Culture of New Zealand

Culture of New Zealand
The Kiwi has become a New Zealand icon.

The culture of New Zealand is largely inherited from British and European custom, interwoven with Maori and Polynesian tradition. An isolated Pacific Island nation, New Zealand was comparatively recently settled by humans. Initially Māori only, then bicultural with colonial and rural values, now New Zealand is a cosmopolitan culture that reflects its changing demographics, is conscious of the natural environment, and is an educated, developed Western society.

Māori culture has predominated for most of New Zealand's history of human habitation. Māori voyagers reached the islands of New Zealand some time before 1300, though exact dates are uncertain. Over the ensuing centuries of Māori expansion and settlement, Māori culture diverged from its Polynesian roots. Māori established separate tribes, built fortified villages (), hunted and fished, traded commodities, developed agriculture, arts and weaponry, and kept a detailed oral history. Regular European contact began approximately 200 years ago, and British immigration proceeded rapidly during the nineteenth century.

The colonists had a dramatic effect on the indigenous Maori, bringing religion, technology, and the English language. In 1840 Māori leaders signed the Treaty of Waitangi, intended to enable the tribes to live peacefully with the colonists. However after several incidents, the treaty was ignored and the New Zealand land wars broke out from 1845, with Māori suffering a loss of land and identity, while also increasingly becoming a minority group over the following century. Despite such setbacks, Māori culture has regained much of its lost influence in recent decades.

European New Zealanders (Pākehā), despite their location far from Europe, retained strong cultural ties to "Mother England."[1] These ties were weakened by the demise of the British Empire and loss of special access to British meat and dairy markets. Pākehā began to forge a separate identity influenced by their pioneering history, a rural lifestyle and New Zealand's unique environment. Pākehā culture became prevalent after the land wars, but after sustained political efforts, biculturalism and the Treaty of Waitangi became part of the school curriculum in the late 20th century, to promote understanding between Māori and Pākehā.

More recently, New Zealand culture has been broadened by globalization and immigration from the Pacific Islands, East Asia and South Asia. European and Māori remain the two largest ethnicities, but the large Polynesian population in Auckland has prompted the observation that Auckland is now the largest Polynesian city in the world.[2] However, the country outside of Auckland is still much less heterogeneous, with big parts of the South Island remaining predominantly of European descent.

New Zealand marks two national days of remembrance, Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day, and also celebrates holidays during or close to the anniversaries of the founding dates of each province.[3] The national anthem, "God Defend New Zealand"[4] is often sung with alternating Māori and English verses.[5] Many citizens prefer to minimise ethnic divisions, simply calling themselves New Zealanders or Kiwis.


Māori culture

Māori woman wearing a hei-tiki around her neck, pounamu earring and shark tooth earring, and two huia feathers in her hair. She wears a cloak with black fringe border, and has a moko design on her chin.

The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand (Aotearoa). They probably arrived in south-western Polynesia in several waves at some time before 1300, although dates of up to 2000 years ago still attract some support. The Māori settled the islands and developed a distinct culture.

Maori 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. Some notable figures are Rangi and Papa, 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 Maori 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.

Europeans migrated to New Zealand in increasing numbers from the late 18th century, and the weapon technologies and diseases they introduced destabilised Māori society. After 1840 and the Treaty of Waitangi, Māori lost much of their land and mana (prestige and authority), entering a period of cultural and numerical decline. However their population began to increase again from the late 19th century, and a cultural revival began in the 1960s, sometimes known as the Maori Renaissance.

Pākehā culture

Pakeha New Zealanders circa 1906.

Pākehā culture (usually synonymous with New Zealand European) derives mainly from that of the British settlers who colonised New Zealand in the nineteenth century. Although it is recognisably related to British culture, it has always had distinct differences, and these have increased as time has gone on. Things which distinguish Pākehā culture from British culture include higher levels of egalitarianism, anti-intellectualism, and the idea that most people can do most things if they put their minds to it. Within Pākehā culture are sub-cultures derived from Irish, Italian and other European groups, as well as various non-ethnic subcultures.

