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The Coming of the Maori

The Formation of the Tribe

The Formation of the Tribe

The smallest social unit is the biological family, which the Maori termed whanau, derived from whanau, to give birth. With each generation, the number of families increased and reached such numbers that the restricted term of whanau could no longer be applied to the group. The term hapu (pregnancy) was used to denote this expanded family group for it expressed the idea of birth from common ancestors and thus stressed the blood tie which united the families for the purpose of co-operation in active operations and in defence. If all went well, the hapu expanded still further in succeeding generations making it necessary for groups to separate from the original settlement and take up land in neighbouring localities. Thus the original hapu expanded into a number of hapu, but, as numbers were important in the frequent wars which took place, the hapu still recognized their common blood descent and united when occasion arose. The term iwi (bone) was brought into current use to include all the hapu descended from common ancestors and thus related to each other by a blood tie. To denote the groupings in English, the iwi has been termed tribe and the hapu a sub-tribe.

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Some sub-tribes remained restricted in numbers or even disappeared through ill fortune in war and other sub-tribes expanded so much that they assumed the status of a tribe and split into sub-tribes. Hence, the descendants of an original pair of ancestors became, in time, grouped into a number of tribes, each with its own sub-tribes. The connecting tie between sub-tribes was close and strong, and, though quarrels broke out between them, they were always ready to combine under tribal leadership for co-operation in tribal affairs. The tie between tribes descended from common ancestors was not so strong but it was recognized and served to bind them together loosely in a form of tribal federation. Such tribes often fought bitter wars between themselves but would unite against outside tribes for common defence or aggression. A similar sentiment would often unite tribes whose ancestors belonged to different families but who came in the same voyaging canoe. The claim for co-operation was the waka, or ancestral canoe, and an eloquent orator could arouse sentiment to the point of action.