Unlike nearby Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand is not a multicultural society, but rather, according to local terminology, a bicultural society. The two cultures referred to in this notion are those of the original indigenous people, the Maori, and an emerging indigenous people, the Pakeha. In te reo Maori, the Maori language, pakeha means stranger; the term is pejorative. In practice, Pakeha now refers not to strangers in general, but rather to New Zealand’s native-born Caucasian majority. Not all members of this group use the term pakeha to identify themselves; some prefer the term “Europeans” while others use the words such as “New Zealander” or “Kiwi.”
These broader terms New Zealander and Kiwi, however, may refer to all citizens or self-identifying long-term residents. As such, New Zealand and Kiwi may refer to Maori, Pakeha, Asians (for example, Chinese, Indians, Malays, and some others), Pacific Islanders (Cook Islanders, Samoans, Tongans, Fijians, and other Polynesians or Micronesians, but rather decidedly neither Maori nor Pakeha). Asians and Pacific Islanders and some others, whether citizens or self-identifying long-term residents, do not figure in the description of Aotearoa/New Zealand as a bicultural society.
Maori Figure Prominently in the Biculturalism of Aotearoa/New Zealand
According to Aotearoa/New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, certain northern Maori nobles transferred what the English version describes as “all the rights and powers of sovereignty over their land” to the British Crown; Maori versions generally gloss the English “sovereignty” as te kawanatanga katoa, in which katoa referred to the nobles, while kawanatanga was a neologism combining kawana, a transliteration of the English word “governor,” and the Maori term tang, meaning approximately “ship,” as in the English “governorship.” Though first written in the treaty, kawanatanga had been developed by missionaries to describe the qualities of Christ transcendent and in heaven toward his church. The English version assumes not only the sovereignty of the chiefs but also their ownership and capacity to dispose of land as well as their right to allow strangers to reside upon the land. The legal right of non-Maori New Zealanders to reside in Aotearoa/New Zealand rests upon this provision of the treaty.
Current legal interpretations of the second article of the treaty reserve for Maori the right to practice traditional arts and occupations (for example, fishing) without license, as well as, subject to negotiations, rights in Crown lands, fisheries, waters, and lake bottoms. These rights are not held by Maori, either in general or as individuals. Rather, such rights in specified lands and waters are held by Maori considered as members of iwi and hapu, who are now being compensated for their loss of collectively held lands and waters during and following the colonial period. Iwi and hapu are often somewhat colloquially glossed as “tribe” and “clan” or “subtribe,” respectively; iwi translates more literally as “bone.”
In addition, the New Zealand electoral system recognizes two sorts of electorate, one for all New Zealanders and permanent residents regardless of ethnic background and a second set of five electorates reserved solely for Maori who chose to exercise their franchise therein.
While most public business takes place in English, te reo Maori remains the only language recognized in law as an official language. All public institutions are now formally identified in both English and Maori. In some formal public circumstances, both Western and Maori protocols receive recognition. The national anthem is now often sung with a version in Maori preceding the English original. Elements of Maori ceremonial, for example, the haka dance/chant performed by the “All Blacks” rugby team before rugby test matches, have become emblematic to New Zealanders of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Most New Zealanders are familiar with and use at least a modest set of Maori words, for example, Aotearoa, meaning “the land of the long, white cloud,” a term referring to the land of New Zealand.
In bicultural New Zealand, Maori are tangata whenua, the people of the land/placenta. The equation of land and placentas, both indicative of sources of life, also refers back in part to a still common Maori practice of burying placentas in the cemetery special to their iwi and hapu, in which the baby’s dead ancestors will have been buried and in which eventually the baby should be buried as well. Iwi and hapu, further, gather for formal occasions on marae (yards) specific to each group; visitors as well as persons affiliated with the home group but arriving at the marae gate for the first time must be formally welcomed according to the proper protocols before they can come onto the marae and into the whare (house), which stands upon the marae.
Whare share a standard architecture and red color. The carvings depict significant ancestors of the people of the marae. Viewed from the inside, the roof beams are a woman’s ribs; whare contain the spirit of their people.
While all significant activities in Maori life require both men and women, the protocols reserve formal speech at meetings on the marae for men. Notionally, Maori take collective decisions in such meetings with a concern for the effects of those decisions over a period of some seven generations. Any decision taken by an assembled group, however, applies only to the iwi and hapu represented at the gathering.
While Maori are indigenous, they are not autochthonous. Most Maori histories tell that Maori first arrived in Aotearoa from Hawaiki on one of several waka (canoes), Tainui, Te Arawa, Aotea, Takitimu, and Tokomaru prominently among them. Some Tuhoe tell of their ancestors already being resident in Aoetearoa when these waka arrived. The people of Whangara Marae on the east cape of the North Island tell of their founding ancestor, Kahuitia te Rangi, also known as Paikea, surviving after his waka sank, and then arriving in Aotearoa on the back of a whale; his carved figure can be seen on the ridgepole of the Marae, while his story has been more recently commemorated in Witi Ihimeara’s novel Whale Rider and the film by the same title.
All Maori should be able to recount their ancestry and the significant events of important ancestors’ lives (understood together as whakapapa) back not only to their ancestors’ arrival in Aotearoa, but including, as appropriate, where on the waka those ancestors were seated. Knowledge of one’s whakapapa establishes in part one’s place in Maori society, for example, one’s legitimate membership in hapu and iwi as well as one’s relations with other iwi and hapu. Recently, there have been significant attempts to gather information on whakapapa into databases and to distribute this information over the World Wide Web.
In fact, many Maori cannot recount their whaka-papa with such exactitude. The reasons for this are various. But the most important reasons can be traced to the Maori wars.
