- For the extinct Waitaha Penguin species, see Megadyptes waitaha.
Waitaha is an early historical Māori iwi (tribe or nation). Inhabitants of the South Island of New Zealand, they were largely absorbed via marriage and conquest first by the Kāti Mamoe and then Ngāi Tahu from the 16th century onward. Today those of Waitaha descent are represented by the Ngāi Tahu iwi.
Another iwi known as Waitaha is said to have lived in antiquity in the Horowhenua area of the lower North Island.
Latter day claim
In 1995 a book by controversial author Barry Brailsford, Song of Waitaha: The Histories of a Nation, claimed that the ancestors of a "Nation of Waitaha" were the first inhabitants of New Zealand, three groups of people of different races, two of light complexion and one of dark complexion, who had arrived in New Zealand from an unspecified location in the Pacific, 67 generations before the book appeared. The book was controversial and the subject of political and tribal debate in New Zealand, and all reputable historians deny that this claimed Waitaha ever existed.
Although a series of further books, web sites and events have been based around these claims, they have been widely disputed and dismissed by scholars. Historian Michael King noted: "There was not a skerrick of evidence – linguistic, artifactual, genetic; no datable carbon or pollen remains, nothing – that the story had any basis in fact. Which would make Waitaha the first people on earth to live in a country for several millennia and leave no trace of their occupation."
Several organisations have "Waitaha" as part of their title, often as a synonym for Canterbury or in a generic "ancient links to the land" sense. Some are:
- Waitaha Scout Group, based in Dunedin, Otago
- Waitaha Cultural Council, Christchurch-based performance group
- Canterbury/Waitaha District Council of the NZEI
- University of Canterbury (Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha)
- Te Ara. The Encyclopedia of New Zealand entry
- Waitangi Tribunal discussion
- Early claims of pre-Māori settlement by Waitaha
- Neo-imperialism and the (mis)appropriation of indigenousness, piece by Makere Harawira, critical of Brailsford
- Skeptic Society discussion of Brailsford claims
- "Ngāi Tahu are the iwi comprised of Ngāi Tahu whānui; that is, the collective of the individuals who descend from the five primary hapū of Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Māmoe and Waitaha...", www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz
- Michael King (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-301867-1.