The soft and loud of “Pākehā”

(I have posted and reposted this in 2012 and 2014 but some who haven’t seen it might be interested).

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.

53 Comments

  1. Ray

     /  May 13, 2016

    I am a New Zealander, we have been here since 1798. Māori have been here, well they don’t really know but science keeps putting it later and later so percentage wise we are getting closer
    Our paternal line is back to the Azores, hardly European, then Spain maybe Africa
    Pākehā is a bit like nigger, you can prove anything with lexicology, I was lead to believe it had something to do with white bush fairies, not sure if I want that attached to me
    Don’t like kiwi as that refers to a bird, so prefer New Zealander or NZer for short

    • MaureenW

       /  May 13, 2016

      New Zealander for me as well. I find other terms obsequious and childish.

  2. Gezza

     /  May 13, 2016

    I’ve read several explanations of what Pakeha means and whether it applies only to people with white skin of predominantly European origin or to all people who have no Maori ancestry.

    I’m quite happy to accept what I believe is the most commonly accepted definition that it now means someone with pale skin of European ancestry.

    Overseas I call myself a New Zealander (or a Kiwi if I think they know I’m not identifying myself as a Chinese gooseberry or a small furry-feathered bird with a long beak)

    I have no Maori ancestry in my lineage, so in New Zealand I’m proud to call myself a Pakeha or a Pakeha New Zealander.

    On a lot of NZ government forms I think the choice is usually something like NZ European / Pakeha. If given a choice between NZ European or Pakeha, I choose Pakeha.

    • I avoid any choice that includes ‘European’ if I can – I don’t feel any personal connection with Europe. I’ve never been to the UK (I ‘ve been to France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Greece but hadn’t had the inclination yet to go over the channel).

      • Gezza

         /  May 13, 2016

        You shoud go over the channel next time Pete. The Brits are mostly ok. They’re quite a lot like kiwis, they just have funny accents.

        • Corky

           /  May 13, 2016

          And some up north still don’t have ” baffs” Nothing like the laundry tub for a quick spruce up.

  3. Blazer

     /  May 13, 2016

    Kiwi does the trick.Your solitary american anecdote is moot.

    • Gezza

       /  May 13, 2016

      How do you get on with forms Blazer? 😕

      • Blazer

         /  May 13, 2016

        tick the box.

        • Gezza

           /  May 13, 2016

          No … I mean government forms, not the packing slip on the Zespri carton.

          • Blazer

             /  May 13, 2016

            I avoid govt forms.You know alot about Zespri cartons it would appear…not a subject of interest for me.

  4. Brown

     /  May 13, 2016

    What bollocks. You’ve let yourself and your value be reduced to a debate over what to call yourself. I’m from NZ if anyone asks but apart from notifying a location on the globe I’m not interested in being labelled. Likewise I have little time for people that seek to impress me with their tribalism. Nice or not is the bottom line – labels just get in the way.

    • And I’ll return a what bollocks to you.

      I’m not debating what to call myself. I’ve discussed something of interest.

  5. Corky

     /  May 13, 2016

    Being half and half I enjoy making fun of bureaucrats when filling out offical forms. Bureaucrats can’t get their head around someone who looks like a Maori clicking the ” Other Box” when asked to state their ancestry. I insert the description New Zealander.
    Some even asked if I have understood the question correctly. I reply ” yes.”

    The funny thing about such forms is they hint at why racial harmony will never happen in New Zealand. That fact that we have such forms for starters ( one main reason is to gauge Maori funding needs). The second is most Maori do not see themselves as New Zealanders – they are Maori first, living in a land called Aotearoa. One Maori talk-back caller summed the situation up succinctly: ” Whaaat, New Zealander? That’s Pakeha bullshit.”

    • Gezza

       /  May 13, 2016

      Might’ve been Hone Harawira on the other end. I don’t always pay too much attention to him.

