New Zealand Nuance #7: Pākehā

Pākehā (par-kay-har) is a Maori language term for a white person of European decent and it apparently doesn’t matter if you’re a New Zealander or not. The word pākehā isn’t recognised in New Zealand law and in fact non-Māori New Zealanders tried to ban it’s use in the 1980’s. Over the past 40 years, the word has thought (by non-Māori people) to have meant many things from ‘white pig’ or ‘rat’ to (rather bizarrely) a slang term for homosexual whalers and sailors.

None of this is true and in fact most historians and language experts agree that the original meaning of pākehā is most likely to be ‘pale, imaginary beings resembling men’, referring to a sea-dwelling, godlike people in Māori mythology. It has been used to describe Europeans (and then New Zealanders of European descent) since before 1815.

So despite what it might sound like, this is not a derogatory term so don’t be offended if someone calls you this if you are European looking.


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