presence of additional phonemes (/b, p, l, r/) has been debated. Non-standard consonants are sometimes identified in the spellings of South Island place names, such as g (as distinct from k, e.g., Katigi, Otago), v (e.g., Mavora), l instead of r (e.g., Little Akaloa, Kilmog, Waihola, Rakiula), and w or u instead of wh as reflecting dialect difference, but similar spellings and pronunciations also occur in the North Island (e.g. Tolaga Bay, Booai (Pūhoi)).[5]

The apocope (the dropping of the final vowel of words) resulting from pronunciations like 'Wacky-white' for "Waikouaiti" have been identified with Southern Māori. However, the devoicing (rather than apocope) of final vowels occurs in the speech of native speakers of the Māori language throughout New Zealand, and the pronunciation of the names of North Island towns by locals often omits final vowels as well, like in the pronunciation of "Paraparam" or "Waiuk".[5]


Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (TRoNT) is the governance entity of Ngāi Tahu, following the Treaty of Waitangi settlement between the iwi and the New Zealand Government under Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.[7] It is also a mandated iwi organisation under the Māori Fisheries Act 2004, an iwi aquaculture organisation under the Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004, an iwi authority under the Resource Management Act 1991 and a Tūhono organisation. It also represents Ngāi Tahu Whanui, the collective of hapū including Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe, and Ngāi Tahu, including, Ngāti Kuri, Ngāti Irakehu, Ngāti Huirapa, Ngāi Tuahuriri, and Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki, under Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Act 1996.[8][2]

The interests of Ngāi Tahu cover a wide range of regions, including the territories of Tasman District Council, Marlborough District Council, West Coast Regional Council, Environment Canterbury, Otago Regional Council and Environment Southland, and the district councils which make up these regional councils.[2]

Papatipu rūnanga/runaka, as constituent areas of Ngāi Tahu, each have an elected board which then elect a representative to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Kāi Tahu has a very corporate structure, in part due to the death of an important Upoko Ariki (paramount chief), Te Maiharanui, at the time of the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand. Under the Resource Management Act, both the trust and local papatipu rūnanga should be consulted with about natural resource matters. The 18 representatives of papatipu runanga oversee Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as a charitable trust. As of 2016, the acting kaiwhakahaere (chairman) is Lisa Tumahai, the chief executive officer is Arihia Bennett, the general counsel is Chris Ford, and the trust is based in Addington, Christchurch.[2]

Rūnanga and marae

Canterbury rūnanga

Ngāi Tahu has 9 rūnanga (governance areas) in Canterbury:

  • Te Runanga o Kaikoura centres on Takahanga and extends from Te Parinui o Whiti to the Hurunui River and inland to the Main Divide.[9] Takahanga marae in Kaikōura includes Maru Kaitatea meeting house.[2]
  • Te Ngai Tuahuriri centres on Runanga Tuahiwi and extends from the Hurunui to Hakatere (Ashburton, New Zealand), sharing an interest with Arowhenua Runanga northwards to Rakaia, and thence inland to the Main Divide.[9] The Tuahiwi marae of the Ngai Tuahuriri hapū is located in Tuahiwi and includes Māhunui II meeting house.[2]
  • Rapaki Runanga centres on Rapaki (near Lyttelton) and includes the catchment of Whakaraupo and Te Kaituna.[9] Rāpaki Marae, also known as Te Wheke Marae, is located near Governors Bay.[2]
  • Te Runanga o Koukourarata centres on Koukourarata (Port Levy) and extends from Pōhatu Pa to the shores of Te Waihora, including Te Kaituna.[9] Koukourarata Marae is located in Port Levy, and includes Tūtehuarewa meeting house.[2]
  • Wairewa Runanga centres on Wairewa (on Banks Peninsula) and the catchment of lake Te Wairewa and the hills and coast to the adjoining takiwa of Koukourarata, Onuku Runanga, and Taumutu Runanga.[9] Wairewa marae is located at Little River and includes Te Mako meeting house.[2]
  • Te Runanga o Onuku centres on Onuku and the hills and coasts of Akaroa to the adjoining takiwa of Te Runanga o Koukourarata and Wairewa Runanga.[9] Onuku marae is located in Akaroa, and includes the Karaweko meeting house.[2]
  • Taumutu Runanga centres on Taumutu and the waters of Te Waihora and adjoining lands and shares a common interest with Te Ngai Tuahuriri Runanga and Te Runanga o Arowhenua in the area south to Hakatere (Ashburton).[9] The local marae, Ngāti Moki, is located in Taumutu.[2]
  • Te Runanga o Arowhenua centres on Arowhenua (Temuka and extends from Rakaia to Waitaki, sharing interests with Ngai Tuahuriri ki Kaiapoi between Hakatere and Rakaia, and thence inland to Aoraki and the Main Divide.[9] The hapū Ngati Huirapa (hapu) Arowhenua, Te Hapa o Niu Tireni, Temuka)[2]
  • Te Runanga o Waihao centres on Wainono, sharing interests with Te Runanga o Arowhenua to Waitaki, and extends inland to Omarama and the Main Divide.[9] The Waihao marae is in Waimate.[2]