Following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the British attempted to assert their sovereignty over portions of the North Island, notably the Waikato and Northland. To this end, they brought elements of their armed forces along with some of the most sophisticated armaments of the day from Australia to New Zealand. These British efforts failed as Maori leaders improvised solutions, including the first instances of trench warfare, to British strengths.
Despite these Maori successes in the northern regions of the North Island, the New Zealand Company, a private land company organized by the Wakefield brothers and certain of their associates, sought to control the purchase of Maori lands by Europeans. The company subsequently began to advertise land in New Zealand as being for sale, even though the company often did not have legal title to those lands. People from around the British Isles purchased, or thought they had purchased, lands and then immigrated to New Zealand. While Governor Grey sought to limit European migration to the South Island and to the relatively lightly populated portions of the southern North Island, tensions between Maori and Europeans over land grew, leading to wars in Taranaki and subsequently both the King Country and the Waikato. Maori were defeated; their populations were decimated; and effective Maori resistance to British rule ceased, although various revival movements would continue to form. British administration fostered attempts to suppress Maori language and custom; and colonial prejudices encouraged children of Maori-European marriages to take up European customs and in some cases to attempt to pass as Europeans. Particularly during the 20th century, some Maori moved to larger cities and towns, relinquishing ties to relatives and later knowledge of their specific ancestry.
The transformation of Europeans into New Zealanders was not immediate; many Europeans continued to regard one or another portion of the British Isles as home, even as, in some cases, several generations were born in New Zealand. In the 1860s, prospectors found gold in Otago. The advent of refrigeration meant that New Zealanders could grow lamb for the British market rather than just for local consumption. The European population grew.
A colony and later a dominion of the British Empire, New Zealanders contributed troops to Britain’s armies during the Boer and later World War I and II. Along with Australian soldiers, both European and Maori New Zealanders served in the ill-fated assault on Turkish forces at Gallipoli and, later on, Flanders field. Pakeha self-understanding of themselves as New Zealanders and not British began in response to these battles, especially Gallipoli. Dominion status gave New Zealand domestic self-government. Writers such as Frank Sargenson, Janet Frame, as well as later both Barry Crump and Maurice Gee, among many others, began producing short stories and novels about New Zealand subjects for New Zealand audiences; similar movements occurred amongst painters and later moviemakers, with Colin McCahon and Jane Campion being among the most prominent.
New Zealanders debated for many years the virtues of accepting independence in 1947 as part of the British Commonwealth. They understood that as members of the Commonwealth, New Zealand would have privileged access to British markets for its agricultural products, notably lamb. As such, Aotearoa/ New Zealand was largely unprepared for the United Kingdom’s entrance into the European Common Market in 1959; overnight, New Zealanders went from having among the world’s highest per capita incomes to being citizens of an economically marginal country; Pakeha and Maori alike found themselves together.
New Zealand had joined with the United States and Australia in alliance after World War II. During David Lange’s Labour government in the 1980s, New Zealand declared itself a nuclear-free zone, thus precipitating a conflict between the U.S. Navy’s policy of neither confirming nor denying which ships were powered by nuclear reactors or carried nuclear weapons and New Zealand’s refusal to allow such generators or weapons into its ports.
The Lange government also initiated a series of economic reforms, incorporating policies elsewhere associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Locally referred to as “Rogernomics,” these reforms led to the sale of previously state-owned corporations, a move away from full employment, and an introduction of private health insurance in conjunction with the national health system. Competition and efficiency became the bywords; restructuring and redundancies became common as New Zealand experimented with giving market forces the greatest feasible influence, while simultaneously opening their market to international trade to a greater extent than any other advanced economy. In large measure, because of its relatively small but well-educated population, New Zealand has also provided international high technology, especially telecommunications, firms with a market for testing innovations prior to their introduction into the larger European and American markets.
Influenced to some degree by America’s Black pride movement, against this general background and that of the deep divisions occasioned by the South African national rugby tour in 1981, Maori began a cultural and political revival that continues to this day. As a part of this revival, Maori have reasserted claims to land under the aforementioned terms of the Treaty of Waitangi; these claims and the Maori revival have also evoked ambiguous, sometimes negative, responses from Pakeha. Maori have also revived their language, many of their traditional arts, including carving and their martial arts. Furthermore, some Maori have sought to have Maori artifacts, for example moko makai or tattooed heads, returned to Aotearoa/New Zealand either for inclusion in the collections of Te Papa, Aotearoa/New Zealand’s national museum, or to the appropriate iwi and hapu. Ihimeara, Alan Duff, and Keri Hulme, among others, have also added to Aotearoa/New Zealand’s emerging national literature with novels and stories describing Maori life.
In late 2004, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that she was poised to initiate a discussion within the Labour Party, and Aotearoa/New Zealand more broadly, concerning the to-date unwritten constitution, the place of the Treaty of Waitangi therein, and the possibility of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s reestablishment as a republic.
- Best, E. (1996). Tuhoe: The children of the mist (2 vols.). Auckland, New Zealand: Reed Books. (Original work published 1925)
- Duff, A. (1993). Maori: The crisis and the challenge. Auckland, New Zealand: HarperCollins.
- Kelsey, J. (1995). The New Zealand experiment: A world model for structural adjustment. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press.
- King, M. (1985). Being Pakeha: An encounter with New Zealand and the Ma-ori renaissance. Auckland, New Zealand: Hodder & Stoughton.
- King, M. (2003). The Penguin history of New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books.
- Vaggioli, D. F. (2000). History of New Zealand and its inhabitants. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago Press. (Original work published 1896)