Story: The New Zealanders

Page 5. Maorilanders

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After the advent of the Liberal government, another public event that helped New Zealanders define themselves was the opportunity of federation with Australia. Many of New Zealand’s 19th-century migrants had come via Australia, and some were Australian-born. Like Australians, New Zealanders were ‘colonials’ and sometimes even ‘Australasians’.


At the end of the 19th century, as Australia moved towards federating the separate colonies of Australia, New Zealanders decided to go it alone. There were many reasons for this. Old distinctions of a hot continent versus a bracing island environment, and convict stock versus New Zealand’s ‘chosen people’, were raised again. But the major factor was the 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometres) across the Tasman Sea which provided, in politician Sir John Hall’s words, 1,200 reasons against joining the federation. Another significant consideration was the different treatment of Māori that was likely to follow union with Australia. The place of Māori in New Zealand identity became an important point of distinction.

New Zealand as Maoriland

Australians were also searching for a sense of national character, which they found in the ‘bush legend’ about the hard-bitten people of the outback. The Bulletin magazine became the famous vehicle for this legend. The Bulletin had extensive coverage of New Zealand topics under the heading ‘Maoriland’. This was partly because there were a few Europeans in New Zealand who saw their identity as growing out of Māori tradition. Rather than advocating the adoption of Māori language and rituals, they believed that Māori legends could provide an instant history for newcomers, and that Māori could make, as the novelist Arthur Adams wrote, a contribution to ‘the New Zealand race of the future’ in the form of ‘a physique and a vitality that belong to primitive things’. 1

Such a vision was possible, not only because the Māori population was by 1900 under 50,000 and posed no military threat to Pākehā dominance, but also because some intellectuals believed Māori had peculiarly Anglo-Saxon qualities. They were seen as warriors, sailors and poets – a people, the journalist James Cowan noted, ‘whose love of the sea and pride in deeds of battle show strangely close affinity to some of the dominant traits of the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic race’ 2.

The Aryan Māori

In 1885 Edward Tregear, amateur ethnographer and later a leading public servant, published The Aryan Maori, in which he used linguistic evidence in an attempt to show that Māori were descended from people who had spread east from the Caucasus in south-east Europe, just as others moved west into Europe. In his interpretation, the Aryan race was reunited in New Zealand as Māori and Europeans mingled.

Such thinking was never universal in New Zealand, but strengthened the view that ‘our Maoris’ should be included as ‘honorary whites’ among the rest of the population. In 1901 the women’s suffrage leader Kate Sheppard said, ‘Maori and Pakeha have become one people, under one Sovereign and one Parliament, glorying alike in the one title of “New Zealander”’. 3

One people

As for Māori, many never considered themselves part of the ‘one people’ proclaimed by William Hobson at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The ‘amalgamation’ practised by the missionaries seemed to mean the replacement of Māori culture by British ‘civilisation’.

From the late 1850s the sense of a separate Māori nation emerged, finding expression first in the Māori King movement and later, in the 1890s, in the Kotahitanga (unity) movement, and the holding of separate Māori parliaments.

During the First World War there were some Māori, especially those in Waikato, who resisted any suggestion that they should fight for king and country. Others shared the view of those such as Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck) who, addressing the Māori forces on the battlefield at Gallipoli in Turkey, claimed that ‘we are the old New Zealanders. No division can be truly called a New Zealand division, unless it numbers Maoris among its ranks.’ 4 The politician Māui Pōmare also claimed that the war confirmed the union of Māori and Pākehā as New Zealanders ‘when their blood co-mingled in the trenches of Gallipoli’. 5

98.12% British

In the 19th century it seemed that the term ‘New Zealanders’ might exclude Māori. By 1920 few European New Zealanders understood it this way, although there would always be Māori who challenged their view. When in 1919 the politician G. W. Russell described New Zealanders as 98.12% British, Māori were included in his statistic. 6 Meanwhile a campaign was launched in the early 1920s to abolish the term ‘Australasian’.

  1. Arthur H. Adams, Tussock land: a romance of New Zealand and the Commonwealth. London: T. F. Unwin, 1904, p. 31. › Back
  2. James Cowan, The Maoris of New Zealand. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1910, p. 8. › Back
  3. National Council of Women, conference report, 1901, pp. 13–14. › Back
  4. J. B. Condliffe, Te Rangi Hiroa: the life of Sir Peter Buck. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1971, pp. 127–8. › Back
  5. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) 177 (1916), p. 942. › Back
  6. G. Warren Russell, New Zealand today: ‘a priceless gem in the imperial crown’. Christchurch: G. W. Russell, 1919, p. 115. › Back
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'The New Zealanders - Maorilanders', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 January 2017)

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