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Pākehā (or Pakeha; /ˈpɑːkɪhɑː/, Māori pronunciation: [ˈpaːkɛhaː]) is a Māori-language term for New Zealanders primarily of European descent.[1] The term is also applied to fair-skinned persons, or to any non-Māori New Zealander.[2][3] Papa'a has a similar meaning in Cook Islands Māori.[1][4]

Its etymology is unclear, but the term pākehā 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".[5] In Māori, plural nouns of the term include ngā pākehā (the definite article) and he pākehā (the indefinite article). When the word was first adopted, the usual plural in English 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 sample of 6,507 New Zealanders found no support for the claim that the term "Pākehā" is associated with a negative evaluation.[6] However, some reject it on the ground that they claim it is offensive,[7] or they object to being named in a language other than their own.[7]

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) or "Kiwi" (17 per cent).[8][9]


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.[10] 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"),[11] kehua ("ghosts"),[12] and maitai ("metal" or referring to persons "foreign")[13] to refer to some of the earliest visitors.[14]

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.[15] No Māori dictionary cites pākehā as derogatory. Some early European settlers who lived among Māori 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".[16] 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.[17][18]

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.[19] 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".[20]

Attitudes to the term[edit]

New Zealanders of European ancestry vary in their attitudes toward the word pākehā when applied to themselves.[21][8] 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,[7] 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.[22] Some believe being labelled "Pākehā" compromises their status and their birthright links to New Zealand.[23] 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.[21] 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".[24] Sociologist Paul Spoonley criticised the new version, however, saying that many Pākehā would not identify as European.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27] 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."[28] 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."[29] New Zealand politicians from across the political spectrum use the term, including Don Brash,[30] John Key,[31] Helen Clark,[32] and Te Ururoa Flavell.[33]


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 Britain, with a disproportionate number coming from Scotland. 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 England), 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.[34] 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.

Cultural identity[edit]

In general, Pākehā have developed and continue to develop identities distinct from and complementary to those of their (often) British origins and those of the other Anglophone nation-states such as Australia, the United States, Canada and Ireland, 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.

Christianity in New Zealand, despite its foreign origins, has also been shaped by Māori through movements such as the Rātana Church, as well as their involvement 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,[35] and might more appropriately be called "Kiwiana".

