New Zealand People

With a patchwork history of Māori, European, Pacific Island and Asian cultures, New Zealand has become a melting-pot population – but one with some uniting features that make it unique in the world. Today, of the 4.4 million New Zealanders (informally known as Kiwis), approximately 69% are of European descent, 14.6% are indigenous Māori, 9.2% Asian and 6.9% non-Māori Pacific Islanders.



Pākehā culture (usually synonymous with New Zealand European culture) derives mainly from that of the British, particularly English settlers who colonised New Zealand in the nineteenth century. Until about the 1950s many Pākehā saw themselves as a British people, and retained strong cultural ties to “Mother England”. Yet there was a common perception that people born in New Zealand were likely to be physically stronger and more adaptable than people in Britain. The largely rural life in early New Zealand led to the image of New Zealanders being rugged, industrious problem solvers. Another distinctive trait of Pākehā culture has been the egalitarian tradition, as opposed to the British class system. Within Pākehā culture there are also sub-cultures derived from Irish, Italian and other European groups, as well as various non-ethnic subcultures.

From the 1980s Pākehā began to further explore their distinctive traditions and to argue that New Zealanders had a culture which was neither Māori nor British. There was an interest in “Kiwiana”—items from New Zealand’s heritage that are seen as representing iconic Kiwi elements, such as the pōhutukawa (New Zealand Christmas tree), pāua-shell ash-tray, Buzzy Bee, Pineapple Lumps, gumboots and jandals.



The Māori are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand. They originated with settlers from eastern Polynesian islands, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages at some time between 1250 and 1300. Māori settled the islands and developed a distinct culture over several hundred years. Oral history tells of a long voyage from Hawaiki (the mythical homeland in tropical Polynesia) in large ocean-going canoes (waka). Māori mythology is a distinctive corpus of gods and heroes, sharing some Polynesian motifs. Significant figures are Ranginui and Papatūānuku, Māui, and Kupe.

Central to many cultural events is the marae, where families and tribes gather for special occasions, such as pōwhiri or tangi. Māori often call themselves “tāngata whenua” (people of the land), placing particular importance on a lifestyle connected to land and sea. Communal living, sharing, and living off the land are strong traditional values.

The distinct values, history, and worldview of Māori are expressed through traditional arts and skills such as haka, tā moko, waiata, carving, weaving, and poi. The concept of tapu (meaning taboo or sacred) is also a strong force in Māori culture, applied to objects, people, or even mountains.


Other ethnic groups


Until the 1980s China seemed far away and exotic, largely because of New Zealand’s geographical isolation, Eurocentric culture, British connections and unwillingness to see itself as an Asia–Pacific nation. In the 1960s, Chinese festivals were hardly observed. By the 1970s, most Chinese were on the way to assimilation, and there was a possibility that their culture would become totally submerged.

However, successive waves of new immigrants from the early 1990s reinvigorated many traditions. Chinese New Year and the mid-autumn festival, for example, have become popular celebrations drawing huge crowds of Chinese and other New Zealanders. Some events, like the lantern festival and the dragon boat race, are now widely popular among other New Zealanders, especially the young.

The Chinese community is now made up of many sub-groups, divided by language and dialect. Its members come from very different countries with distinct political systems. Many of the locally born young Chinese are trying to reconnect with their cultural roots, some by learning Chinese, and some by visiting China. More recent immigrants have set up Chinese schools to help maintain their children’s heritage language skills, while many parents study English and retrain for a New Zealand qualification.

Parents today are more relaxed about their children’s choice of professions. In the 1960s children were encouraged to train for a ‘secure’ profession, and to become doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects, but the 21st century has witnessed the emergence of young Chinese artists, writers, musicians and poets.


Korean New Zealanders (Korean: 한국계 뉴질랜드인), also referred to informally as Korean Kiwis or Kowis, are New Zealand citizens and residents of Korean ancestry. The 2018 New Zealand census found 35,664 Koreans in the country, virtually all from South Korea, making them the third-largest Asian population there, and more than 0.75 percent of the total population of New Zealand.

Apart from permanent Korea residents, 2019 there were an additional 8,000 Korean international students and over 88,000 visitors.

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