Pākehā (or Pakeha; / - , - /,; Māori pronunciation: [ˈpaːkɛhaː]) is a Māori-language term for New Zealanders primarily of European descent. The term can also apply to fair-skinned persons, or to any non-Māori New Zealander. Papa'a has a similar meaning in Cook Islands Māori.
The etymology of the word pākehā remains unclear, but the term was in use by the late-18th century. In December 1814 the Māori children at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands were "no less eager to see the packaha than the grown folks". In Māori, plural noun-phrases of the term include ngā pākehā (the definite article) and he pākehā (the indefinite article). When the word was first adopted into English, the usual plural was "pakehas". However, speakers of New Zealand English are increasingly removing the terminal "s" and treating the term as a collective noun.
Opinions of the term vary amongst European New Zealanders. A survey of 6,507 New Zealanders in 2009 showed no support for the claim that the term "Pākehā" is associated with a negative evaluation. However, some reject it on the ground that they claim it is offensive, or they object to being named in a language other than their own.
In 2013 the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study carried out by the University of Auckland found no evidence that the word was widely considered to be derogatory; however, only 12 per cent of New Zealanders of European descent chose to be identified by the term, with the remainder preferring "New Zealander" (53 per cent), "New Zealand European" (25 per cent) and/or "Kiwi" (17 per cent).
The Oxford general English language dictionary defines pākehā as 'a white New Zealander', The Oxford Dictionary of New Zealandisms (2010) defines pākehā as a noun 'a light-skinned non-Polynesian New Zealander, especially one of British birth or ancestry as distinct from a Māori; a European or white person'; and as an adjective 'of or relating to Pākehā; non-Māori; European, white'.
Māori in the Bay of Islands and surrounding districts had no doubts about the meaning of the word pākehā in the 19th century. In 1831, thirteen rangatira from the Far North met at Kerikeri 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. To this day, the Māori term for the English language is "reo pākehā". Māori also used other terms such as tupua ("supernatural", "object of fear, strange being"), kehua ("ghosts"), and maitai ("metal" or referring to persons "foreign") to refer to some of the earliest visitors.
However, The Concise Māori Dictionary (Kāretu, 1990) defines the word pākehā as "foreign, foreigner (usually applied to white person)", while the English–Māori, Māori–English Dictionary (Biggs, 1990) defines Pākehā as "white (person)". Sometimes the term applies more widely to include all non-Māori. No Māori dictionary cites pākehā as derogatory. Some early Pākehā settlers who lived among Māori and adopted aspects of Māoritanga became known as "Pākehā Māori".
The etymology of pākehā is unknown, although the most likely sources are the words pākehakeha or pakepakehā, which refer to an oral tale of a "mythical, human like being, with fair skin and hair who possessed canoes made of reeds which changed magically into sailing vessels". When Europeans first arrived they rowed to shore in longboats, facing backwards. 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.
In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Encounters in the South Seas, the anthropologist Anne Salmond recorded that tribal traditions held that Toiroa, a tohunga from Mahia, had predicted the coming of the Europeans. He said "ko te pakerewha", meaning "it is the pakerewhā", red and white strangers.
There have been several dubious interpretations given to the word. 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 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 word poaka itself may come from the proto-Polynesian root *puaka, known in every Polynesian language ("puaka in Tongan, Uvean, Futunian, Rapa, Marquisian, Niuean, Rarotongan, Tokelauan, and Tuvaluan; it evolved to the later form puaʻa in Samoan, Tahitian, some Rapa dialects, and Hawaiian); or it might be borrowed or mixed with the English "porker". It is hard to say, since Polynesian peoples populated their islands bringing pigs with them from East Asia, but no pigs were brought to Aotearoa by them. The more common Māori word for flea is puruhi. It is also sometimes claimed that pākehā 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 attitudes toward the word pākehā when 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. Others object to the word, some strongly, claiming it to be derogatory or to carry implications of being an outsider, although this is often based on false information about the meaning of the term. Some believe being labelled "Pākehā" compromises their status and their birthright links to New Zealand. In the 1986 census, over 36,000 respondents ignored the ethnicities offered, including "Pākehā", writing-in their ethnicity as "New Zealander", or ignoring the question completely. 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 Zealanders" or by the colloquial term "Kiwis".
The term is commonly used by a range of journalists and columnists from The New Zealand Herald, the country's largest-circulation daily newspaper. Historian Judith Binney called herself a Pākehā and said, "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." New Zealand writer and historian Michael King wrote in 1985: "To say something is Pakeha in character is not to diminish its New Zealand-ness, as some people imply. It is to emphasise it." New Zealand politicians from across the political spectrum use the term, including Don Brash, John Key, Helen Clark, and Te Ururoa Flavell.
- European New Zealanders
- Haole, the analogous Hawaiian term
- Pākehā settlers
- Palagi, a term in Samoan sometimes used to describe foreigners
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One approach continues the references to those with white skin colour while the more inclusive refers to all those who are non-Maori appears to be gaining currency. Today 'Pakeha' is used to describe any peoples of non-Maori or non-Polynesian heritage
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