Story: South Pacific peoples

Page 2. Island groups and recent migration

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Many islands

In 2013 the six largest groups of Pacific peoples in New Zealand were Samoans, Cook Islanders, Tongans, Niueans, Fijians and Tokelauans. However, there were also people from most of the other islands that pepper the world’s largest ocean.

Living in New Zealand were Austral Islanders, Belau/Palau Islanders, Bougainvilleans, Caroline Islanders, Easter Islanders, Gambier Islanders, Guam Islanders, Hawaiians, I-Kiribati (Kiribati people), Kanaka (New Caledonians), Marquesas Islanders, Marshall Islanders, Nauru Islanders, Papua New Guineans, Phoenix Islanders, Pitcairn Islanders, Society Islanders (including Tahitians), Solomon Islanders, Tuamotu Islanders, Tuvaluans, Vanuatuans, Wallis Islanders and Yap Islanders.

The most numerous of these other Pacific groups in New Zealand were Kiribati people, Tuvaluans, Papua New Guineans, Solomon Islanders, Vanuatuans and French Polynesians.

The total number of other Pacific peoples increased from around 2,000 in 1986 to nearly 7,000 in 2013. Most lived in the north of the North Island, particularly in Auckland. Although groups were small, many had distinct communities which gathered to celebrate traditions and to speak their native tongue.

Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)

Kiribati, a former British colony, is a group of 33 islands straddling the equator north of Tuvalu. The name Kiribati (pronounced kiri-baas) is a Micronesian transliteration of the former English name for the main island group, the Gilbert Islands.

In the First World War a few Kiribati men, along with some Niueans, served in the Māori Pioneer Battalion. But most Kiribati people have arrived since the 1970s in search of work. Some settled permanently, and by the early 2000s there were about 500, living mostly in Auckland. The Pacific Access Category, established by the New Zealand government in 2003, allows 75 Kiribati citizens to migrate annually, and sets quotas for other Pacific Islanders.

Regard for katei ni Kiribati (the Kiribati way) is strong – demonstrated by their conviction that the group is more important than the individual. The Kiribati community formed clubs in Wellington and Auckland. In 2000 the Wellington club gathered to mark the 21st anniversary of Kiribati's independence from Britain (12 July), with a feast and traditional performances such as the tekatoka bau (flower garland presentation dance). Dancers’ arms and hands were decorated, and they wore costumes made from coconut fibres or pandanus leaves.

Tuvalu (Ellice Islands)

Tuvalu consists of nine atolls which lie roughly midway between Hawaii and Australia.

In the 1970s the New Zealand government introduced a labour scheme for some Pacific Islanders. This allowed Tuvaluans and Kiribati people to work in New Zealand on 11-month contracts. The majority returned home after their contracts expired. Most of the Tuvaluans who settled permanently arrived after the islands became independent from Britain in 1978.

In 1994 the Tuvalu government made a formal request to Australia and New Zealand to take 1,000 of its 10,200 people, as the tiny atolls were becoming overcrowded. From 2003 the New Zealand government’s Pacific Access Category gave 75 citizens per year from Tuvalu the opportunity to settle here.

New Zealand’s Tuvaluan population quadrupled from 900 in 1996 to 3,537 in 2013. Many arrived during the 1990s for health, education and financial reasons. Some came because they feared that rising sea levels might drown their low-lying islands. In 2013 most New Zealand Tuvaluans lived in Auckland.

Tuvaluans are religious people, and many belong to the Protestant Christian Church of Tuvalu. Some islanders living in New Zealand send money home to their relatives. Among Tuvaluans a handshake is the usual greeting, while relatives may sogi – press cheeks and sniff deeply. Like Niueans and Tokelauans, Tuvaluan women practise the arts of weaving and creating adornments.

Big city, bright lights

Unlike many other Pacific Island peoples in New Zealand, most Tuvaluans have arrived since the 1990s. They tended to live in west Auckland, where they formed close-knit communities. Tuvaluan minister Suamalie Losefa helped newcomers adjust to their new life. ‘They need a lot of tuning up,’ he said. ‘They come from a very microscopic country, we don't even have street lights in Tuvalu’. 1

French Polynesia

The Polynesian ancestors of Māori settled New Zealand, so it is unsurprising that the Polynesian and Māori languages are very similar. James Cook took the Tahitian chief Tupaia and his young servant Tayeto on board the Endeavour in 1769. As Tupaia spoke some English and understood Māori, he could translate what Māori were saying to Cook. Tupaia and Tayeto were probably the first Pacific Islanders to visit New Zealand since the era of Polynesian settlement.

French Polynesia is vast. It takes in the Society Islands (which include Tahiti), the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Australs and Gambiers. Most French Polynesians in New Zealand are Tahitians from the Society Islands; in 2013 there were 465 French Polynesians living in New Zealand, mainly in Auckland.

Tahitian cultural groups such as Auckland’s Tahiti Ia Ora often perform at the annual Pasifika Festival, where women wear coconut-shell bras and practise their alluring hip-swaying dances.

Papua New Guinea

Originally, many Papua New Guineans visited New Zealand as students. Some stayed on, and by 1976 there were 544. The number born in Papua New Guinea had increased to 1,347 by 2013.

Ticking the ‘other’ box

Mali-Ann Jane Cole found that her mixed ethnic background presented complications when filling out forms:

‘I was conceived in the Solomon Islands and born in New Plymouth, New Zealand on the 5th of August 1970. What do I call myself? When it comes to this question, I just thank God for the little box called ‘other’ on the census forms. Seriously, I either put Melanesian/English, or Melanesian/English/Kiwi – which is a bit of a mouthful. I put Melanesian for my Mum who is a Solomon Islander, English for my Dad, and Kiwi for me, because I was born here in New Zealand and I have lived in Christchurch for most of my life’. 2

There are hundreds of languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, but the New Zealand group communicates in Pidgin (a mixture of English and local languages) or English. In the early 2000s they had an online chat room – PNG Wantoks [friends] in New Zealand – where people could organise meetings or just converse in Pidgin. In 2003 there was also a Papua New Guinea Student Association at Auckland University. As the national sport, rugby league has a keen following. Many play rugby league or rugby union in New Zealand.

Solomon Islands

A few Solomon Islanders came to New Zealand on secondary school scholarships in the 1960s. Some migrant families opened their homes for Solomon Islands university students, who in turn taught Melanesian kastom (tradition) to their New Zealand-born children. By 2013 there were some 600 people born in the Solomon Islands living in New Zealand.

Solomon Islanders are football mad, and players such as Henry Fa‘arodo, Batram Suri and Commins Menapi were standouts in the Nelson football scene in the early 2000s.

Women have been important figures in New Zealand’s Solomon Islands community. Mary Cole, who first came as a school student in 1965, and Doreen Prebble, wife of politician Richard Prebble, have been active in promoting Solomon Islands issues.

  1. › Back
  2. P. Fairbairn-Dunlop, and G. Sisifo Makisi, eds. Growing up PI in New Zealand. Palmerston North: Dunmore, 2003, p.189. › Back
How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'South Pacific peoples - Island groups and recent migration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 July 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015