Story: Ngā haumi a iwi – Māori investment

Page 1. Māori economy

All images & media in this story

In 2005/6 Māori-owned commercial assets were estimated to be worth $16.5 billion:

  1. 52% were invested in primary industries – forestry, fisheries and agriculture
  2. 8% in secondary industries – processing primary products
  3. 40% in tertiary industries – the service industries, particularly tourism.

In the early 2000s Māori business made up only a small part of the New Zealand economy (1.4%), mostly concentrated in export industries.

Approximately 75% of the Māori asset base was in the North Island, with a high percentage – 47% – in the Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions.

Customary trade

Prior to European arrival in New Zealand, the Māori economy was based on a barter system. Hapū (subtribes) and iwi (tribes) exchanged goods on a regular basis. Lands, fisheries and natural resources were under the jurisdiction of hapū and iwi. Exchange of goods was a customary practice which distributed food and other materials around the country.

This extensive trade system among hapū and iwi was rapidly adapted to barter with early European arrivals to New Zealand.

Stone knives


Glassy argillite was highly prized by Māori as a ready source of sharp blades. It is found in only two areas of New Zealand, but within a short period after its discovery it had been traded with tribes all around the country. Some even made it to the Chatham Islands.


Trade with Europeans

Sealing, whaling and the flax trade began a transformation of the Māori economy. The establishment of whaling stations along the coastlines gave hapū and iwi greater access to new technology and goods. Timber, flax, fish and foods were exchanged for things like metal tools, and woollen cloth and blankets.

By the 1840s, Māori were using pigs and potatoes as a standard form of currency. Māori entrepeneurial flair saw iwi plying their own trading vessels carrying goods between settlements, and exporting food and goods to and from Sydney.

Land loss

Loss of iwi lands became significant from the 1840s. By 1860 South Island Māori had lost most of their land, while the 1860s saw the beginning of significant land loss for most iwi in the North Island. Confiscations after the New Zealand wars took large areas of fertile lands from tribes.

Large-scale loss of land had a direct and dramatic consequence for Māori economically, as well as socially, culturally and politically. Losses continued in the 20th century, including land taken by local councils for public works.

The Māori land march of 1975 and the Bastion Point occupation of 1977–78 highlighted Māori distress over the loss of land. The establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975, and subsequent law changes to allow for investigations into breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi back to 1840, began a period of redress, which led to a period of economic revitalisation for iwi.

1980s economic reforms

The reform of the public service and the privatisation of publicly owned assets in the 1980s put a lot of Māori out of work, but together with ongoing treaty settlements, prompted iwi to focus on joint ventures.

Influential Māori leaders facilitated the 1984 Hui Taumata, a planning meeting which gave momentum to the idea of a Māori economy, based on self-determination, iwi development and self-reliance.

State-owned enterprises

In 1987 the New Zealand Māori Council won a landmark case in relation to the State-owned Enterprise Act 1986. The High Court finding required the Crown to give heed to potential Māori claims to ownership when disposing of surplus Crown assets such as land, and to acknowledge existing or future Māori claims against land and other assets being transferred to new Crown companies.

How to cite this page:

Edward Ellison, 'Ngā haumi a iwi – Māori investment - Māori economy', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Edward Ellison, published 11 Mar 2010