Story: Intermarriage

Page 4. 20th-century intermarriage

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Māori urban migration

Māori migration to the cities began in the early 20th century and continued through the 1960s. Māori came into much greater contact with non-Māori and intermarriage increased accordingly. Officials argued that the rate of ‘miscegenation’ (a negative term for marriage between races) was an accurate measure of the success of assimilation and integration policies. The 1936 census report found that ‘the extent of miscegenation is increasing at a fairly rapid rate. It seems clear that in a few generations the European and Maori divisions of the population will have blended to a very large degree’.1 A 1968 study of ethnic intermarriage found that from 1890 to 1960 there was an overall strong increase in ‘outmarriage’ (marriage with another race) by Māori.

Māori with Māori

In 2010 Māori Party MP Hone Harawira caused controversy when he remarked that he would not feel comfortable if one of his seven children came home with a Pākehā partner. Ngāi Tahu leader Tahu Potiki commented that while his Pākehā mother’s parents had been very accepting of her choice of a Māori partner, his father’s sister had not been allowed to marry a Pākehā – or even a Māori of another tribe. Potiki said he had ‘deliberately sought a partner from within the tribe and I would be very pleased if my children did the same. Such connections are very satisfying and remain important to Maori even in this 21st-century world.’2

Opposing intermarriage

Some sections of society resisted intermarriage. Samuel Goldstein, Auckland’s rabbi from 1880 until the 1930s, refused to marry a member of his congregation to someone of another faith, and excluded from his synagogue anyone married to a non-Jewish partner. His successor, Rabbi Astor, established a Jewish cultural, social and recreational group to discourage assimilation and intermarriage, which he believed would weaken New Zealand’s small Jewish community.

In 1990 the New Zealand Chinese historian Bickleen Fong said, ‘I would prefer that my children marry Chinese … In marriage, it is better to marry within your own racial or cultural class to minimise family conflict. It was just taken for granted that I should marry a Chinese. It is not the skin colour or racial difference, but the cultural dissimilarity.’3

Intermarriage into the 2000s

From the 1950s new migrant groups from Europe and Polynesia settled in New Zealand, followed by Asian migrants in the 1980s and 1990s. Their relationship patterns reflected New Zealand’s increasingly multi-cultural character. The children of mixed marriages were themselves more likely to intermarry.

As the pool of individuals with mixed ethnicity increases, there is a greater chance of marrying someone with mixed ethnicity. Intermarriage also potentially provides the children of such unions with a greater choice of which ethnic group, or groups, to affiliate with. Sir Tipene O’Regan, the son of a Pākehā father and Ngāi Tahu mother, said, ‘I learnt very early that coming from two cultural streams doubled your cultural potential, it doubled your sense of identity and it didn’t divide it in half.’4

  1. Maori census, 1936, introductory notes, p. iii. Back
  2. ‘Skin colour veils identity.’ The Press, 6 August 2010, (last accessed 19 October 2010). Back
  3. Quoted in Manying Ip, Home away from home: life stories of the New Zealand Chinese women. Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1990, p. 123. Back
  4. Quoted in Carol Archie, Skin to skin. Auckland: Penguin, 2005, p. 207. Back
How to cite this page:

Angela Wanhalla, 'Intermarriage - 20th-century intermarriage', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

Story by Angela Wanhalla, published 5 May 2011