The demand for Samoan labour came principally from New Zealand’s cities. By the 1960s, well-established migration chains linked migrants from the rural villages of Samoa to the suburbs of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Most arrived without much capital, and were initially dependent on rental housing. Later, as they took advantage of the many state-provided incentives to home ownership, communities grew on the fringes of the cities.
In 2013, two in three Samoan New Zealanders lived in the Auckland region; the next largest population was in Wellington, with Christchurch following. One in three lived in the Manukau ward, south of Auckland. Auckland was the Polynesian capital of the world and the showplace of Pacific culture.
The Samoan church in New Zealand
Samoan churches proliferated in New Zealand cities. They took on the role of villages, and provided a platform for strong Samoan identity. In the early 2000s, many Samoans belonged to the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches (Samoa’s mainstream religions), and considerable numbers were Roman Catholics. Others belonged to the Mormon Church, and there was a growing membership of charismatic denominations.
First and largest Samoan church
Newton Pacific Islanders Congregational Church in Edinburgh St, Auckland, was the first Pacific church in New Zealand. It was founded in 1947, attracting Cook Islanders, Niueans and Samoans. In the 1970s and 1980s it expanded, eventually becoming the largest Congregational church in New Zealand, with about 30 branches.
How did Samoan people fare?
A 1999 report by the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, The social and economic status of Pacific peoples in New Zealand, painted a depressing picture. Pacific peoples’ relatively low position has been attributed to economic restructuring policies. These resulted in job losses in industries such as agriculture, forestry and manufacturing, where most Pacific Islanders worked. In 2013 the median annual income for Samoans aged 15 or over was only NZ$20,800, compared with NZ$28,500 among New Zealanders as a whole; and 15.3% of the Samoan labour force were unemployed, compared with 7.1% of New Zealanders generally.
However, statistical data can obscure the social and cultural structures which make such a difference to Pacific Island peoples. Although some were filling the prisons, hospitals and dole queues at an increasing rate, others were still going to church in large numbers, sending millions of dollars in remittances to their families back home, graduating in increasing numbers from New Zealand universities (in 2013, 8% of Samoans aged 15 and over had a tertiary qualification, compared to 5.7% in 2006), featuring among the country's top sportspeople, and participating increasingly in the entertainment, education and business sectors. It was also clear that success did not necessarily come at the price of losing island culture.