Otago rūnanga

Ngāi Tahu has 3 rūnanga (governance areas) in Otago:

  • Te Runanga o Moeraki centres on Moeraki and extends from Waitaki to Waihemo and inland to the Main Divide.[9] Moeraki marae in located in Moeraki and includes Uenuku meeting house.[2]
  • Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki centres on Karitane and extends from Waihemo to Purehurehu and includes an interest in Otepoti (Dunedin) and the greater harbour of Otakou. The takiwa extends inland to the Main Divide, sharing an interest in the lakes and mountains to Whakatipu-Waitai with Runanga to the south.[9] The Huirapa hapū have the Puketeraki marae in Karitāne.[2]
  • Te Runanga o Otakou centres on Otakou and extends from Purehurehu to Te Matau and inland, sharing an interest in the lakes and mountains to the western coast with Runanga to the north and to the south (includes the city of Dunedin).[9] The Ōtākou marae is located at Otago Heads, and includes the Tamatea meeting house.[2]

West Coast rūnanga

Ngāi Tahu has 2 rūnanga (governance areas) in Westland:

  • Te Runanga o Makaawhio centres on Mahitahi (Bruce Bay) and extends from the south bank of the Pouerua River to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) and inland to the Main Divide, together with a shared interest with Te Runaka o Kati Waewae in the area situated between the north bank of the Pouerua River and the south bank of the Hokitika River.[9] The runanga's marae, Te Tauraka Waka a Maui, at Mahitahi, officially opened on 23 January 2005. Southern Westland, only thinly settled by Māori, had — uniquely in the iwi's region — lacked a marae for 140 years.[10] The marae includes the Kaipo meeting house.[2]
  • Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae centres on Arahura and Hokitika and extends from the north bank of the Hokitika River to Kahuraki and inland to the Main Divide, together with a shared interest with Te Runanga o Makaawhio in the area situated between the north bank of the Pouerua River and the south bank of the Hokitika River. Ned Tauwhare is currently chair of the Runanga.[9] Arahura marae north of Hotikia includes the Tūhuru meeting house.[2]

Southland rūnanga

Ngāi Tahu has 4 rūnanga (governance areas) in Southland:

  • Waihopai Runaka centres on Waihopai (Invercargill) and extends northwards to Te Matau sharing an interest in the lakes and mountains to the western coast with other Murihiku (Southland) Runanga and those located from Waihemo (Dunback) southwards.[9] The Murihiku marae and Te Rakitauneke meeting house are located in Invercargill.[2]
  • Te Runanga o Awarua centres on Awarua and extends to the coasts and estuaries adjoining Waihopai sharing an interest in the lakes and mountains between Whakatipu-Waitai and Tawhititarere with other Murihiku (Southland) Runanga and those located from Waihemo southwards.[9] Its marae, Te Rau Aroha, is located at Bluff, and includes Tahu Potiki meeting house.[2]
  • Te Runanga o Oraka Aparima centres on Oraka (Colac Bay) and extends from Waimatuku to Tawhititarere sharing an interest in the lakes and mountains from Whakatipu-Waitai to Tawhititarere with other Murihiku Runanga and those located from Waihemo southwards.[9] The rūnanga has a marae, Takutai o te Titi, in Riverton.[2]
  • Hokonui Rūnanga centres on the Hokonui region and includes a shared interest in the lakes and mountains between Whakatipu-Waitai and Tawhitarere with other Murihiku Runanga and those located from Waihemo southwards.[9] Its marae, O Te Ika Rama, is located in Gore.[2]

Trading enterprise

Ngāi Tahu actively owns or invests in many businesses throughout the country. In the 2008 financial year, Ngai Tahu Holdings had a net surplus of $80.4 million, of which $11.5 million was distributed to members of the iwi via runanga and whanau.[11]


Primary industries

  • Ngāi Tahu Seafood
  • 31 forests totaling more than 100,000 hectares

Property and other investments

Ngāi Tahu Property currently has assets with a market value in excess of $550 million. Ngāi Tahu has an investment portfolio of prime properties including:[13]

