Story: Cultural go-betweens

Page 2. Pākehā–Māori

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‘Pākehā–Māori’ was the 19th-century term for Europeans who chose to live among Māori as part of the tribe. Some were traders, whalers and sealers looking to make money in New Zealand, and others were runaway seamen and escaped convicts from Australia. In 1833 there were said to be about 70 Pākehā–Māori, mostly runaways, in the Hokianga area alone. They were usually looked down upon by more respectable Europeans, but welcomed by Māori, who were keen to acquire European goods and skills and needed someone to negotiate with Pākehā on their behalf. Before 1840 Pākehā–Māori were the earliest European explorers and settlers in many parts of New Zealand. They sometimes introduced literacy and Christianity to Māori in advance of the missionaries. Many developed the ability to pass easily and effectively between one cultural world and the other.

Pākehā–Māori traders

The largest group of Pākehā–Māori in the period before 1840 were traders. They sold dressed flax, timber, pigs and potatoes on behalf of the tribes they lived among, and bought them muskets, food, clothing and often alcohol. One of the most successful was Louis Hetet, who introduced European livestock and crops to the King Country around 1844. His descendants in the Te Kūiti area include renowned traditional weavers.

Another trader, Dicky Barrett, eventually opened a hotel in Port Nicholson (later called Wellington). For many years it was the most important building in the brand-new settlement. He also acted as an interpreter and was described as ‘the medium of communication between the [New Zealand] Company and Maori in all their affairs.’1 Danish-born Phillip Tapsell settled at Maketū in Bay of Plenty and grew rich trading muskets, gunpowder and other goods for flax. His many descendants in the region include the former Cabinet minister Sir Peter Tapsell.

Marrying into Māori tribes

In the period of early contact, Europeans in New Zealand were greatly outnumbered by Māori and depended on them for support and safety. For a Pākehā–Māori, it was essential to be married to a Māori woman. ‘It is not safe to live in the country without a chief’s daughter as protection,’ wrote one English visitor.2

For Māori, marriage was a way of binding newcomers, of assuring their loyalty and trade, and of keeping their children within the tribe. Manuel José was a Spanish whaler who lived on the East Coast of the North Island in the 1830s, working as a trader. He married five chiefly Ngāti Porou women one after the other, and had a child by each of them. His descendants in the region now number several thousand.

Fighting the good fight

The Pākehā–Māori James Caddell acquired the status of a chief through his ability at fighting alongside his Ngāi Tahu hosts. He believed traditional weapons such as the mere, or short club, were superior to European weapons. ‘It is next to impossible to attack a New Zealander [a Māori] with a sword or bayonet, as they have a method of grabbing it with one hand, killing the attacker with a mere or spear before he has time to make a second thrust.’3

Pākehā–Māori warriors

Some Pākehā–Māori were expected to fight alongside their adopted tribespeople. One of them, James Caddell, was only about 13 and working as a sealer when his shipmates were captured and killed by Ngāi Tahu Māori in Foveaux Strait in 1810. He was probably saved because he was so young and because a chief’s daughter, Tokitoki, offered him her protection. He later married her and was given a full facial moko. Caddell learned to speak Māori fluently and almost forgot how to speak English. In 1823 he travelled to Sydney with his wife to trade goods, and they appeared in the city’s streets in full Māori costume.

  1. Trevor Bentley, Pākehā Māori: the extraordinary story of the Europeans who lived as Māori in early New Zealand. Auckland: Penguin, 1999, p. 173. Back
  2. Quoted in John Liddiard Nicholas, Narrative of a voyage to New Zealand, performed in the years 1814 and 1815, in company with the Rev. Samuel Marsden, Principal Chaplain of New South Wales. London: James Black and Son, 1817, p. 171. Back
  3. Pākehā Māori, p. 80. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Cultural go-betweens - Pākehā–Māori', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 July 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 22 May 2018