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Pākehā are New Zealandersmarker who are not of Māori blood lines. They are mostly descended from British and to a lesser extent Irish settlers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, although some Pākehā have Dutch, Scandinavian, German, Yugoslav or other ancestry. There is significant overlap with the Māori population, since the term Pākehā is based on predominant ancestory, while the term Māori is based on cultural self-identification . The word Pākehā is also sometimes used to refer to any person of predominantly European ancestry, including those that are not New Zealanders. It is also used in a wider scope to refer to any non-Māori.

Pākehā is a Māori term, the origins of which are unclear, but which was in use by the late 18th century. Opinions of the term vary amongst those it describes. Some find it highly offensive, others are indifferent, while some happily use the term and find the main alternative, New Zealand European, inappropriate.



Māori in the Bay of Islandsmarker and surrounding districts had no doubts about the meaning of the word in the 19th century. In 1831, thirteen chiefly rangatira from the far north of the country met at Kerikerimarker to compose a letter to King William IV, seeking protection from the French, "the tribe of Marion". Written in Māori the letter used the word "pākehā" to mean British European, and the words "tau iwi" to mean strangers (non British) as shown in the translation that year of the letter from Māori to English by the missionary William Yate.

The word today still mostly applies narrowly to just New Zealanders of European (primarily British and Irishmarker) descent, and this is the interpretation used in official New Zealand documents and forms. However, The Concise Māori Dictionary (Kāretu, 1990) defines the word as "foreign, foreigner (usually applied to white person)", while the English–Māori, Māori–English Dictionary (Biggs, 1990) defines Pākehā as "white (person)". Sometimes it is applied more widely to include all non-Māori. No Māori dictionary cites 'Pākehā' as derogatory. Some early European settlers who lived among Māori became known as Pākehā Māori.

The term has more recently begun to be particularly applied to New Zealand-born persons of predominantly European descent as a means of distinguishing themselves from more recent settlers and emphasising their temporal and spatial distinctiveness, but acceptance of this notion remains still far from universal. New Zealanders, primarily but not exclusively of European descent, and some of them not born in the country, reject any ethnicity-based label. When completing the "ethnicity" question in the 2006 census, which did not include pākehā as an ethnicity option, eleven percent of respondents bypassed the category 'New Zealand European' to choose 'New Zealander'.

Origins of the word

The origins of the word Pākehā are unknown, although the most likely sources are the words pākehakeha or pakepakehā, which refer to mythical human-like creatures, with fair skin and hair, sometimes described as having come from the sea. When Europeans first arrived they rowed to shore in longboats, facing backwards while rowing the boats to shore. In traditional Māori canoes or "waka", paddlers face the direction of travel. This is supposed to have led to the belief that the sailors were supernatural beings.

There have been several dubious interpretations given to the word Pākehā. One claims that it derives from poaka the Māori word for (pig), and keha, one of the Māori words for (flea), and therefore expresses derogatory implications. There is no etymological or linguistic support for this notion - like all Polynesian languages, Māori is generally very conservative in terms of vowels; it would be extremely unusual for 'pā-' to derive from 'poaka'. The more common Māori word for flea is puruhi. It is also sometimes claimed that 'Pakeha' means white pig or unwelcome white stranger. However, no part of the word signifies "pig", "white", "unwelcome", or "stranger".

Attitudes to the term

New Zealanders of European ancestry vary in their attitude toward the word "Pākehā" as applied to themselves. Some embrace it wholeheartedly as a sign of their connection to New Zealand, in contrast to the European identity of their forebears. It is commonly used by a range of journalists and columnists from the New Zealand Herald, New Zealand's largest-circulation daily newspaper. Others object to the word, some strongly, claiming it to be derogatory or to carry implications of being an outsider. Some believe being labelled as Pākehā compromises their status and their birthright links to New Zealand. A joint response code of "NZ European or Pakeha" was tried in the 1996 census, but was replaced by "New Zealand European" in later censuses because it drew what Statistics New Zealand described as a "significant adverse reaction from some respondents". Sociologist Paul Spoonley criticised the new version, however, saying that many Pākehā would not identify as European.

The term Pākehā is also sometimes used among New Zealanders of European ancestry in distinction to the Māori term Tauiwi (foreigner), as an act of emphasising their claims of belonging to the space of New Zealand in contrast to more recent arrivals. Those who prefer to emphasise nationality rather than ethnicity in relating to others living in New Zealand may refer to all New Zealand citizens only as New Zealandersmarker.

Historian Judith Binney calls herself a Pākehā and says, "I think it is the most simple and practical term. It is a name given to us by Māori. It has no pejorative associations like people think it does—it's a descriptive term. I think it's nice to have a name the people who live here gave you, because that's what I am".


The point at which European settlers in New Zealand became Pākehā - or indeed New Zealanders - is subjective. The first European settlers arrived in New Zealand in the early nineteenth century, but most were missionaries, traders and adventurers who did not intend to stay permanently. From the 1840s, following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the assumption of British sovereignty, large numbers of Europeans began to settle permanently in New Zealand. Most of these settlers were from Britainmarker, with a disproportionate number coming from Scotlandmarker. There were also numerous settlers from Ireland and Northern and Central Europe.

In the late nineteenth century there were some moves towards cultural nationalism, and many Pākehā began to see themselves as different from people living in Britain. However there were still strong ties to the 'mother country' (the United Kingdom, particularly Englandmarker), which were maintained well into the twentieth century. Until some point in the mid twentieth century most Pākehā considered themselves to be both British and New Zealanders. Many Pākehā intellectuals migrated to Britain in order to pursue their careers as this was not possible in New Zealand. Notable expatriate Pākehā from this period include writer Katherine Mansfield and physicist Ernest Rutherford.