Michael King, a leading writer and historian on Pākehā identity, discussed the concept of distinct Pākehā practices and imaginations in his books:[36] 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.[36] By contrast, Māori art historian Jonathan Mane-Wheoki described 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 Maori, likewise, to deny their origins so that we can all start off afresh."[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pākehā: New Zealander of European descent, Kupu.maori.nz, archived from the original on 15 August 2017, retrieved 16 September 2017
  2. ^ Ranford, Jodie. "'Pakeha', Its Origin and Meaning". Māori News. Archived from the original on 24 February 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2008. 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
  3. ^ "Pakeha". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  4. ^ Language of the Islands: A Papa'a's Guide Archived 11 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, http://www.cookislands.org.uk Archived 20 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 18 November 2010.
  5. ^ Nicholas, John Liddiard (1817). "Narrative of a voyage to New Zealand, performed in the years 1814 and 1815, in company with the Rev. Samuel Marsden". J. Black and son, London. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  6. ^ Sibley, Chris G.; Houkamau, Carla A.; Hoverd, William James (2011). "Ethnic Group Labels and Intergroup Attitudes in New Zealand: Naming Preferences Predict Distinct Ingroup and Outgroup Biases". Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. 11 (1): 201–220. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01244.x.
  7. ^ a b c Mulgan, R.G. and Aimer, P. "Politics in New Zealand Archived 15 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine" 3rd ed., Auckland University Press pp.29–31
  8. ^ a b Research busts myth that "Pākehā" is a derogatory term, archived from the original on 18 May 2017, retrieved 31 March 2017
  9. ^ "Pakeha not a dirty word – survey", NZ Herald, 5 February 2013, retrieved 31 March 2017
  10. ^ Binney, Judith (2007). Te Kerikeri 1770–1850, The Meeting Pool, Bridget Williams Books (Wellington) in association with Craig Potton Publishing (Nelson). ISBN 978-1-877242-38-0 . Chapter 13, "The Māori Leaders' Assembly, Kororipo Pā, 1831", by Manuka Henare, pp 114–116.
  11. ^ Māori Dictionary, Maoridictionary.co.nz, archived from the original on 29 April 2013, retrieved 31 May 2013
  12. ^ Māori Dictionary, Maoridictionary.co.nz, archived from the original on 29 April 2013, retrieved 31 May 2013
  13. ^ Māori Dictionary, Maoridictionary.co.nz, 30 June 1903, archived from the original on 29 April 2013, retrieved 31 May 2013
  14. ^ The First Pakehas to Visit The Bay of Islands, Teaohou.natlib.govt.nz, archived from the original on 12 January 2014, retrieved 31 May 2013
  15. ^ Orsman, Elizabeth and Harry (1994). The New Zealand Dictionary, Educational Edition. New House Publishers, Auckland. ISBN 1-86946-949-6. Page 193, second meaning.
  16. ^ Ranford, Jodie. "'Pakeha', its origin and meaning". www.maorinews.com. Archived from the original on 24 February 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  17. ^ Binney, Judith (December 1984). "Myth and explanation in the Ringatū tradition: some aspects of the leadership of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki and Rua Kēnana Hepetipa". Journal of the Polynesian Society. 93 (4): 345–398.
  18. ^ The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Encounters in the South Seas, by Anne Salmond, Chapter 7, "Travellers from Hawaiki".
  19. ^ Gray, Claire; Nabila, Jaber; Anglem, Jim (2013). "Pakeha Identity and Whitness: What does it mean to be White?". 10 (2). Otago University: 84. Archived from the original on 28 January 2018. Retrieved 17 September 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ (1) Williams, H. W. (1971). A dictionary of the Maori language (7th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Government Printer. (2) Ngata, H. M. (1993). English-Maori dictionary. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media. (3) Ryan, P. (1997). The Reed dictionary of modern Maori (2nd ed.). Auckland, New Zealand: Reed. (4) Biggs, B. (1981). Complete English–Maori dictionary. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
  21. ^ a b Bell, Avril (1996) '"We're Just New Zealanders": Pakeha Identity Politics' in P. Spoonley et al (eds) Nga Patai: Racism and Ethnic Relations in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Palmerston North: Dunmore, pp144-158, 280–281 Bell, Avril. "We're just New Zealanders': Pakeha identity politics". Nga Patai: Racism and Ethnic Relations in Aotearoa/ …. Archived from the original on 6 May 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  22. ^ Misa, Tapu (8 March 2006). "Ethnic Census status tells the whole truth". New Zealand Herald. APN Holdings. Archived from the original on 28 June 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  23. ^ 'Pakeha' Identity Archived 31 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Whitiwhiti Korero, issue 5, March 2006. Human Rights Commission.
  24. ^ 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 Archived 4 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-478-31583-7. Accessed 27 April 2009.
  25. ^ "Census poses a $38m question". New Zealand Herald. APN Holdings. 10 March 2001. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  26. ^ Wedde, Ian; Burke, Gregory (1990). Now See Hear!: Art, Language, and Translation. Victoria University Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780864730961. Archived from the original on 17 September 2017.
  27. ^ These include Garth George, a conservative Pākehā columnist [1], Rawiri Taonui, a somewhat radical Maori academic [2], and John Armstrong, a mainstream political columnist.[3]
  28. ^ Barton, Chris (18 June 2005). "It's history, but not as we know it (interview with Judith Binney)". New Zealand Herald. APN Holdings. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  29. ^ King, M. (1985), Being Pakeha: An encounter with New Zealand and the Maori Renaissance, Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton.
  30. ^ "NATIONHOOD – Don Brash Speech Orewa Rotary Club | Scoop News". Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 15 September 2017
  31. ^ "Read Hansard Reports". www.parliament.nz. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  32. ^ "Read Hansard Reports". www.parliament.nz. Archived from the original on 1 November 2017. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  33. ^ "Flavell: Address at the Maori Party 10th Anniversary – Scoop News". www.scoop.co.nz. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  34. ^ a b Mane-Wheoki 2000, p. 11.
  35. ^ Mane-Wheoki 2000, p. 10 cites Mike Harding, When the Pakeha Sings of Home. Auckland, 1992.
  36. ^ a b "The indigenous Pakeha: An interview with Michael King". Critical English Online. waikato.ac.n. Archived from the original on 11 April 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2017.


External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of 'pākehā' at Wiktionary