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Story: The New Zealanders

New Zealand is a land of immigrants from other places. But at some point, a distinct character, the New Zealander, emerged. This is the story of how those living or born in New Zealand have formed a unique people, with their own traditions and ways of life.

Story by Jock Phillips
Main image: Portrait of Edmund Hillary

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

New Zealanders: Māori and European

New Zealand got its name (originally Nieuw Zeeland) after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman reached its shores in 1642. The early European explorers and others who arrived after Tasman referred to Māori, the indigenous people, as ‘New Zealanders’. Māori at first thought these visitors were ancestors or supernatural beings.

In the 1850s the European population, which was mostly British, increased. The original people then became known as Māori (‘the ordinary or usual people’) and all people living permanently in the country took on the name New Zealanders.

Britons

Until about the 1950s most white New Zealanders saw themselves as British, and were proud members of the British Empire. Yet they also believed that people born in New Zealand were likely to be physically stronger and more adaptable than people in Britain. Some poked fun at new arrivals because they seemed timid, or snobbish.

Nationalism

During the 20th century there was a stronger sense of what being a New Zealander meant. Some of the reasons for this were:

  • Increasing numbers of people were being born and raised in New Zealand.
  • The All Black rugby team beat the British in 1905.
  • New Zealand men were seen as unusually strong and courageous. Soldiers started to call themselves ‘Kiwis’.
  • Writers began to capture the distinctive New Zealand slang and attitudes.
  • Heroes such as Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt Everest in 1953, represented the tough, modest Kiwi.

New influences

From the 1950s onwards, New Zealanders’ view of themselves continued to change:

  • The country began to break its ties with Britain.
  • People in cities, including women, disliked the male, rugby-and-war image.
  • Māori claimed that there were not one but two cultures.
  • Immigrants from the Pacific and Asia brought new traditions.
  • New Zealanders made their mark in new fields, from movies to fashion to scientific research.

Today there are many ideas about what it is to be a New Zealander.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'The New Zealanders', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/the-new-zealanders (accessed 27 June 2017)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 20 May 2015