  • Akaroa residential developments
  • Armstrong Prestige, Christchurch
  • Christchurch Civic Building
  • Christchurch Courts Complex
  • The former Christchurch Police Station site[14]
  • Christchurch Post Building (with Christchurch City Council)
  • Christchurch residential developments
  • Dunedin Police Station
  • Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools
  • Governor's Bay residential developments
  • Iveagh Bay Terraces
  • Lincoln Farm subdivision (with Lincoln University)
  • Mahaanui Office (for Department of Conservation)
  • O'Regans Wharf, Lake Esplanade, Queenstown
  • Building 4 (Queenstown Courts Building)
  • Queenstown Police Station
  • Pig and Whistle, Queenstown
  • Ryman Healthcare (40 million shares)
  • Sockburn Business Park, Blenheim Road
  • St Omer Wharf, Queenstown
  • Tower Junction Village, Addington
  • Tower Junction Megacentre, Christchurch
  • Turners Car Auctions, Addington
  • Tumara Park
  • Wigram Air Base, Christchurch.
  • Wigram National Trade Academy
  • Wigram Village[15]

Tahu FM

Tahu FM is the iwi's official radio station. It began as Christchurch's Te Reo Iriraki Ki Otautahi on 6 February 1991. Between 1996 and 2001, it formed a broadcasting partnership with Mai FM and began playing more urban contemporary music.[16] It changed its name to Tahu FM in December 1997, and briefly changed its name to Mai FM in 1999 before reverting to Tahu FM.[17] It broadcasts in Christchurch on 90.5 FM. In 2000 it began broadcasting Kaikoura on 90.7 FM, Dunedin on 95.0 FM, Invercargill on 99.6 FM, and around the country on 505 Sky Digital.[18]

Tahu FM resumed broadcasting five days after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, with assistance from Te Upoko O Te Ika and other iwi radio stations, and operated as the city's Māori language civil defence station.[19] In December 2014 it was recognised as the country's highest-rating Māori radio station.[20][21][22]

Notable Ngāi Tahu


  1. "2013 Census iwi individual profiles: Ngāi Tahu / Kāi Tahu". Stats NZ. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  2. "Rohe". Te Puni Kōkiri, New Zealand Government. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  3. Tau, Te Maire, "Ngāi Tahu]", Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
  4. "Captain Stewart and the Elizabeth – a frontier of chaos?". Ministry for Culture and Heritage, NZ History online. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  5. Harlow, R. (1987). A word-list of South Island Maori. Auckland: Linguistic Society of New Zealand. ISBN 0-9597603-2-6
  6. Harlow, R.B. (1979). ""Regional Variation in Maori". New Zealand Journal of Archaeology, 1, 123–138.
  7. For example: "Research". Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Retrieved 16 June 2014. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (TRoNT) is regularly approached by researchers and organisations seeking engagement, advice or support for various research projects.
  8. "Papatipu Rūnanga". Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  9. "Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu (Declaration of Membership) Order 2001". New Zealand Government. Archived from the original on 13 November 2006. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  10. "Marae project". Archived from the original on 5 February 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  11. Te Runanga o Ngāi Tahu, Annual Report 2008, page 85
  12. Archived 8 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  13. McDonald, Liz (10 August 2017). "Ngai Tahu's new $85m Christchurch office complex will 'strengthen city's mana'". The Press. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  14. Archived 20 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  15. "Tahu FM in joint venture with Auckland Station". 5 (9). Te Māori. p. 7.
  16. Reedy, Lisa (1999). "Tahu FM becomes Mai FM; Aroha mai, aroha atu – 'the things we do for love'" (10). AUT University. Te Karaka : the Ngai Tahu magazine. pp. 12–13.
  17. "Kaitaia". Welcome to the Radio Vault. New Zealand: The Radio Vault. 23 July 2009. Archived from the original on 22 January 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  18. "Iwi radio stations stand together in wake of earthquake". Human Rights Commission. Nga Reo Tangata: Media and Diversity Network. 16 March 2011. Archived from the original on 7 January 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  19. "Iwi Radio Coverage" (PDF). Māori Media Network. 2007. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  20. Peata Melbourne. "Tahu FM named top iwi radio station in the country". Television New Zealand. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  21. Reedy, Lisa (1999). "Tahu FM becomes Mai FM; Aroha mai, aroha atu – 'the things we do for love'". Te Karaka : The Ngai Tahu Magazine (10): 12–13. ISSN 1173-6011.
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