Pākehā ties with Britain were drastically weakened in the decades after World War II. Quicker, cheaper international travel allowed more Pākehā to visit and live in other countries, where they saw that they were different from the British and felt the need for a stronger national identity. In 1973, Britain joined the European Economic Community, cutting New Zealand off from free trade with its biggest market and leaving Pākehā feeling betrayed by the people they had thought of as their own. Meanwhile, Māori were becoming more assertive, especially about the value of their culture and their ownership over it. The Māori cultural renaissance made many Pākehā feel that they lacked a culture of their own, and from the 1970s numerous Pākehā writers and artists began to explore issues of Pākehā identity and culture. It was at this point that the word 'Pākehā' grew in popularity, although it remained controversial.

Many Pākehā have become successful on the world stage. These include sportspeople such as Susan Devoy, Mark Todd, Richard Hadlee and numerous All Blacks including Colin Meads and Sean Fitzpatrick. In the arts, director Peter Jackson, writers Janet Frame and Lloyd Jones and artist Billy Apple are all well-known Pākehā. However while famous Māori and Polynesian New Zealanders are usually identified by ethnic group as well as nationality, famous Pākehā are usually referred to simply as 'New Zealanders'.

Cultural identity

In general, Pākehā continue to develop identities distinct from and complementary to those of their (often) British origins and those of the other Anglosphere nation-states such as Australia, the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker and Irelandmarker, as well as Māori. As with most other settler societies, it can be said descriptively that Pākehā contemporary culture is an amalgam of cultural practices, tensions, and accommodations: British/European with some Māori and Polynesian influences and more recently wider cultural inputs, particularly from Chinese and other Far Eastern cultures. Some have also argued that especially modern Pākehā culture is defined by "shock entry" of Britain into the European Economic Community in 1975, which "[left] the descendents of the colonisers, the Anglo-Celtic majorities, seemingly abandoned and marooned in Australia and New Zealand".

However, defining 'Pākehā Culture' can be a problematic project, because there are many cultural activities shared by Māori and Pākehā - for example, Rugby football is a game enjoyed by many New Zealanders; to refer to it exclusively as Pākehā culture would be misleading given that although it is a sport of English origin it is widely popular amongst contemporary New Zealanders with Māori heritage. Similarly, Christianity in New Zealand, despite its Pākehā practice and foreign origins, has also been shaped by Māori through movements such as the Ratana Church and Destiny Church, as well as their involvements in churches of European origin such as the Anglican Church. Where Pākehā identity is identified, commonly NZ kitsch and symbols from marketing such as the Chesdale Cheese men are used as signifiers, and might more appropriately be called "Kiwiana".

Michael King, a leading writer on Pākehā identity, discussed the concept of distinct Pākehā practices and imaginations in his books Being Pākehā (1985) and Being Pākehā Now (1999), and the edited collection, Pakeha: The Quest for Identity in New Zealand (1991), conceptualising Pākehā as New Zealand's "second indigenous" culture.

In contrast, some have a more critical view, describing Pākehā as "the people who define themselves by what they are not. Who want to forget their origins, their history, their cultural inheritance — who want Māori, likewise, to deny their origins so that we can all start off afresh."

See also

References and notes

  1. Statistical definitions of Māori have varied over time. From 1986 the emphasis of the census question on ethnicity changed to enable people to identify with the Māori ethnic group on the basis of cultural affiliation. Ethnicity is self-perceived and people can belong to more than one ethnic group. [1]
  2. In the Māori language the plural form is also Pākehā. When the word was first adopted, the usual plural in English was Pakehas. However the Māori plural form Pākehā is now increasingly being used in New Zealand English, either with or without the macrons.
  3. Binney, Judith (2007). Te Kerikeri 1770-1850, The Meeting Pool, Bridget Williams Books (Wellington) in association with Craig Potton Publishing (Nelson). ISBN 10-1-877242-38-1. Chapter 13, "The Māori Leaders' Assembly, Kororipo Pā, 1831", by Manuka Henare, pp 114-116.
  4. Orsman, Elizabeth and Harry (1994). The New Zealand Dictionary, Educational Edition. New House Publishers, Auckland. ISBN 1869469496. Page 193, second meaning.
  5. Common alternative designations for Pākehā in New Zealand include "New Zealand Europeans" or "European New Zealanders" and sometimes "Caucasian New Zealanders" or "White New Zealanders".
  6. ‘Pakeha’, its origin and meaning by Jodie Ranford,
  7. These include Garth George, a conservative Pakeha columnist[2], Rawiri Taonui, a somewhat radical Maori academic[3], and John Armstrong, a mainstream political columnist.[4]
  8. Tapu Misa, 'Ethnic Census status tells the whole truth', New Zealand Herald, 8 March 2006.
  9. 'Pakeha' Identity, Whitiwhiti Korero, issue 5, March 2006. Human Rights Commission. ISSN 1176-842.
  10. Statistics New Zealand. (2009). Draft report of a review of the official ethnicity statistical standard: proposals to address issues relating to the ‘New Zealander’ response. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-478-31583-7. Accessed 27 April 2009.
  11. 'Census poses a $38m question', New Zealand Herald, 10 March 2001.
  12. It's history, but not as we know it, Interview with Judith Binney, New Zealand Herald, 18 June 2005.
  13. From Zero to 360 degrees: Cultural Ownership in a Post-European Age - Mane-Wheoki, Jonathan; University of Canterbury, International Council of Museums, Council for Education and Cultural Action Conference, New Zealand, via the Christchurch Art Gallery website. Accessed 2009-10-27.

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