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Māori and Pākehā boys at school swimming pool, Auckland, 1970

Pākehā (or Pakeha without macrons; /ˈpɑːkɛhɑː, -khɑː, -kə/;[1] Māori pronunciation: [ˈpaːkɛhaː]) is a Māori-language term for New Zealanders primarily of European descent.[2] Pākehā is not a legal concept and has no definition under New Zealand law. Most inclusively the term can apply to any non-Māori New Zealander.[3][4] Papa'a has a similar meaning in Cook Islands Māori.[2][5]

Historically, before the arrival of other ethnic groups, the word Māori meant 'ordinary' or 'normal'. The arrival of Europeans led to the formation of a new term to distinguish the self-regarded 'ordinary' or 'normal' Māori from the new arrivals. 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".[6] 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;[7] however, some reject it on the ground that they claim it is offensive,[8] or they object to being named in a language other than their own.[8] 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 actively 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) which is another Māori word.[9][10]


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'.[11][12]

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.[13] To this day, the Māori term for the English language is reo Pākehā. Māori also used other terms such as tupua (supernatural, or object of fear, strange being),[14] kehua (ghosts),[15] and maitai (metal or referring to persons foreign)[16] to refer to some of the earliest visitors.[17]

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.[18] 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".[19] 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.[20][21]

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.[22] 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'.[23]

Attitudes to the term[edit]

New Zealanders of European ancestry vary in their attitudes toward the word Pākehā when applied to themselves.[24][9] 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,[8] some strongly, saying it is offensive in origin, 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.[25] Some believe being labelled Pākehā compromises their status and their birthright links to New Zealand.[26] 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.[24] 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".[27] Sociologist Paul Spoonley criticised the new version, however, saying that many Pākehā would not identify as European.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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."[31] 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."[32] New Zealand politicians from across the political spectrum use the term, including Don Brash,[33] John Key,[34] Helen Clark[35] and Te Ururoa Flavell.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Deverson, Tony; Kennedy, Graeme, eds. (2005), "Pakeha", The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-558451-6
  2. ^ a b Pākehā: New Zealander of European descent, Kupu.maori.nz, archived from the original on 15 August 2017, retrieved 16 September 2017
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ "Pakeha". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ a b Research busts myth that "Pākehā" is a derogatory term, archived from the original on 18 May 2017, retrieved 31 March 2017
  10. ^ "Pakeha not a dirty word – survey", NZ Herald, 5 February 2013, retrieved 31 March 2017
  11. ^ Oxford dictionary of English. Stevenson, Angus (3rd ed.). [Oxford]: Oxford University Press. 2011. ISBN 9780199571123. OCLC 729551189.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  12. ^ Deverson, Tony (2010). The Oxford dictionary of New Zealandisms. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-558497-4. OCLC 608074715.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Māori Dictionary, Maoridictionary.co.nz, archived from the original on 29 April 2013, retrieved 31 May 2013
  15. ^ Māori Dictionary, Maoridictionary.co.nz, archived from the original on 29 April 2013, retrieved 31 May 2013
  16. ^ Māori Dictionary, Maoridictionary.co.nz, 30 June 1903, archived from the original on 29 April 2013, retrieved 31 May 2013
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Orsman, Elizabeth and Harry (1994). The New Zealand Dictionary, Educational Edition. New House Publishers, Auckland. ISBN 1-86946-949-6. Page 193, second meaning.
  19. ^ Ranford, Jodie. "'Pakeha', its origin and meaning". www.maorinews.com. Archived from the original on 24 February 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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".
  22. ^ Gray, Claire; Nabila, Jaber; Anglem, Jim (2013). "Pakeha Identity and Whitness: What does it mean to be White?". Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies. New Series. 10 (2): 84. doi:10.11157/sites-vol10iss2id223. Archived from the original on 28 January 2018. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  23. ^ (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.
  24. ^ 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 (January 1996). "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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ 'Pakeha' Identity Archived 31 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Whitiwhiti Korero, issue 5, March 2006. Human Rights Commission.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "Census poses a $38m question". New Zealand Herald. APN Holdings. 10 March 2001. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ 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]
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ King, M. (1985), Being Pakeha: An encounter with New Zealand and the Maori Renaissance, Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton.
  33. ^ "NATIONHOOD – Don Brash Speech Orewa Rotary Club | Scoop News". Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 15 September 2017
  34. ^ "Read Hansard Reports". www.parliament.nz. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  35. ^ "Read Hansard Reports". www.parliament.nz. Archived from the original on 1 November 2017. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  36. ^ "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.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of 'pākehā' at Wiktionary