The soft and loud of “Pākehā”

(Repost)

I’ve often wondered what ethnicity to call myself.

I’ve never felt anything like “European”.  I only recently visited Europe for the first time in my life, and didn’t go to the countries my ancestors emigrated from.

European
— adj
1.     of or relating to Europe or its inhabitants
2.     native to or derived from Europe
— n
3.     a native or inhabitant of Europe
4.     a person of European descent

http://dictionary.reference.com/cite.html?qh=european&ia=ced

I’m of European descent, but then a lot of the world except Africa could probably claim some European link. Anyway, I see “European” as having a link to Europe now, not some time in the distant past.

“Caucasian” is another term sometimes used but it sounds more remote to me than European.

Cau·ca·sian
1.
Anthropology . of, pertaining to, or characteristic of one of the traditional racial divisions of humankind, marked by fair to dark skin, straight to tightly curled hair, and light to very dark eyes, and originally inhabiting Europe, parts of North Africa, western Asia, and India: no longer in technical use.

http://dictionary.reference.com/cite.html?qh=caucasian&ia=luna

So technically, that’s not me either.

usage: The word Caucasian  is very widely used in the US to refer to people of European origin or people who are White, even though the original classification was broader than this

http://dictionary.reference.com/cite.html?qh=caucasian&ia=ced

And I have no US heritage so ruled out there too.

So I should be using some local description. I certainly identify as a New Zealander and a Kiwi, so in a wider sense that is appropriate.

kiwi
As slang for “a New Zealander,” it is attested from 1918.

http://dictionary.reference.com/cite.html?qh=kiwi&ia=etymon

That sounds fine, but it isn’t universally known. I was talking to an American once who only knew a kiwi as a brown furry fruit, the sort that was called a Chinese gooseberry back in the old days.

New Zealander
— n
a native or inhabitant of New Zealand

http://dictionary.reference.com/cite.html?qh=New+Zealander&ia=ced

Yip, I’m one of those. But what sort of a New Zealander am I?

I was put off a common native language description, Pākehā, because I’ve heard some fairly derogatory “definitions” relating to fleas or fat pigs, but I’ve done some research that pretty much rules them out. What does Pākehā mean then?

1. (loan) (noun) New Zealander of European descent.
Te rongonga o te Māori i te reo kihi, hoihoi, o Kāpene Kuki rātou ko ōna hōia ka kīia e te Māori he Pakepakehā, ka whakapotoa nei ki te Pākehā. Nā te Māori tēnei ingoa i hua e mau nei anō (TP 1/1911:5). / When the Māori heard the soft and loud sounds of the language of Captain Cook and his sailors the Māori called them ‘Pakepakehā’, which was shortened to ‘Pākehā’. The Māori created this name. which is still used.

http://www.maoridictionary.co.nz/index.cfm?dictionaryKeywords=pakeha

That sounds reasonable enough. What else is known about it? From Wikipedia:

There have been several dubious interpretations given to the word Pākehā. 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 or linguistic support for this notion.

Although some are apparently offended I’m happy with the derogatory versions being ruled out.

The origins of the term are unclear, but it was in use by the late 18th century. 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 inappropriate.

New Zealand European seems very strange, associating opposites, like an Arctic penguin.

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.

I can comfortably agree with that.

So depending on the circumstance I’m happy to describe myself as any of New Zealander, Kiwi or Pākehā.

Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. Dave Stonyer

     /  5th February 2014

    Now I really have a problem – I’m half australian, half new zealander. Parents were all 3rd generation in each of their respective countries, their parents mostly from england/scotland/ireland. I’m quite happy to be a “New Zealander” (Christchurch born) or “kiwi”.

    Reply
  2. Goldie

     /  5th February 2014

    But should having to categorise yourself by ethnicity/race matter in a civilised society based on equality before the law?
    Classifying people according to their race is done by the State for one reason – to ensure that one race is placed in a position of privilege.

    Reply
  3. Brown

     /  5th February 2014

    Peter, if you have time to dwell on this nonsense you need a hobby. Whether pakeha is offensive or not is simply a matter of delivery. I call my work colleagues all sorts of things without ever meaning to be offensive.

    Reply
  4. Anon

     /  7th February 2014

    There’s nothing apparent about my offense, throughout my early high school years “Pakeha” was only ever used as a derogatory term, and I was constantly faced with aggressive and racist behaviour from Maori. I refuse to be beaten into submission by the privileged Maori class, figuratively or literally.

    Furthermore “Pakeha” is about as descriptive a term as “nigger”, and in any case I object to having the term thrust upon me. I for one don’t thrust my own preferences of noun for another person onto them. Your welcome to the word if you want it, but I’ll have no part.

    Reply

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