Story: Love and romance

Page 5. Marriage arrangements and dating

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Māori marriage arrangements

Māori marriages were traditionally relationships between whānau rather than individuals, but love was also important. Marriages were often arranged for people of high rank, while Māori marriage arrangements were usually based on both personal attraction and whānau negotiations.

A strategic alliance

Hūria Mātenga, famous for swimming through the surf to rescue the crew of the shipwrecked Delaware, entered into an arranged marriage with Hēmi Mātenga Wai-punāhau in 1858, five years before the shipwreck. She was of Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Toa descent and her ancestors came to New Zealand on the Tokomaru canoe. Her parents were the leaders of the settlement at Wakapuaka, near Nelson, and Hēmi Mātenga had large landholdings in the district. High-status Māori and Pākehā attended their wedding at Christ Church in Nelson. Hūria and Hēmi had no children, but had a whāngai (foster) daughter, Mamae.

Romantic love has connected Māori and people of other ethnicities for two centuries. Waitangi Tribunal member Ranginui Walker remarked that race relations in New Zealand are worked out in the bedrooms of the nation. In the early 2000s, some prominent Māori leaders argued that it was desirable for cultural reasons for Māori to marry Māori, especially members of their own iwi.

Pākehā marriage arrangements

While most European settlers thought that individuals should decide who they married, family members often preferred certain partners for their children. Marriages between people of similar social standing were facilitated by balls, dances, dinner parties and sporting events. Church schools, guilds and youth clubs enabled young people to ‘date’ or go out with others from similar backgrounds.

In the first half of the 20th century, young adults had more opportunities to meet potential marriage partners through employment, sporting activities and political activism, as well as going to dance halls, cinemas, milk bars, pubs and nightclubs. Family and community influence on who people met, married or lived with, declined.

Dating advertising and agencies

Classified personal advertisements directed at finding potential marriage partners appeared in New Zealand newspapers from the late 1800s. Agencies were established, such as Hannaford’s Matrimonial Agency in Auckland, which offered to find suitable marriage partners for single men from 1868. Single people would pay an agency a fee to provide them with details about suitable dating or marriage partners. If people did meet in this way, they often kept it secret.

Online dating

From the late 20th century people of all ages started to use the internet to initiate intimate relationships and find marriage partners. Personal details were uploaded to dating sites and subscribers engaged in email communication, phone calls or webcam chats before they met. Dating websites frequently offered the possibility of ‘a perfect match’. Some of the websites aimed at New Zealanders organised international marriages, often with women from Russia, Thailand or the Philippines.

Looking for love

In the 21st century people generally have more relationships before they marry or cohabit than in the past, and people over 50 are more likely to be divorced or separated. A researcher into dating services has argued that ‘with so many people seeking friends or a partner, the problem seems to be one of coordination, rather than scarcity.’1 Online dating services are emerging as a solution to the problem of ‘coordination’.

People over 50 are increasingly using online dating sites to meet potential partners. They were 14% of those registered on the New Zealand dating website Findsomeone in 2009. According to relationship experts, many older people find online dating preferable to meeting partners in pubs or bars and like getting to know someone via email, phone or Skype before meeting face-to-face.

In the 2000s online dating agencies began to offer services to particular people – single parents, over-50s, deaf people, and Jews, Christians and Indians. Many online never meet but communicate via text, audio or webcam.

Contemporary arranged marriages

Some New Zealanders have used marriage agencies in the countries from which they or their parents migrated to find a marriage partner. This was more likely to happen where there was a strong tradition of arranged marriages. Current versions of ‘cooperative’ arranged marriages involve daughters or sons choosing from a number of people that relatives consider suitable.

A culturally-arranged marriage visa that recognises the practice of arranged marriages is offered through Immigration New Zealand. Applicants must meet certain health and character requirements, have a sponsor whom they are intending to marry, show that the arrangement is culturally appropriate, and marry within three months. There must also be no legal obstacle to the marriage.

  1. Massey University, ‘New ways to look for love.’ Scoop, 30 December 2008, (last accessed 19 January 2011). Back
How to cite this page:

Rosemary Du Plessis, 'Love and romance - Marriage arrangements and dating', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 June 2024)

Story by Rosemary Du Plessis, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 1 May 2017