It has been claimed that Pākehā do not actually have a culture, or if they do it is not a distinct one. Part of the problem is that high culture is often mistaken for culture in general, and the lack of recognition historically given to New Zealand's artists, writers and composers is seen as evidence of a lack of culture. In contrast, Pākehā pop culture is generally highly visible and often valued. This is observable in the common belief that kiwiana, a category of kitsch 1950s-style artifacts, is a defining cultural touchstone.[citation needed]

Others argue that belief in the 'absence' of culture in NZ is a symptom of white privilege, allowing members of a dominant group to see their culture as 'normal' or 'default', rather than as a specific position of relative advantage.[6] One of the goals of Pākehā anti-racist groups of the 1980s was to enable Pākehā to see their own culture as such, rather than thinking what they did was normal and what other people did was 'ethnic' and strange.[7]

Cultural borrowing and adaptation

Māori borrowing from Pākehā culture

Since the early stages of colonisation, Māori have been receptive adopters of aspects of Pākehā culture. From the 1830s many Māori converted to Christianity and in the process learned to read and write, to the extent that it has been claimed that in mid nineteenth century New Zealand, Māori were more likely to be literate than Pākehā. A number of religions, such as Pai Marire and Ringatu, arose in the nineteenth century, blending Māori tradition and Christianity. Similarly Māori traditional chants were put to Victorian music, or written to European tunes, European designs and metal tools adopted by carvers, altering their style and British fabrics and cloth, such as blanketing adopted to form new dress. The horse was adopted, particularly on the East coast. European tools and particularly weapons were frequently decorated with traditional motifs, for example wooden musket and rifle stocks acquired elaborate carving. From the 1820s Maori began building vessels in the European boat building tradition. Many of these activities were conducted in collaboration with Pakeha traders and settlers.

From the 1860s, the adoption of Pākehā culture became less of a free choice as Pākehā began to outnumber Māori. A Pākehā-dominated parliament had free rein to pass legislation affecting Māori, such as the Native Schools Act (1867) which required English to be the dominant medium of instruction for Māori children. So, while majority of Māori encouraged their children to learn the English language and Pākehā ways of life in order to function economically and socially, Māori were pushed as well as pulled into changing culture. From the early twentieth century and especially from the 1970s, Māori began to protest against this Eurocentrism and demanded equal recognition for their own culture.

Many Māori have become successful practitioners of European-derived art forms; indeed many of New Zealand's biggest arts success stories are Māori or part Māori. These include opera singers Inia Te Wiata and Kiri Te Kanawa, novelists Keri Hulme (winner of the Booker Prize) and Alan Duff, poet Hone Tuwhare and painter Ralph Hotere, actors Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis and director Lee Tamahori. Māori culture has also provided inspiration to Pakeha artists.

Pākehā borrowing from Māori culture

A multi-ethnic All Black squad perform a haka.

Since the late nineteenth century, Pākehā have used many of its forms when they required something distinctively New Zealand. The most famous example of this is the haka of the All Blacks, a Māori posture dance which is performed before international rugby matches (there are many non-Māori Polynesian All Blacks, thus making this a multi-ethnic borrowing). However Pākehā artists such as Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters have also incorporated Māori motifs into their art, and a number of early Pākehā writers used Māori themes and topics in an effort to create an authentically New Zealand literature.[8] The tourist industry has also made heavy use of Māori culture in an effort to present tourists with distinctly New Zealand experiences and items. This may show that Pākehā are not entirely confident that they have a culture of their own, or if they do, that it is interesting or distinct. Many Pākehā in other countries use Māori culture in order to express their New Zealandness, even if they take little interest in Māori while in New Zealand. An example of this is the mass haka which takes place in Parliament Square in London every Waitangi Day. Although Māori are generally involved, most participants are Pākehā.[9]

For many years Pākehā did not consult Māori over the use of their culture, and Māori generally did not protest loudly unless a symbol was being used in a particularly inappropriate way. From the 1970s, Māori began increasingly to object to Pākehā use of their culture, especially when this use was disrespectful or ignorant. One example of this is the 'haka party incident' of 1979. University of Auckland engineering students had a tradition of performing an obscene mock haka at graduation. After pleas from Māori students to discontinue the practice were ignored, a group assaulted the engineering students. They were later charged with assault but defended by Māori elders who testified that the engineers' haka was deeply offensive.[10] Most Pākehā are now more respectful of Māori culture and often consult Māori before using Māori cultural forms. However despite some attempts to copyright cultural intellectual property[11] this does not always occur and forms are still sometimes used in inappropriate ways.

Nonetheless, some Pākehā have been deeply involved in the revival of otherwise lost Māori arts. In the performance of traditional Māori musical instruments Richard Nunns has earned wide respect; as have the contributions made by many academics, for example, Dame Anne Salmond in the area of traditional rituals of encounter, or Mervyn McLean in the analysis of traditional song.

