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Whānau (Māori pronunciation: [ˈfaːnaʉ]) is a Māori-language word for extended family. It is also used in everyday New Zealand English,[1] as well as in official publications.[2][3]

In Māori society, the whānau is also a political unit[citation needed], below the levels of hapū and iwi, and the word itself has other meanings: as a verb meaning to be born or give birth.

Whakapapa is Māori genealogy. First on the whakapapa comes the waka, the canoe on which the people first arrived in New Zealand. Second is the iwi (tribe), then the hapū (subtribe) and then whānau.

Early Māori society[edit]

In the Māori tribal organisation the whānau comprises a family spanning three to four generations. It forms the smallest partition of the Māori society.[4]

In the ancient Māori society, before the arrival of the Pākehā, a whānau consisted of the kaumātua (tribal elders), senior adults such as parents, uncles and aunts, and the sons and daughters together with their partners and children. Large whānau lived in their own compound in the . Whānau also had their own gardening plots and their own fishing and hunting spots. The whānau was economically self-sufficient. In warfare, it supported the iwi (tribe) or a hapū (sub-tribe).

Contemporary conceptions[edit]

Contemporary conceptions offer whānau in one of two ways:

  1. An “object or construction based on descent, cause or a mix of the two”; or
  2. “A collection of ideas”.[5]

As a descent construct, ‘whānau’ has been variably described as “the extended family”,[6] “the extended family or community”,[7] or simply "family".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linklater, David (31 August 2008). "Keep the whanau smiling". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  2. ^ educate.ece.govt.nz
  3. ^ cyf.govt.nz
  4. ^ The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 15 May 2013.
  5. ^ Gray, K. A. P. (2008). Tāniko : public participation, young Māori women, & whānau health (Thesis). Massey Research Online. p. 10. hdl:10179/640.
  6. ^ Moltzen, R.; Macfarlane, H. A. (2006). "New Zealand: gifted and talented Maori learners". In B. Wallace; G. Eriksson (eds.). Diversity in gifted education: International perspectives on global issues. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 305–307.
  7. ^ Thomas, T.; LaGrow, S. J (1994). "Whanau workers: Providing services for the indigenous people of New Zealand". Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. 88 (1): 86–90 [87]. doi:10.1177/0145482X9408800113. S2CID 220594467.
  8. ^ Pere, R. (1984). "Te orange o te whanau: The health of the family". In Maori Health Planning Workshop (ed.). Hui Whakaoranga: Maori health planning workshop, Hoani Waititi Marae, 19-2 March, 1984. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Department of Health.