Story: Ngā tuakiri hōu – new Māori identities

Page 5. New terms for a new world

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Plastic Māori

The Māori renaissance made it more acceptable to identify as Māori. More people of mixed descent began doing so, including those with fairer skin who may not have acknowledged their Māori ancestry in earlier times when more prejudice prevailed. This gave rise to the term ‘born-again Māori’ for those who identified as Māori while retaining Pākehā notions of superiority. A related term, ‘plastic Māori’, was used by more culturally nationalistic Māori to refer to Māori who did not know te reo, tikanga or their whakapapa. The terms ‘waka blondes’ and ‘kōtuku mā’ (white herons) were used to describe Māori with non-traditional colouring such as fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.


The development of Māori television, Māori radio and several acclaimed films with Māori writers, producers or stars, including Mauri (1988), Once were warriors (1994) and Whale rider (2002), resulted in the terms ‘Mollywood’, ‘Horiwood’ and ‘mana media’.

Māori overseas

‘Maussies’ or ‘Mozzies’ (Māori in Australia) and ‘Ngāti Rānana’ (‘the London tribe’) refer to the large community of Māori in Australia and their smaller but still significant presence in London.


The worldwide movement for gay rights, the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act (1986) and Human Rights Act (1993), and the 1999 election of Georgina Beyer as the world’s first transgender MP, promoted greater acceptance of lesbian and gay Māori. The traditional term ‘takatāpui’, originally referring to a close companion of the same sex, is now claimed by gay, lesbian and transgender Māori.

Native affairs

One outcome of the Māori revival is that Māori have a greater ability to label themselves. This sometimes occurs in interesting ways; in 2006 Māori Television named its new current-affairs programme Native affairs, thereby reclaiming and transforming a formerly unacceptable term into a positive one. The term ‘indigenous’ has also become more widely used to link Māori with other ‘First Nations’ people advocating for their rights around the world.

Cultural transvestites

Māori have always called European New Zealanders ‘Pākehā’, but they are also sometimes colonialists, imperialists and tauiwi (strangers). Māori have embraced biculturalism, and also multiculturalism if it does not infringe their rights under the Treaty of Waitangi. When Pākehā advocates of these strategies are patronising, Māori tend to refer to them as ‘neoliberals’. The term cultural transvestite’ has emerged to describe Pākehā who claim a false authority over things Māori. More recently, the Māori term ‘tāwāhi’ (distant) has been introduced to describe new immigrants such as those from Asia.

Census results

The way people of Māori ancestry have identified themselves in the official census provides a further indication of the changing nature of Māori identity. Until the 1986 census, Māori were asked to specify their ethnicity by stating whether they were ‘full Māori’, ‘three-quarters Māori’ and so on. Since then, Māori have not been required to state what proportion of their ancestry is Māori. The 2013 census distinguished between those claiming Māori descent (who numbered 668,700), and those actually identifying themselves as Māori (598,600).  Of the second group, 48.9% also claimed Pākehā identity, 8.2% Pacific and 1.7% Asian.

How to cite this page:

Rawiri Taonui, 'Ngā tuakiri hōu – new Māori identities - New terms for a new world', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 February 2024)

Story by Rawiri Taonui, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jun 2017