Borrowing from overseas

Both Māori and Pākehā have borrowed cultural forms and styles from other countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom. Most popular New Zealand music derives from Anglo-American styles, particularly rock music, hip-hop, electronic dance music and related sub-genres. Although there is evidence of a 'New Zealand style', many groups incorporate New Zealand themes into their work, so this style affects each genre differently. More recently however from the start of the 21st century Dub-step, Drum and Bass, Jungle Trance and related sub-genres, derived from England, has been further developed by New Zealanders into a unique sound, exemplified by Salmonella Dub, Shapeshifter and many others.

The visual arts have also shown the influence of international movements, for example cubism in the early work of Colin McCahon. In general, the development of international mass media and mass communication has meant New Zealanders have always been aware of developments in other countries; this lends itself to the adoption of new forms and styles from overseas.


New Zealand has three official languages: New Zealand English, Te Reo Māori (the Māori language), and New Zealand Sign Language.[12] In practice only English is widely used although major efforts have been made in recent years to nurture Te Reo. Numerous other languages are spoken in New Zealand due to its high racial diversity as a multicultural country.

New Zealand English

New Zealand English is close to Australian English in pronunciation, but has several differences often overlooked by people from outside these countries. The most obvious difference is in vowel pronunciation. The Australian i-sound is like the New Zealand e, and the New Zealand i like the Australian u. New Zealand vowels in general are softer in phonetic terms. Some of these differences show New Zealand English to have more affinity with the English of southern England than Australian English does. Several of the differences also show the influence of Māori speech. The most striking difference from Australian and other forms of English (although shared partly with South African English) is the flattened i of New Zealand English. The New Zealand accent also has some Scottish and Irish influences from the large number of settlers from those places during the 19th century. At the time of the 2006 census, English was spoken by 3,673,623 people: 91.2% of the total population.[13]

Te Reo Māori

An Eastern Polynesian language, Te Reo Māori is closely related to Tahitian and Cook Islands Māori; slightly less closely to Hawaiian and Marquesan; and more distantly to the languages of Western Polynesia, including Samoan, Niuean and Tongan. The language went into decline in terms of use following European colonisation, but since the 1970s mildly successful efforts have been made to reverse this trend. These include the granting of official language status through the Māori Language Act 1987,[12] a Māori language week and a Māori Television channel. The 2006 census found Te Reo to be spoken by 157,110 people, making it the most common language in New Zealand after English.

New Zealand Sign Language

New Zealand Sign Language has its roots in British Sign Language (BSL), and may be technically considered a dialect of British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language (BANZSL). There are 62.5% similarities found in British Sign Language and NZSL, compared with 33% of NZSL signs found in American Sign Language. Like other natural sign languages, it was devised by and for Deaf people, with no linguistic connection to a spoken or written language, and it is fully capable of expressing anything a fluent signer wants to say. It uses more lip-patterns in conjunction with hand and facial movement to cue signs than BSL, reflecting New Zealand's history of oralist education of deaf people. Its vocabulary includes Māori concepts such as marae and tangi, and signs for New Zealand placenames. New Zealand Sign Language became an official language of New Zealand in April 2006.[12] A total of 24,090 people in New Zealand use New Zealand sign language.

Other languages

According to the 2006 census, 174 different languages are used in New Zealand (including sign languages). After English and Māori, the most common are Samoan (85,428 speakers), French (53,757), Hindi (44,589) and Cantonese, spoken by 44,154 people). The number of French speakers is probably due to the popularity of French as a subject in schools rather than evidence of large scale Francophone immigration.


New Zealand has two 'high cultural' traditions: Māori and Western. However most cultural material consumed in New Zealand is imported from overseas, particularly from Britain and the United States. Because of this and New Zealand's small population, most New Zealand artists, performers and writers struggle to make a living from their art.[citation needed] Some funding for the arts is provided through a specific arts based government department, Creative New Zealand. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage are national bodies that assist with heritage preservation. Most towns and cities have museums and often art galleries, and the national museum and art gallery is Te Papa ('Our Place'), in Wellington.

Visual arts

Pre-European Māori visual art had two main forms: carving and weaving. Both recorded stories and legends and also had religious roles. When Europeans arrived, they brought with them Western artistic traditions. Early Pākehā art focussed mainly on landscape painting, although some of the best known Pākehā artists of the nineteenth century (Charles Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer) specialised in Māori portraiture. Some Māori adopted Western styles and a number of nineteenth century meeting houses feature walls painted with portraits and plant designs. From the early twentieth century Apirana Ngata and others began a programme of reviving traditional Māori arts, and many new meeting houses were built with traditional carving and tukutuku (woven wall panels) were built. A longstanding concern of Pākehā artists has been the creation of a distinctly New Zealand artistic style. Rita Angus and others used the landscape to try and achieve this while painters such as Gordon Walters used Māori motifs. A number of Māori artists, including Paratene Matchitt and Shane Cotton have combined Western modernism with traditional Māori art.

