Story: Māori–Pākehā relations

Pākehā men pursuing whales off the coast of Aotearoa New Zealand in the 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 soon deteriorated.

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

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Trading and whaling

In 1830 there were around 300 Pākehā living in New Zealand, and up to 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.

After shore whaling stations were set up, some European whalers formed relationships with Māori women. These 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 help protect Māori from prostitution, alcohol, muskets and disease.

From 1814 until the 1830s, the missionaries struggled to convert Māori to Christianity. 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

As more European settlers arrived, Māori provided their food and supported the growth of towns. But diseases continued to kill Māori, and by 1858 they were outnumbered by Europeans.

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 before rugby test matches overseas, and players such as George Nēpia became national heroes. Yet Māori players were excluded from the All Blacks sides which toured South Africa in 1928, 1949 and 1960.

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 injustice.

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 recent (and from 1985, past) breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Pākehā attitudes to Māori began to change. In 2004, Māori Television was set up. It was renamed Whakaata Māori in 2022.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Māori–Pākehā relations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011