Story: South Pacific peoples

For Pacific Islanders who want to enjoy the benefits of moving to a more sizeable country, New Zealand is often the nearest, and the choice of many. Large communities of Samoans, Tongans, Fijians and others are prominent, especially in Auckland. Many smaller Pacific groups have also made New Zealand their home. These include Kiribati people, Tuvaluans, French Polynesians, Papua New Guineans and Solomon Islanders.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Solomon Island soccer player Batram Suri

Story summary

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Early migration

Most Pacific Islanders in New Zealand come from those islands which are closest, and those which New Zealand has at some stage administered. Because New Zealand was part of the British Empire, it was more difficult for people from Pacific islands with French or other non-British colonial histories to immigrate.

Early arrivals included students from New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands and Vanuatu, brought in the 1850s by the Anglican missionary George Selwyn and schooled in Auckland. But these young scholars were exceptions; by 1916 there were only about 200 people from the Pacific Islands living in New Zealand.

Island groups and recent migration

Although there are hundreds of islands in the Pacific, most Pacific peoples in New Zealand come from just six islands or island groups – Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Fiji and Tokelau.

But there are many other Pacific islands, and in 2013 there were more than 6,000 people born in these islands living in New Zealand. Most numerous among other them were Kiribati people, Tuvaluans, Tahitians, Papua New Guineans and Solomon Islanders.

Initially, Pacific Islanders often came as students, or they visited on temporary work permits. From the 1970s more people settled, forming communities mainly in the Auckland area. Community life meant that they could continue to speak their language and maintain their customs.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'South Pacific peoples', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2015