Performing arts

Kapa haka

Kapa haka, (kapa meaning 'rank' or 'row' and haka referring to a Māori dance), is the 'cultural dance' component of traditional Māori Performing Arts. Kapa haka is an avenue for Maori people to express their heritage and cultural identity through song and dance. It has undergone a renaissance, with national competitions held yearly and kapa haka used in many state occasions. The haka (often mistaken as always being a war dance or ritual challenge) has become part of wider New Zealand culture, being performed by the All Blacks as a group ritual before international games and by homesick New Zealanders of all races who want to express their New Zealandness.[citation needed]


New Zealand drama, both on stage and screen, has been plagued during much of its history by cost and lack of popular interest in New Zealand culture. Despite this Roger Hall and, more recently, Jacob Rajan are two playwrights to achieve considerable popular success. In recent decades New Zealand film has grown dramatically, with the films Once Were Warriors, The Piano and Heavenly Creatures doing well both locally and internationally, and Lord of the Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson becoming one of film's most successful directors. New Zealand's most popular comedian was the late Billy T. James.


New Zealand music takes most of the same forms as that of other 'Western' countries, with hip-hop being particularly popular amongst young Māori and Pacific Islanders. New Zealand hip-hop tends to be more humorous and much less violent and sexist than in other countries. There are small but thriving live music and dance party scenes. Classical music has less popular support, but New Zealand has produced several successful composers and an internationally famous opera singer (Kiri Te Kanawa). There is also a strong indie music scene present in New Zealand. Reggae is also considered popular within Maori and Pacific Island communities, with bands such as The Herbs, Katchafire, 1814, House Of Shem, Unity Pacific, to name a few, all reflect and express their roots, perspectives and cultural pride and heritage through their music. The collective consciousness of Reggae in Aotearoa New Zealand all embodies the universal message of Love, Peace, and Unity under Jah.


In recent decades New Zealand comics have risen in popularity and recognition. In the 1970s and 1980s Billy T James satirized race relations, and McPhail & Gadsby lampooned political figures, especially Rob Muldoon. John Clarke aka Fred Dagg joked about rural life. From the 1990s onwards the Naked Samoans expressed a Polynesian sense of humour to the nation, and Raybon Kan is a prominent Asian comic and columnist. The Topp Twins are an off-beat comic/country music duo, and Flight of the Conchords have become famous throughout the English-speaking world for their self-effacing show.


New Zealand's most successful early writers were expatriates such as Katherine Mansfield. From the 1950s, Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame and others had (non lucrative) writing careers while still living in New Zealand. Until about the 1980s, the main New Zealand literary form was the short story, but in recent decades novels such as Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors, Elizabeth Knox's The Vintner's Luck and others have achieved critical and popular success. Māori culture is traditionally oral rather than literate, but in recent years Māori novelists such as Duff, Witi Ihimaera and Keri Hulme and poets such as Hone Tuwhare have shown their mastery of European-originated forms. Austin Mitchell wrote two "Pavlova Paradise" books about New Zealand. Barry Crump was a popular author who embodied and expounded the myth of the Kiwi larrikin and multi-skilled labourer. Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick are well-known poets. James K Baxter was an eccentric but admired author. Maurice Gee is also a household name for his novels about New Zealand life.

New Zealand cartoonist David Low became famous during World War II for his political satire. Gordon Minhinnick and Les Gibbard were also witty political observers. Murray Ball drew a widely popular syndicated daily strip Footrot Flats, about farm life.


Pre-European Māori religion was polytheistic. One of its major features was tapu (sacred and/or forbidden), which was used to maintain the status of chiefs and tohunga (priests) and also for purposes such as conserving resources. Some of the earliest European settlers in New Zealand were Christian missionaries, mostly from the Anglican Church but also from other Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. From the 1830s onwards, large numbers of Māori converted. Throughout the nineteenth century a number of movements emerged which blended traditional Māori beliefs with Christianity. These included Pai Marire, Ringatu, and in the early twentieth century, Ratana. They typically centred on a prophet-leader. These churches continue to attract many followers; according to the 2006 census, 50,565 people are Ratana believers, and another 16,419 are Ringatu. 1,689 people stated that they followed Māori religion.[14] Many Māori members of mainstream churches, and those with no particular religion, continue to believe in tapu, particularly where the dead are concerned, although not to the same extent as their ancestors.

