While intermarriage between Māori and Europeans became widely acceptable, late 19th-century scientists theorised that intermarriage with other peoples would create a race of ‘hybrids’ who would inherit the worst features of each ‘race’. Intermarriage between white women and ‘Asiatics’ (Chinese) was particularly feared. Both Chinese and Indian men were known as ‘race aliens’. They were thought to be unwilling to assimilate, to undercut living standards because of their frugality, and to have strange customs and immoral habits, especially coveting the wives and daughters of Pākehā and Māori men.
Charles Thatcher, a popular entertainer on the New Zealand and Australian goldfields in the 1850s and 1860s, revealed the anti-Asian prejudice of that time in his song about the marriage of a Chinese gold miner and a white woman.
To look at her, ’twas hard to say
Exactly where her beauty lay
Her complexion was a dirty brown
And she’d lately come from Hobart Town
Smallpox had left big traces there
She’d a snub nose, and deep red hair
But finding fault was not his plan
She was just the girl for the Chinaman.1
Until the mid-20th century, Chinese and Indian populations in New Zealand were largely ‘bachelor societies’ made up mainly of males. They arrived with no intention of becoming permanent settlers, but from 1881 immigration restrictions made it increasingly difficult for them to leave and re-enter the country, or to bring their families to New Zealand.
Asian migrants therefore had little opportunity to meet and marry women of their own ethnic origin. Many eventually married Pākehā, or in some cases Māori, women. Women who chose to enter a relationship with a Chinese man were described as ‘worse than the Chinese themselves – as the vilest of the vile’.2 One Christchurch resident noted in 1886 that the Chinese ‘are supposed to be great admirers of the white girls; occasionally a marriage takes place’, but, unusually, added that Chinese men were said to make ‘very kind and affectionate husbands’.3
Māori and market gardeners
Many Chinese had migrated to New Zealand to work on the goldfields. Once the gold rushes ended, some moved into market gardening on the outskirts of main centres. By the 1920s there was growing public concern for the welfare of Māori women working on Asian-owned market gardens, and politician Sir Āpirana Ngata set up a commission of inquiry into the issue. The commission found only three ‘legal marriages’ between Māori women and Chinese men and an unspecified number of de facto relationships. It reported, ‘The indiscriminate intermingling of the lower types of races – ie. Maoris, Chinese and Hindus … must eventually cause deterioration not only in the family and national life of the Maori race, but also in the national life of this country, by the introduction of a hybrid race.’4 However, the commission also found that Māori women preferred working for Chinese or Indian market gardeners since they were more generous than European employers.
Mate, mate, mate
The poet Kendrick Smithyman was born in Dargaville, and spent summer holidays in the Far North, where he befriended local Dalmatians and Māori. His poem ‘An ordinary day beyond Kaitaia’ includes a punning reference to the three languages of that region:
I write in her dust
On the bonnet of our station wagon
MATE. That will do, for a time.5
In English ‘mate’ can mean a friend, or to marry and procreate. In Māori it refers to death and sickness. In Croatian (the language of the Dalmatian migrants) ‘Mate’ is a common first name, held by many men of Dalmatian descent in Northland.
Another distinctive ethnic minority in the late 19th century was the Dalmatian gum diggers of the Far North. As with the first Chinese and Indians, these migrants from Dalmatia (now part of Croatia) were overwhelmingly male, and marriage to local women, especially Māori, was common. The first recorded marriage between a Dalmatian gum digger and a Māori was in 1891. Another gum digger, Lovro Petricevich, married Makareta Raharuhi of the Ngāti Kurī tribe. Lovro became fluent in Māori, and when he died he was buried on his wife’s marae in accordance with local custom. Their daughter, Dame Miraka Szaszy, was the first Māori woman to graduate from Auckland University.
The descendants of Dalmatians and Māori remain proud of their mixed cultural and linguistic heritage. In March 2010 the 11th annual Tarara Day was celebrated in West Auckland, jointly organised by Te Waipareira marae and the Croatian Cultural Society. ‘Tarara’ is the Māori term for people of Dalmatian descent.