Story: Māori–Pākehā relations

Men pursuing whales in the late 18th and early 19th century sometimes settled ashore and married into Māori tribes. Whalers were followed by missionaries keen to convert Māori to Christianity. Then organised settlement from Britain began, and relations between Māori and Pākehā deteriorated.

Story by Mark Derby
Main image: French sailors with Māori, Kororāreka, 1835

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Trading and whaling

Around 1830 there were about 300 Pākehā living in New Zealand, and at least 100,000 Māori. Trade had grown between visiting whaling ships and Māori – in return for goods such as muskets or iron tools Māori provided food, water and firewood.

Māori became valued as crew on board whaling ships, and began to travel the world. In 1796 a Māori pilot was recorded working in Rio de Janeiro on the British whaler Mermaid.

Shore whaling stations began and some European whalers married Māori women. Europeans lived under tribal authority.

Mission stations

Some whaling ports like Kororāreka (later called Russell) developed wild reputations. Churches in the UK decided to send missionaries to protect Māori from prostitution, alcohol, muskets and disease.

From 1814 till the 1830s missionaries struggled to convert Māori. But Māori welcomed the new plants, animals and farming techniques the mission stations introduced. Many Māori learned to read and write.

Following wars between tribes and the impact of new diseases, more Māori converted to Christianity. Missionaries began to act as intermediaries between tribes, and between Māori and Pākehā. They had an important influence on the Māori who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Māori, new settlers and war

More European settlers arrived and Māori provided their food and supported the growth of towns. But diseases began to kill the Māori population, and by 1858 Europeans outnumbered Māori.

Tribes became unwilling to part with any more land and in 1860 war broke out between British troops and Māori. After the wars several million hectares of land was confiscated in Waikato, Taranaki and Bay of Plenty.

Overseas wars

Māori fought with New Zealand troops in the South African War and the First World War. The Māori Battalion gained high regard in the Second World War.

Māori and sport

Māori were also held in high regard on the sports field. The haka was performed at the beginning of rugby test matches, and players such as George Nēpia became national heroes. Yet Nēpia and other Māori players were excluded from a racially selected All Blacks side which toured South Africa in 1928.

Māori and the city

After the Second World War Māori began moving to the cities. New Zealanders prided themselves on their race relations, but Māori city dwellers met with discrimination. From the 1960s a generation of young Māori challenged this.

Māori adapted traditional institutions such as the marae to life in the city.

Waitangi Tribunal

In 1975 the government established the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate Māori grievances about breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Pākehā attitudes to Māori began to change. In the 2000s Māori Television was established.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Māori–Pākehā relations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 December 2023)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011