Pākehā have become steadily less religious over the course of the twentieth century. In the 1920s there was still a reasonably high level of sectarianism and anti-Catholic prejudice, but this has since died down and the major churches generally co-operate with each other. The churches and religious lobby groups have little political influence where Pākehā are concerned. The vast majority of religious Pākehā are Christian, but a small number follow non-Christian religions, particularly Buddhism, and a larger number have a vague belief in new age ideas such as the healing power of crystals.

Pacific Islanders in New Zealand have significantly higher rates of both nominal Christianity and church-going than other New Zealanders. There are a number of Pacific Island Christian churches in New Zealand, Other non-Pākehā migrants have brought with them a range of religions including Islam and Hinduism, although many are Christian or have no religion.

The 2006 census found that 2,136,258 New Zealanders identify as Christian. The most followed denomination is Anglican (554,925), followed by Catholic (507,771) and Presbyterian (385,350). The most commonly practiced non-Christian religion was Hinduism, with 63,540 followers, followed by Buddhism (52,158) and Islam (35,858). A total of 1,297,104 New Zealanders have no religion.

Class in New Zealand

Māori hierarchies

Māori society has traditionally been one based on rank, which derived from ancestry (whakapapa). Present-day Māori society is far less hierarchical than it traditionally was, although it is still stratified by Pākehā standards. A disproportionate number of Māori MPs come from chiefly families, for example.[citation needed] However, a number of Māori not born into the chiefly families have achieved positions of considerable mana within their communities by virtue of their achievements or learning.

The 'classless society'

Until about the 1980s it was often claimed that New Zealand was a 'classless society'.[15] The evidence for this was the relatively small range of wealth (that is, the wealthiest did not earn hugely more than the poorest earners), lack of deference to authority figures, high levels of class mobility, a high standard of working class living compared to Britain, progressive labour laws which protected workers and encouraged unionism, and a welfare state which was developed in New Zealand before most other countries.

New Zealanders' egalitarianism has been criticised as discouraging and denigrating ambition and individual achievement and success. New Zealanders tend to value modesty and distrust those who talk about their own merits. They especially dislike anyone who seems to consider themselves better than others even if the person in question is demonstrably more talented or successful than others. This attitude can manifest itself in the tall poppy syndrome, which describes the 'cutting down' of anyone thought to have risen above the general mass of people.

It has been argued that in New Zealand ethnicity takes the place of class, with Māori and other Polynesians earning less, having a lower standard of living and less education, and working in lower status jobs than Pākehā.[16]

New Zealand's claims to be a classless society were dealt a fatal blow in the 1980s and 1990s by the economic reforms of the fourth Labour government and its successor, the fourth National government. A cultural shift also took place due to the economic and social impact of international capital, commerce and advertising. New Zealanders were exposed to a previously unknown array of consumer goods and franchises. Aided by overseas programming, commercial radio and TV stations enjoyed rapid growth. Local manufacturing suffered from cheap imports, with many jobs lost. These reforms led to a dramatic increase in the gap between the richest and poorest New Zealanders, and an increase in the numbers living in poverty.[17]


It is very common for New Zealanders to travel or live overseas for extended periods of time, often on working holidays. These are usually referred to as the 'OE' or 'overseas experience', and are most commonly taken by people in their 20s. The three most common destinations are Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe, although recently trips to Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan to teach English have become increasingly popular. The east coast of Australia and London both have sizeable expatriate New Zealand communities.

Unlike the British gap year, the OE to Europe is usually self-funded, and tends to occur a few years after university graduation, when the traveller has saved up enough for airfares and living expenses. The length of the visit can range from a few months to the remainder of the visitor's life; since many New Zealanders have British ancestry or dual citizenship (sometimes as a result of their parents' OE), the restrictions on working in Britain do not apply to a substantial percentage of them.

Working holidays in Asia are more likely to occur shortly after graduation, and many agencies specifically target graduates for these trips. Because Australia is relatively close to New Zealand and has no restrictions on New Zealanders working there, the New Zealanders working in Australia are more diverse than those in other countries, with a significantly higher proportion of Māori and working class people.

Since the signing of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement in 1973, New Zealanders have had the right to live and work in Australia on equal terms with Australian citizens. Until the 1970s New Zealanders had similar rights in relation to Britain. Changes to British immigration law in this period required New Zealanders to obtain visas in order to work in Britain or live there for extended periods, unless they had recent British ancestry.

