Pākehā is a Māori language
Maori language
Māori or te reo Māori , commonly te reo , is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand...

 word for New Zealanders
New Zealanders
New Zealanders, colloquially known as Kiwis, are citizens of New Zealand. New Zealand is a multiethnic society, and home to people of many different national origins...

 who are "of European descent". They are mostly descended from British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 and to a lesser extent Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 settlers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, although some Pākehā have Dutch, Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n, German
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

, Yugoslav
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

 or other ancestry. Although both "Māori" and "Pākehā" terms are based on predominant ancestry, from 1916 a race (classification of humans) or cultural self-identification tool has been used by the New Zealand government in statistical definitions, which has caused some confusion. The word Pākehā is also sometimes used to refer to any person of predominantly European ancestry, including those that are not New Zealanders. Papa'a has a similar meaning in Cook Islands Māori
Cook Islands Maori
The Cook Islands Māori language, also called Māori Kūki 'Āirani or Rarotongan, is the official language of the Cook Islands. Most Cook Islanders also call it Te reo Ipukarea, literally "the language of the Ancestral Homeland"....


The origins of the term are unclear, but it was in use by the late 18th century. In the Māori language
Maori language
Māori or te reo Māori , commonly te reo , is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand...

, plural nouns of Pākehā may include Ngā Pākehā (definite article) and He Pākehā (indefinite article). When the word was first adopted, the usual plural in English was Pakehas. However New Zealand English
New Zealand English
New Zealand English is the dialect of the English language used in New Zealand.The English language was established in New Zealand by colonists during the 19th century. It is one of "the newest native-speaker variet[ies] of the English language in existence, a variety which has developed and...

 speakers are increasingly removing the terminal s and treating Pākehā as a collective noun. Opinions of the term vary amongst those it describes. Some find it highly offensive, others are indifferent, some find it inaccurate and archaic, while some happily use the term and find the main alternatives such as New Zealand European
New Zealand European
The term New Zealand European refers to New Zealanders of European descent who identify as New Zealand Europeans rather than some other ethnic group...



Māori in the Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is an area in the Northland Region of the North Island of New Zealand. Located 60 km north-west of Whangarei, it is close to the northern tip of the country....

 and surrounding districts had no doubts about the meaning of the word in the 19th century. In 1831, thirteen rangatira
Rangatira are the hereditary Māori leaders of hapū, and were described by ethnologists such as Elsdon Best as chieftains . Ideally, rangatira were people of great practical wisdom who held authority on behalf of the tribe and maintained boundaries between a tribe's land and that of other tribes...

 from the far north
Far North District
The Far North District of New Zealand, as its name suggests, is the northernmost district within New Zealand, consisting of the northern tip of the North Island. The current mayor is Wayne Brown.-Geography:...

 of the country met at Kerikeri
Kerikeri, the largest town in the Northland Region of New Zealand, is a popular tourist destination about three hours drive north of Auckland, and 80 km north of Whangarei...

 to compose a letter to King William IV
William IV of the United Kingdom
William IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death...

, seeking protection from the French "the tribe of Marion"
Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne
Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne , with the surname sometimes spelt Dufresne, was a French explorer who made important discoveries in the south Indian Ocean, in Tasmania and in New Zealand, where he died...

. Written in Māori
Maori language
Māori or te reo Māori , commonly te reo , is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand...

 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. Other terms such as ‘tupua’ ("supernatural", "object of fear, strange being"), ‘kehua’ ("ghosts"), and 'maitai' ("metal" or referring to persons "foreign") were used by Māori to refer to some of the earliest visitors.

The word today still mostly applies narrowly to just New Zealanders of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an (primarily British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 and Irish
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

) 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
Pakeha Maori
Pākehā Māori is a term used to describe early European settlers in New Zealand who lived among the Māori. Some were kept by the Māori as slaves, while others settled in Māori communities by choice, many being runaway seamen or escaped convicts...


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 still remains 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 wrote in "New Zealander" or some close equivalent (e.g. "Kiwi").

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
Waka (canoe)
Waka are Māori watercraft, usually canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes used for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war canoes up to long...

", 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, historian Anne Salmond wrote 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 pakerewha", red and white strangers.

There have been several dubious interpretations given to the word Pākehā. One claims that it derives from poaka the Māori word for (pig
A pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. Pigs include the domestic pig, its ancestor the wild boar, and several other wild relatives...

), and keha, one of the Māori words for (flea
Flea is the common name for insects of the order Siphonaptera which are wingless insects with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood...

), 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. Still others find the term as being predominantly a relational term, and as archaic
In language, an archaism is the use of a form of speech or writing that is no longer current. This can either be done deliberately or as part of a specific jargon or formula...

 as calling Māori "natives", while also lacking any meaningful description of cultural roots. 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
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

, 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 Kiwis.

Historian Judith Binney
Judith Binney
Dame Judith Binney, DNZM, FRSNZ was a New Zealand historian, writer and Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Auckland. Her work focussed primarily on religion in New Zealand, especially the Māori Ringatū religion founded by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki and continued by Rua Kenana...

 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."


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
Treaty of Waitangi
The Treaty of Waitangi is a treaty first signed on 6 February 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and various Māori chiefs from the North Island of New Zealand....

 and the assumption of British sovereignty, large numbers of Europeans began to settle permanently in New Zealand. Most of these settlers were from Britain
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

, with a disproportionate number coming from Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

. 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
An expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing...

