Once Were IWI ? A Brief Institutional Analysis of Maori Tribal Organisations Through Time

New Zealand Business Roundtable Working Paper, September 2008

32 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2008

See all articles by Frederic Sautet

Frederic Sautet

The Catholic University of America (CUA) - Busch School of Business

Date Written: September 22, 2008


This is an academic and policy paper that examines the economic and cultural role of one of the most important traditional Maori institutions, the Iwi, in the life of the people of Maori descent in contemporary New Zealand. This paper was prepared as part of a book project "Te Oranga o te Iwi Maori: A Study of Maori Economic and Social Progress." It has been released as a separate working paper. This paper should be of interest to economists, anthropologists, and researchers in social studies.

Maori comprise approximately 15 percent of the New Zealand population. Census data recognise over 60 distinct iwi (tribal) groups, ranging in size from fewer than 1,000 people to almost 100,000. However, rapid urbanisation following World War II means that the majority of Maori now live outside their traditional iwi areas (or rohe). Indeed, given urbanisation, a high rate of intermarriage between Maori and non-Maori, and government policy that, until comparatively recently, was premised on notions of assimilation, it is hardly surprising that proximately 25 percent of Maori are unable to identify the iwi from which they originate. Since the early 1980s Maori institutions (especially formative structures such as iwi) have experienced considerable resurgence.

This paper argues that iwi were a rational (and successful) response to the challenges of the pre-industrialised world. Indeed, while iwi have numerous parallels with tribal arrangements throughout the world, a factor that makes Maori institutional arrangements largely unique was the ongoing level of adaptation and entrepreneurial flair displayed, particularly during the initial phases of European colonisation of New Zealand before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. This paper focuses principally on the institutional and economic role of the iwi. It acknowledges that the cultural aspects of the iwi and the Maori world (that is, tikanga and matauranga) enable us to better explain the present situation. They also matter to the future of the iwi. However, the discussion is restricted mostly to the institutional issue.

It is unsurprising that Maori institutional history engenders considerable nostalgia (and even reverence) today, with the corollary being whether some adaptation of traditional collective arrangements based on kinship can form the basis of contemporary Maori economic, social, and political development. This paper suggests that while iwi have a potentially important role in managing collectively owned assets, such an 'all-embracing' or 'one-stop shop' approach contains serious limitations. The question, therefore, is how to identify these limitations, manage them if possible, and avoid them when necessary.

Keywords: Maori, Institutions, Tribe, Entrepreneurship, Culture

JEL Classification: N00, O10, P50, Z00

Suggested Citation

Sautet, Frederic E., Once Were IWI ? A Brief Institutional Analysis of Maori Tribal Organisations Through Time (September 22, 2008). New Zealand Business Roundtable Working Paper, September 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1271898

Frederic E. Sautet (Contact Author)

The Catholic University of America (CUA) - Busch School of Business ( email )

Maloney Hall
620 Michigan Ave, NE
Washington, DC 20064
United States

HOME PAGE: http://business.cua.edu/faculty/sautet.cfm

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