New Zealand has a number of reciprocal working holiday agreements, allowing people in their 20s to live and work overseas, usually for up to a year. Such agreements are in place with: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom and Uruguay.[18]

National stereotypes

Most countries are informally thought to have a national 'type'; this can be seen in positive or negative terms. Most have some basis in reality, but are often outdated and applicable to only a small section of society. They typically exclude women, although there may also be a national female type. A number of famous New Zealanders seem to fit the national stereotype. This is probably due to three factors: the stereotypically 'Kiwi' qualities of famous people being emphasised; people who seem to embody the type becoming famous due to this (for example Barry Crump), or famous people acting as people expect them to. It should not be assumed that a famous person who seems to fit the stereotype provides evidence of the widespread truth of that stereotype.

The kiwi male

The stereotypical New Zealand male is essentially a pioneer type: he is rural, unintellectual, strong, unemotional, democratic, has little time for high culture, good with animals (particularly horses) and machines, and is able to turn his hand to nearly anything. This type of man is often assumed to be a unique product of New Zealand's colonial period but he shares many similarities with the stereotypical American frontiersman and Australian bushman. New Zealand men are supposed to still have many of these qualities, even though most New Zealanders have lived in urban areas since the late nineteenth century. This has not prevented New Zealanders seeing themselves (and being seen) as essentially country people and good at the tasks which country life requires.[19] The stereotypical Kiwi male is assumed to be a heterosexual of Anglo-Celtic origin, although Māori men are often seen as embodying many of the characteristics described above.

The kiwi male is said to have unique qualities which have become national stereotypes in their own right:

Kiwi ingenuity: This is the idea that New Zealanders display a MacGyver-like ability to solve any problem, often using unconventional means or whatever happens to be lying around. This is also described as the Number 8 wire mentality, which holds that anything can be made or fixed with basic or everyday materials, such as number 8 fencing wire. New Zealanders seen as embodying this quality include Burt Munro (subject of The World's Fastest Indian) and Richard Pearse, who some believe achieved flight before the Wright Brothers. Kiwi ingenuity is also linked to the phrase "she'll be right, mate" (shared with Australia), which expresses the belief that the situation, repairs, or whatever has been done is adequate or sufficient for what is needed. It is seen less positively than Kiwi ingenuity, especially if something goes wrong. Kiwi ingenuity is not strictly a male preserve, although it is generally spoken of in relation to men.
The hard man: New Zealand men have often been stereotyped as strong, unemotional and prone to violence.[20] For many years this was seen as a good thing, and was best embodied by All Black Colin Meads. Voted 'New Zealand player of the century' by New Zealand Rugby Monthly magazine, Meads was the second All Black to be sent off the field, and once played a match with a broken arm. Although he was known to assault other players during games, this was generally approved of as 'enforcement' of the 'spirit of the game'.[21] He was also a supporter of sporting contact with apartheid South Africa. In recent decades the macho attitude has been both criticised and reviled as dangerous both to men who embody it and those around them. It has been blamed for New Zealand's culture of heavy drinking and its high male suicide rate.[22] However it still has its supporters, with some commentators claiming that the All Blacks do not have enough 'mongrel'.[23]
Rugby, Racing and Beer: New Zealand male culture was traditionally said to centre on the 'three Rs': Rugby (union), (Horse) Racing and beeR. Rugby union has long been popular as both a spectator and a participant sport, with the national rugby team (the All Blacks) considered national heroes. Horse racing has always been more popular as a focus of gambling than for any other reason; as in most countries, horse racing in New Zealand is too expensive for anyone other than the wealthy and their employees (such as professional jockeys and support staff) to fully participate in. In addition, for many years horse racing was one of the few things which could be legally bet on. Beer is New Zealand's most popular alcoholic drink, although most New Zealand beers are actually lagers of varying colour.
Few people consider the Three Rs to dominate New Zealand culture today, although rugby and beer are still very popular. Race betting has declined in popularity, partly due to the legalisation of other forms of sports betting in the 1990s, although cup races still attract considerable attention. National level rugby continues to be very popular as a spectator sport, although not to the same extent as in the mid twentieth century. Spectatorship at club and some regional levels has also dropped since that time, mostly due to television and the increasing number of international and semi-international (ie the Super 14) matches. There has been some concern in recent years that parents are reluctant to let their sons play rugby for fear of injury, however it has been estimated that 14% of 5 to 17 year olds regularly play. Beer continues to be a popular drink, although it is losing ground to wine and 'RTDs' (ready to drink spirit and mixers).

