The Guardians of Pounamu

Ngāi Tahu the people

Ngāi Tahu is the largest Māori iwi (tribe) of the South Island of New Zealand - Te Waipounamu, (which means ‘the Greenstone Isle’). We hold the rangatiratanga to over 80 per cent of the South Island. Ngāi Tahu means "people of Tahu" and all Ngāi Tahu whānui can trace their ancestry back to the tribe's founder, Tahu Pōtiki.

Ngāi Tahu is the result of the interweaving of three whakapapa lines from Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu. We are a resilient, entrepreneurial people who made our home in Te Waipounamu over 800 years ago.

Ngāi Tahu the guardians

In 1997 the New Zealand Government returned the rights of greenstone ownership to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the iwi’s elected tribal council. (It is important to note here, that greenstone is also known as nephrite or jade and, in Māori,  pounamu).

Ngāi Tahu are therefore the kaitiaki of all South Island greenstone, the only known source of authentic New Zealand pounamu. This was a huge moment both for the tribe and for the greater identity of New Zealand.   

The importance of the stone to the greater identity of Māori cannot be undervalued. Along with rights to pounamu came the key responsibility of ensuring pounamu can be sustainably managed. This means not just caring for the stone but also protecting and advocating for the rivers it comes from, the artists that shape it and the communities that surround it.

Guidance for permit holders and applicants in Pounamu Management Areas can be found here.

Visit the Ngāi Tahu website for more information.