Story: Māori overseas

Page 5. England, the United States and elsewhere

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In the early 2000s it was estimated that 130,000 people with Māori ancestry were living away from New Zealand. Although most of them were in Australia, about 18,000 lived elsewhere (England 8,000, USA 1,000 and Canada 1,000).


Even before Māori became known for their athletic prowess on the rugby field, their South Seas origins had fascinated the English. In the early 1900s touring performers of traditional arts received glowing accounts in the English press.

Not all entertainers returned home. Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura of Whakarewarewa renewed her acquaintance with an Oxfordshire landowner while touring England with a troupe of Māori performers, and married him in 1912. She had a New Zealand room in her manor, filled with feather cloaks, flax baskets, carvings, greenstone and other taonga (treasures). During the First World War she opened her homes to Māori troops. In this era war was the primary reason for Māori travelling overseas; a contingent served in the Gallipoli campaign, and later fought in France as part of the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. A memorial to the Māori war dead – an Italian painted wooden pietà on a base adorned with Māori carving – was built with funds raised by Maggie. Her book The old-time Maori, an account of the customs of Te Arawa tribe from a woman’s point of view, was published posthumously in 1938.

In the late 1950s a small group of Kiwis living in London formed the London Maori Club, promoting their culture through the performance of traditional songs and war dances. In 1971 the group renamed itself Ngati Ranana Maori Club (Rānana is the Māori transliteration of ‘London’). By the late 1990s the club was holding weekly meetings and language classes were taught at New Zealand House.

Kōhanga reo at New Zealand House

In the late 1990s Kōhanga reo (Māori language nest) member Taone O’Regan described London life for Māori:

‘We’ve got about 20 to 30 families with six to eight core families. I’ve always said I’d stay for two years. I’ve been here 10 – it gets harder to go back. It’s difficult if you have a British partner. Suddenly you’re a mother of a Cockney kid. Have you heard a Cockney trying to speak Māori? It’s all “Kia ora babes.”’ 1

Māori entertainers were drawn to the stages and concert halls of the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. The most famous is the opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa, who gained almost overnight stardom following a sensational début as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, in 1971.

The United States

In the 2000s some Māori professionals were living in New York and California, yet the most prominent Māori community in the United States is in Utah. This had its beginnings in the 1950s, when New Zealand Mormon missionaries established the Kiaora Club. They came from many different Māori tribes, and dubbed themselves Ko Ngati Hiona (the tribe of Zion).

In 2003 the Utah-based New Zealand American Society was planning to build a marae in the city of Lehi. In Provo, Utah, a cultural group called Te Kaha o ngā Tūpuna (the strength of our ancestors) had also formed. In the early 2000s there were about 300 Māori families living in Utah – many drawn to the state by their Mormon faith, and the opportunities there for education and work.

In Hollywood, New Zealand Māori actors such as Cliff Curtis and Temuera Morrison have made their mark, alongside Lee Tamahori, who directed the James Bond movie, Die another day.

Children born overseas to Māori migrants can apply for New Zealand citizenship through their parent, or parents. But grandchildren of Māori migrants face the same restrictions as anyone else wanting to move to New Zealand.

Other countries

Most Māori have left New Zealand either to serve in the armed forces or to find work, and these factors have dictated their destinations. There is little evidence that Māori have travelled in significant numbers to Polynesia (the home of their ancestors), or to places other than Australia, England and the United States.

  1. Interviewed by Carl Walrond at New Zealand House, London, 1999. › Back
How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Māori overseas - England, the United States and elsewhere', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 June 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005