The kiwi female

There are few stereotypes surrounding New Zealand women, and these stereotypes are not as strong as those involving men. The two strongest stereotypes are:

  • Independence: New Zealand women are sometimes thought to be more independent than women elsewhere. New Zealand being the first country in the world to give women the vote and the only one to have all its most important positions of state power simultaneously filled by women is seen as evidence of this. This ignores the century in between these two events in which New Zealand was far from progressive on women's rights: for example rape within marriage was only criminalised in the mid 1980s.
  • Lack of femininity: Women in New Zealand are supposedly unfeminine, for example wearing masculine clothing and spending little time on makeup and other forms of personal grooming. This can also be seen in a positive light; Kiwi women are portrayed as not being held back by ideas about being 'ladylike' and are therefore willing to take on 'masculine' tasks such as car maintenance and playing rugby. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is often seen as an embodiment of this stereotype, for good and bad: critics point at her lack of children and her choice on one occasion to meet the Queen while wearing trousers; supporters like her passion for mountain climbing and ability to hold her own in parliamentary debates.[24]



Unlike many European countries, but in common with other 'Anglo' countries such as Britain, the United States and Australia,[citation needed] New Zealanders do not have a particularly high regard for intellectual activity, particularly if it is more theoretical than practical. This is linked with the idea of 'kiwi ingenuity' (see above), which supposes that all problems are better solved by seeing what works than by applying a theory.[25] This distrust of theory manifested itself in social policy of the early and mid twentieth century, which historian Michael Bassett described as 'socialism without doctrines': although the policies of the first Labour and other governments pursued traditionally socialist goals, they were not based on any coherent theory.[26] A major break with this tradition came in the 1980s when the fourth Labour and fourth National governments enacted a series of reforms based on free market ideology. This reinforced many New Zealanders' distrust of intellectual theory, as many consider that the reforms increased poverty and inequality in New Zealand. Despite the prevailing mood of anti-intellectualism, New Zealand has reasonably high rates of participation in tertiary education and has produced a number of internationally renowned scholars and scientists, including Ernest Rutherford, J.G.A. Pocock and Alan MacDiarmid. It should be noted that both Rutherford and Pocock spent most of their professional lives in Britain. For many years this was a common occurrence, and a consequence both of New Zealanders' attitudes and the low population which made it hard to support major research.


Because New Zealanders often have to relocate to achieve worldwide fame and fortune, New Zealanders are keen to claim famous people as being New Zealanders, however short their residency in New Zealand might have been. While people born in New Zealand are certainly identified as New Zealanders, those who attended a New Zealand school or resided in New Zealand also qualify, irrespective of national origin. This sometimes leads to famous people and innovations being identified as coming from both New Zealand and another country—such as the pop group Crowded House, the race horse Phar Lap and the actor Russell Crowe, all of whom have been associated with Australia and New Zealand.

Social conservatism and progressiveness

New Zealand social policy has tended to oscillate between high levels of innovation and progressiveness and equally high levels of conservatism. Social reforms pioneered by New Zealand include women's suffrage, the welfare state, and respect for indigenous peoples (through the Treaty of Waitangi and the Waitangi Tribunal). Having led the (non-communist) world in economic regulation from the 1930s, in the 1980s and 1990s the reforms of the Labour Government led the world in economic de-regulation. New Zealand was the first country to have an openly transsexual mayor, and later member of parliament, Georgina Beyer.

In contrast to this, New Zealand has a history of some very conservative social policies. Most notably, from World War One until 1967 pubs were required by law to close at 6pm. [2] Until the 1980s most shops were banned from opening on weekends, and until 1999 alcohol could not be sold on Sundays.

In a rare occurrence, the 1981 Springbok Tour saw the two extremes very publicly clash with each other on a nationwide scale. [3]

Attitudes to authority

As in most countries, many in New Zealand distrust politicians. This was particularly the case from the 1970s to the 1990s. During this period governments were seen as being autocratic and unresponsive to the will of the people. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon (1975–84), Finance Minister Ruth Richardson (1990–93) and many members of the Fourth Labour Government (1984–1990) were particularly disliked. This, and two elections in which one party lost the popular vote but still won the election, led New Zealanders to reform the electoral system, changing from First Past the Post to Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), a form of proportional representation.