  6. Pantsdownbrown

     /  May 13, 2016

    Pākehā has had it’s day – it’s meaning is dubious and in more recent times has also been used in an insulting way by some Maori (I grew up in a primarily Maori community and it certainly was not said with affection). I have no doubt some Maori use the term today because they think it does mean ‘pig’, so regardless of it’s true meaning the intent is there to use the word in a derogatory way.

    New Zealander’s we are – though I’ve no beef with ‘New Zealand European’.

    • Blazer

       /  May 13, 2016

      ‘ (I grew up in a primarily Maori community and it certainly was not said with affection)’…what term would have been more appropriate for Maori to have used?

      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  May 13, 2016

        Being one community the majority didn’t differentiate between skin colours – all in the same waka.

        • Blazer

           /  May 13, 2016

          on what do you base this premise then…’ I have no doubt some Maori use the term today because they think it does mean ‘pig’, so regardless of it’s true meaning the intent is there to use the word in a derogatory way.’

          • Pantsdownbrown

             /  May 13, 2016

            Personal experience – the word ‘Palagi’ I’ve also seen used to describe ‘white people’ in a derogatory way though it’s original meaning could also be totally innocent.

            • Blazer

               /  May 13, 2016

              maybe its just you and the way you relate to people who do not look like you.

            • Pantsdownbrown

               /  May 13, 2016

              More likely I think that you don’t know what you are talking about?

  7. I personally describe myself on forms etc as a non-Maori New Zealander, and have no problems with self-identification. Others can call me what they like, but hopefully not very often.

  8. Pickled Possum

     /  May 13, 2016

    In todays PC world I have found any one who isn’t Maori, would like to be called non Maori and Not pakeha, which I have always taken to mean ‘stranger’.

    There is old waiata that talks of ‘pakeha’ birds in the forest. Strange birds, meaning new birds have appeared in the forest, a bit like the mynah birds.

    Mynah myna were introduced to NZ in the early 1870 from India and have become naturalised, so there is now a NZ mynah.

    Mynah are almost everywhere but I do not ever see them in the Big bush like te Urewera Urutawa or Raukumara, they seem to like playing with traffic on the busy streets of cities.

    I myself think of pakeha as light lite coloured New Zealanders.
    Believe it or not.

  9. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 13, 2016

    I call myself me and leave others to worry about what they want to call me.

    • Hey Alan, of course you are right. Dang! I wish I had thought of it first, but second’s OK I guess!

  10. Hall

     /  May 13, 2016

    Pakeha has two meanings – one is “immigrant” the other is “overstayer”.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  May 13, 2016

      Sorry for being a pakeha are you, Hall?

    • Hall

       /  May 13, 2016

      No I’m European.. so I don’t have any empathy or respect for indigenous peoples.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  May 13, 2016

        Yep, you are certainly strong on mindless generalisations. I think you left out the word “Lefty” somewhere.

  11. patupaiarehe

     /  May 13, 2016

    Feel free to join my iwi Pete (and anyone else). We already have several members, and our numbers are growing exponentially. The only requirement is being born here, and being proud of it. White, yellow, or whatever shade of brown you are….
    I’m not too fond of ‘pakeha’ myself. Literally translated, ‘Pa’ means village, and ‘keha’ means flea. Also ‘outsider’, ‘stranger’, ‘unusual’.
    When filling out forms for government agencies, my ethnicity is Maori (usual/normal), and my iwi is Patupaiarehe. If ‘Jedi’ can be considered a religion, wouldn’t it be great to see a revival of the Patupaiarehe iwi in the next census… 🙂

    • Gezza

       /  May 13, 2016

      My schizophrenic ex-flatmate of an aeon ago answered a census question about how you usually travel to work with “helicopter”.

      • Blazer

         /  May 13, 2016

        so you flatted with the ex chairman of the …Fed.

        • Gezza

           /  May 13, 2016

          No … he flatted with me.

          • Gezza

             /  May 13, 2016

            But back then Blazer he was just a music student with a bombed out Morrie Thow.

