A Ngāi Tāmanuhiri Greeting From Muriwai, New Zealand

Greetings are different all over the world.

Members of the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri greet the Genographic team with a traditional Powhirl. Photo by Stephen Jones Photography, Gisborne, New Zealand

We shake hands and say “nice to meet you” or sometimes just a wave across the room is sufficient. The Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, a New Zealand iwi or Maori community located across the bay from Gisborne, perform a spiritual greeting called a powhiri that includes singing, dancing and a hongi, where the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri community and the visitors touch noses and share the breath of life considered to have come directly from the gods. This is how the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri welcomed the Genographic team into their community this week.

Hongi between Richard Brooking, the Chief Executive of the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Spencer Wells. Photo by Stephen Jones Photography, Gisborne, New Zealand
"The Quest to Map the World." - New Zealand
Hongi between a member of the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Genographic Project Principal Investigator in the Oceania region, Lisa Matisoo-Smith. Photo by Stephen Jones Photography, Gisborne, New Zealand

Lisa Matisoo-Smith is the Genographic Principal Investigator in the Oceania region. Over the last year, she has worked closely with the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, who were eager to learn more about their ancestral journey and what genetic branch the Maori are on the human family tree. During this visit Lisa returned genetic results and worked with a few additional members of the iwi to submit samples. Genographic Project Director Dr. Spencer Wells, the Washington, DC based Genographic Team and researchers from the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution joined Lisa on the field expedition.

Following the powhiri, Lisa and Spencer spoke with the community about the worldwide efforts of the Genographic Project and how New Zealand plays an important role as one of the final stops in man’s journeying and exploration. Modern humans first evolved in Africa more than 150,000 year ago, but arrived in New Zealand for the first time just 800 years ago. Dr. Matisoo-Smith then returned the results to several community members explaining that in just twelve Maori maternal lineages she found seven distinct hapotypes or genetic based clans.

"The Quest to Map the World." - New Zealand
Member of the iwi together with the Genographic Team around a campfire for an evening of storytelling. Photo by Stephen Jones Photography, Gisborne, New Zealand

“We are very excited about the results, which suggest that the founding population may have been larger than we had originally expected,” explained Dr. Matisoo-Smith.

"The Quest to Map the World." - New Zealand
Smiling faces of the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri community. Photo by Stephen Jones Photography, Gisborne, New Zealand.

After a communal lunch, the community elders treated the visitors to a scenic trip up the sacred hill top where Tamanuhiri, the ancestral father of the community, had once lived hundreds of years ago.

Following the powhirl, the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri invited the Genographic team to join them for lunch. Photo by Stephen Jones Photography, Gisborne, New Zealand

As more participants join the project, we often discover new lineages that can then tell us how diverse the Maori community is, and also what other parts of Polynesia are genetically similar or different to New Zealand.

Learn how you can take part in this global effort at www.Genographic.com

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Dr. Miguel Vilar is the Science Manager for National Geographic's Genographic Project. Miguel is also a molecular anthropologist and a science writer. His fieldwork has taken him to remote places throughout the South Pacific, East Africa, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. In the laboratory he researches the modern genetic diversity of human populations from Melanesia, Micronesia, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Miguel has published in several anthropology and genetics journals, as well as popular science magazines.