Story: South Pacific peoples

Page 1. Early migration

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Colonial ties

The migration of Pacific peoples is strongly linked to their colonial history. When transport routes were forged between colonising country and island, this opened the way for travel and eventually migration. Tahitians and New Caledonians went to France, American Samoans to America, and Melanesians to Australia. Pacific peoples who migrated to New Zealand came mainly from those islands which were nearest, and from islands with a British colonial history. Fewer people migrated from islands colonised by France and the United States.

Seafarers and students

A few Polynesians boarded passing European ships and worked as crew members. A Tuvaluan named Telava made it as far as the Antarctic ice, and commemorated the event by naming his granddaughter Taimalo (‘the sea is solid’). In the 1800s a handful of Polynesian wayfarers landed in southern New Zealand, probably arriving on whaling ships. Known as Kanakas, they were not common, but they did stand out. Settlers gave them British names. As early as 1856 a ‘South Sea Island native’ known as Jack was working as a shepherd in Southland, while in North Otago around the same time there was a ‘Ben Tucker’ who was either ‘Otaheitian’ (Tahitian) or ‘Hawaiian’. Another man, described as ‘Matakeni, a South Seas islander’, was a ferryman on the Waitaki River.

Anglican missionary George Selwyn visited New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands and the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in the 1850s, and returned to New Zealand with a group of young students. Schooled during summer in Auckland, they were returned in autumn because the winter was ‘too cold and too wet for such hot-house plants’. 1 Over the next 18 years Selwyn’s Melanesian mission schooled 152 youths at St John’s College, Auckland, and St Andrew’s College, Kohimarama (later renamed Mission Bay).

The 1872 New Zealand census lists 31 people born in the ‘South Sea Islands’. While many were probably island-born British colonials, it is likely that some were indigenous islanders. By 1916, records show that 18 Melanesians, 49 Fijians and 151 ‘other and undefined’ Polynesians had settled in New Zealand. After the Second World War Solomon Islanders, Papua New Guineans and Tuvaluans attended schools and universities in New Zealand. In 1956 Francis Talasasa graduated with a bachelor of arts from Canterbury University – he was the first Solomon Islander to receive a degree. Students tended to return home after their studies, to work for the benefit of their people.

Footnotes:
  1. E. S. Armstrong. The history of the Melanesian mission. London: Isbister, 1900, p. 9. › Back
How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'South Pacific peoples - Early migration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/south-pacific-peoples/page-1 (accessed 17 December 2017)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015