 Pākehā from this period include writer Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield
Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp Murry was a prominent modernist writer of short fiction who was born and brought up in colonial New Zealand and wrote under the pen name of Katherine Mansfield. Mansfield left for Great Britain in 1908 where she encountered Modernist writers such as D.H. Lawrence and...

 and physicist Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...


Pākehā ties with Britain were drastically weakened in the decades after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. 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
European Economic Community
The European Economic Community The European Economic Community (EEC) The European Economic Community (EEC) (also known as the Common Market in the English-speaking world, renamed the European Community (EC) in 1993The information in this article primarily covers the EEC's time as an independent...

, 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 Dame Susan Devoy
Susan Devoy
Dame Susan Elizabeth Anne Devoy, DNZM, CBE is a New Zealand squash player who dominated the sport in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She won the World Open on four occasions.-Playing career:...

, Mark Todd
Mark Todd (equestrian)
Mark James Todd, CBE is a New Zealand horseman noted for his accomplishments in the discipline of eventing, voted Rider of the 20th Century by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, Mark James Todd, CBE (born 1 March 1956) is a New Zealand horseman noted for his accomplishments in the...

, Sir Richard Hadlee
Richard Hadlee
Sir Richard John Hadlee, MBE is a former New Zealand cricketer who played provincial cricket for Canterbury, Nottinghamshire and Tasmania. He is the son of Walter Hadlee, and the brother of Dayle and Barry Hadlee. His former wife Karen also played international cricket for New Zealand.Hadlee was...

 and numerous All Blacks
All Blacks
The New Zealand men's national rugby union team, known as the All Blacks, represent New Zealand in what is regarded as its national sport....

 including Sir Colin Meads
Colin Meads
Sir Colin Earl Meads, KNZM, MBE , is a former New Zealand rugby union footballer. He played 55 test matches , most frequently in the lock forward position, for New Zealand's national team, the All Blacks, from 1957 until 1971.Meads is widely considered one of the greatest players in history...

 and Sean Fitzpatrick
Sean Fitzpatrick
Sean Fitzpatrick MNZM is a former rugby union footballer who represented New Zealand, and is widely regarded as one of the finest players ever to come from that country. He is also the son of former player Brian Fitzpatrick....

. In the arts, director Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson
Sir Peter Robert Jackson, KNZM is a New Zealand film director, producer, actor, and screenwriter, known for his The Lord of the Rings film trilogy , adapted from the novel by J. R. R...

, writers Janet Frame
Janet Frame
Janet Paterson Frame, ONZ, CBE was a New Zealand author. She wrote eleven novels, four collections of short stories, a book of poetry, an edition of juvenile fiction, and three volumes of autobiography during her lifetime. Since her death, a twelfth novel, a second volume of poetry, and a handful...

 and Lloyd Jones
Lloyd Jones (New Zealand author)
Lloyd Jones is a New Zealand author who currently resides in Wellington. His novel Mister Pip won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker.-Early life and education:...

 and artist Billy Apple
Billy Apple
Billy Apple, ONZM is an artist whose work is associated with the New York and British schools of Pop Art in the 1960s and with the Conceptual Art movement in the 1970s. He collaborated with the likes of Andy Warhol and other pop artists...

 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
Anglosphere is a neologism which refers to those nations with English as the most common language. The term can be used more specifically to refer to those nations which share certain characteristics within their cultures based on a linguistic heritage, through being former British colonies...

 nation-states such as Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, the United States, Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, 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 Union
Rugby union
Rugby union, often simply referred to as rugby, is a full contact team sport which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand...

 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 foreign origins, has also been shaped by Māori through movements such as the Ratana Church and Destiny Church
Destiny Church
Destiny Church may refer to:*Destiny Church Groningen, a network of churches based in the Netherlands and South America*Destiny Church , a network of churches based in New Zealand...

, 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
Chesdale Cheese
Chesdale Cheese was a variety of cheese produced for the mass market in New Zealand. Chiefly remembered for its very memorable animated television advertising with the jingle sung by two cartoon characters Ches and Dale wearing gumboots and black singlets. The commercial was created by Art Director...

 men are used as signifiers, and might more appropriately be called "Kiwiana
Kiwiana are certain items and icons from New Zealand's heritage, especially from around the middle of the 20th century that are seen as representing iconic Kiwi elements...


Michael King
Michael King
Michael King, OBE was a New Zealand popular historian, author and biographer. He wrote or edited over 30 books on New Zealand topics, including The Penguin History of New Zealand, which was the most popular New Zealand book of 2004.-Life:King was born in Wellington to Eleanor and Commander Lewis...

, 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, Maori 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 Māori, likewise, to deny their origins so that we can all start off afresh."

See also

  • List of slang terms for white people in non-Western countries
  • New Zealand European
    New Zealand European
    The term New Zealand European refers to New Zealanders of European descent who identify as New Zealand Europeans rather than some other ethnic group...

  • Palagi
    Palagi or papaalagi is a term in Samoan culture of uncertain meaning, but sometimes used to describe foreigners or anything that does not 'belong' to Samoan culture...

  • Pakeha settlers
    Pakeha settlers
    Pākehā settlers were European emigrants who journeyed to New Zealand, and more specifically to Auckland, the Wellington/Hawkes Bay region, Canterbury and Otago during the 19th century...

  • Haole
    Haole , in the Hawaiian language, is generally used to refer to an individual that fits one of the following: "White person, American, Englishman, Caucasian; American, English; formerly, any foreigner; foreign, introduced, of foreign origin, as plants, pigs, chickens"...

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