If New Zealand is a land of immigrants from other places, when did a separate character, the New Zealander, emerge? The answer cannot be an objective one; there is no genetic measure of a distinct ‘race’. New Zealanders began to exist when people said they did.
The first inhabitants of New Zealand probably did not think of themselves as a nation. With no remembered contact with peoples of other countries, Māori had no need to define themselves by the islands in which they lived. They identified themselves with smaller entities – the canoes in which their ancestors arrived from Polynesia, and their tribes and sub-tribes.
The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to reach the country, in 1642, followed in 1769 by the Briton James Cook and the Frenchman Jean François Marie de Surville. When newcomers first appeared in their waters, Māori placed them within their own world view as returning ancestors or supernatural beings.
In the 19th century, as Māori began to visit other lands and to see the newcomers as people with different languages and customs, they perceived themselves as tangata māori, the ‘ordinary or usual people’. In contrast, others became tangata mā (white people), tangata pora (strange people), tangata tupua (foreign or demonic people) and eventually Pākehā (non-Māori, or European), a term which was certainly in use by 1815.
Māori as New Zealanders
The first Europeans in New Zealand did not use these terms. Abel Tasman described the inhabitants as ‘Indians’, a European term for indigenous peoples of other places. But by the time of Cook’s voyages the country had been given the Dutch name Nieuw Zeeland on European maps. From 1769 the local people, the Māori, were called New Zealanders by the visitors; this continued for the next 80 years. Europeans in New Zealand did not wish to be considered ‘New Zealanders’. In George Craik’s 1830 book about Māori, The New Zealanders, a Pākehā–Māori man is introduced as ‘a white New Zealander’ and promptly responds that he is ‘not a New Zealander, but an Englishman’. 1