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Pakeha is a New Zealand English word for European New Zealanders, that is, New Zealanders of predominantly European descent.

The Word

Pākehā is a word adopted from the Maori language. Its derivation is not entirely clear but its present usage originated after the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand in the late 18th century. It is most likely to be derived from either of the words pākehakeha or pakepakehā, meaning imaginary, fair-skinned beings. It has been claimed that the word derives from Maori words for flea or pig (and is therefore derogatory) but this idea has no linguistic support.

Pakeha is often pluralised in English as Pakehas. In Maori, the plural is Pakeha as pluralisation is indicated by pronouns or definite articles. Pakeha is sometimes also used as the plural in English as it is considered by Maori linguists to be more correct.


Pakeha are also commonly known in New Zealand as European New Zealanders and sometimes as Caucasian New Zealanders or white New Zealanders.

The word has sometimes been applied more narrowly to just New Zealanders of British or Anglo/Celtic descent. Sometimes it has been applied more widely to include non-Maori other than those of European descent.

European New Zealanders vary in their attitude toward the word Pakeha being applied to them. Some embrace it wholeheartedly as a sign of their New Zealandness, in contrast to the Europeaness of their forebears. However some of those who are prejudiced towards Maori people object to the word, claiming it to be derogatory although there is no evidence for this.

Cultural Identity

Many Pakeha do not readily identify a Pakeha culture. While Maori culture is well recognised, Pakeha culture tends to be taken for granted as the norm.

When aspects of Pakeha culture are recognised they are often described as Kiwiana. This includes icons such as the Chesdale Cheese men and the game of rugby. Pakeha and Maori culture together make up New Zealand culture.

Michael King is a leading writer on Pakeha identity in his books "Being Pakeha" (1985) and "Being Pakeha now" (1999).

Polynesian equivalent

Palangi is the equivalent word used by people of Tongan/Samoan (?) culture to refer to people of European descent.

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