            • Blazer

               /  May 13, 2016

              learning the saxophone…of course.

            • Gezza

               /  May 13, 2016

              Piano and classical guitar. Good guess though. Pretty close.

            • Blazer

               /  May 13, 2016

              wrong Ben.

          • patupaiarehe

             /  May 13, 2016

            Te rerekē tane?

            • Gezza

               /  May 13, 2016

              Ae, e hoa. Ka eke ia nui hoki te mate. Pouri. (He got very unwell. Sad.)

            • patupaiarehe

               /  May 13, 2016

              This is an unfortunate thing that has happened to him.

              He mea whakarapa tēnei kua pā ki a tane

            • Gezza

               /  May 13, 2016

              He wouldn’t always take his meds as they made him feel fuzzy and confused. Without them, the saints would start talking to him. It destroyed his chances of ever becoming a classical musician. I didn’t think too much about the importance of his taking his meds until years afterwards when the son of our next door neighbours at our first place was shot dead by Steven Anderson at Raurimu. My flatmate had to rejoin his whanau in The Netherlands to get proper treatment for his condition and have any kind of quality of life.

            • patupaiarehe

               /  May 13, 2016

              @G
              I worked with a guy like that, not sure if you read my comments on that experience a while back.

            • Gezza

               /  May 13, 2016

              No, I didn’t see your comments on that pp. Would be interested to know. Am going to pose you a question on OF-Friday soon.

            • patupaiarehe

               /  May 13, 2016

              OK, cya there 🙂

            • Gezza

               /  May 13, 2016

              Yes, interesting, but only one study and I don’t know what to make of that. My flatmate & his family weren’t religious at all, as far as I know, I met them all several times before the parents and youngest daughter returned to The Netherlands. The kids had all grown up in Indonesia, they were Indonesian Dutch. Their parents had survived Japanese internment camps.

              My flatmate would get really distressed because the saints were angry at him & kept telling him he shouldn’t have anglicised his given name. He got quite violent when his tuakana phoned me one day, after they’d gone flatting on their own, asking me to come over and help keep J in the house while he was waiting for an ambulance to get him to the psych ward. We had to let him out of the house & I wandered the hills with him while he babbled on semi-coherently telling me about what the saints were saying until I persuaded him to go back to the house and he was taken to Wellington Psych by a couple of burly attendants.

            • patupaiarehe

               /  May 13, 2016

              Yup, scary for us on the outside. Imagine how it feels to actually hear it? My workmate described the voices he heard to me.
              “I hear a thousand voices, and they all say two words. But they all say two different words”.
              I turned a ‘blind eye’ to him sneaking off for a ‘smoke’, if he did it discreetly.
              Because, in his words, “If I’m blazed, I don’t get angry at the voices, I laugh at them”

            • Gezza

               /  May 13, 2016

              There’s a strong association of ganja with schizophrenia. Some studies have suggested it can trigger latent schizophrenia in under-25’s (as was the angry belief of a mum I know whose son developed it after smoking pot), others have concluded it may have more to do with those suffering from psychotic & other mental disorders tending to be more likely to smoke cigarettes and dope as it somehow helps them cope better with it.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  May 13, 2016

              It tends to develop about the age of maturity anyway so it would be easy to misdiagnose it as a consequence of late adolescence pot-smoking.

            • Gezza

               /  May 14, 2016

              Yes I tend to agree with you Alan. J was as straight as a die. Never smoked, wouldn’t touch drugs, was a thoroughly nice, intelligent guy who loved to socialise & would make a beer last all night. There was no known history in the family (though it can apparently be an inherited tendency, infrequently expressed). It just happened, seemingly out of the blue.

  12. I dislike the word pakeha. Relates to watching fellow white students being spat at and called white trash, pakeha (said in a real negative tone) and honkey by the local aspiring maori gangsters at college in a hallway.

    Loathe the word and it will never describe me. I am a New Zealander by birth, a Kiwi in slang and I am a proud European by lineage.