Despite this, most New Zealanders display faith in their democracy, with New Zealand being rated the second least corrupt nation in the world.[27] Turnout for parliamentary elections is typically above 80%, which is very high by international standards and occurs despite the absence of any law requiring citizens to vote. However local government elections have much lower turnout figures, with an average of 53% in 2007.[28]

New Zealanders, both those of Pākehā and Māori roots, have also been noted as very individualistic people, who take intrusion very personally, especially when it occurs onto private land (but also sometimes in a wider sense). According to psychologists, this is rooted respectively in the 'Frontier' image of the European settler culture, but also mirrored amongst the Maori, for whom land holds a lot of spiritual value in addition to its commercial use.[29]

Attitudes to multiculturalism

New Zealand has for most of its modern history been an isolated bi-cultural society. In recent decades an increasing number of immigrants has changed the demographic spectra. In the larger cities this change has occurred suddenly and dramatically. There has been an increasing awareness of multiculturalism in New Zealand in all areas of society and also in politics. New Zealand's race relations has been a controversial topic in recent times. The political party New Zealand First has been associated with an anti immigration policy. The Office of the Race Relations Conciliator was established by the Race Relations Act in 1971[30] for the purposes of "promoting positive race relations and addressing complaints of discrimination on grounds of race, colour, and ethnic or national origin", and was merged with the Human Rights Commission in January 2002.[31]


Māori cuisine

Pre-European Māori cuisine was derived from that of tropical Polynesia, adapted for New Zealand's colder climate. Key ingredients included kūmara (sweet potato), fern root, taro, birds and fish. Food was cooked in hāngi (earth ovens), roasted and, in geothermal areas, boiled or steamed using natural hot springs and pools. Various means of preserving birds and other foods were also employed. Māori were one of the few peoples to have no form of alcoholic beverage. Following the arrival of British settlers, Māori adopted many of their foods, especially pork and potatoes, the latter of which transformed the Māori agricultural economy. Many traditional food sources became scarce as introduced predators dramatically reduced bird populations, and forests were cleared for farming and timber. Traditional seafoods such as toheroa and whitebait were over-harvested. Present day Māori cuisine is a mixture of Māori tradition, old fashioned English cookery, and contemporary dishes.

Pākehā cuisine

The majority of Pākehā are of British descent, and so it is not surprising that Pākehā cuisine owes much (good and bad) to British cuisine. Nineteenth century British settlers in New Zealand tried as much as possible to reproduce the foods of their homeland. A major difference between British and Pākehā food was that meat was much more readily available to all social classes in New Zealand. A highly carnivorous diet remains a part of Pākehā culture, although red meat consumption has dropped in the last few decades. Like the British, Pākehā have traditionally been very fond of sweet foods, and the best of traditional Pākehā cooking consists of cakes, scones, muffins and desserts. In recent decades Pākehā have discovered 'ethnic' food, and a 'foodie' culture has emerged. Most Pākehā food is not significantly different from modern British cuisine, although New Zealand chefs such as Peter Gordon played a major part in the creation of fusion cuisine.

Other cuisines

New Zealanders increasingly come from many ethnic backgrounds, and most immigrants to New Zealand have tried to reproduce their native cuisines or national dishes in New Zealand. Ethnic restaurants have served as community meeting places and have also given other New Zealanders a chance to try different cuisines.

See also


  1. ^ Laugesen, Ruth (11 July 2009). "Past tense". The Listener, Vol 219 No 3609. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  2. ^ "Auckland and around". Rough Guide to New Zealand, Fifth Edition. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  3. ^ "Government and nation – National holidays". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  4. ^ "God save the Queen" is also an official anthem but is rarely sung
  5. ^ "Government and nation – National anthems". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  6. ^ Tim McCreanor (2005), '"Sticks and Stones may break my bones. ..": Talking Pakeha Identities', in James H. Liu, Tim McCreanor, Tracey McIntosh and Teresia Teaiwa, eds, New Zealand Identities: Departures and Destinations, p.53.
  7. ^ Miranda Johnson (2005), '"The Land of the Wrong White Cloud": Anti-Racist Organizations and Pakeha Identity Politics in the 1970s', New Zealand Journal of History, 39, 2, pp.137–57.
  8. ^ Jones, Lawrence (1998), 'The Novel' in Terry Sturm, ed., The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, pp.123–4; Lydia Wevers, 'The Short Story', in Sturm, pp.250–2.
  9. ^ See also Hei-tiki#Current popularity.
  10. ^ Walker, Ranginui (1990), Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Struggle Without End, pp.221–5
  11. ^ Māori people#Business and intellectual property
  12. ^ a b c "Government and nation – Official languages". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  13. ^ All language statistics from Statistics New Zealand website:
  14. ^ All religion statistics from Statistics New Zealand website:
  15. ^ Sinclair, Keith (1969), A History of New Zealand, 2nd edn, p.285.
  16. ^ Cluny Macpherson (1977), 'Polynesians in New Zealand: An Emerging Eth-Class?', in David Pitt, ed., Social Class in New Zealand, pp.99–112.
  17. ^ Tim Hazledine (1998) Taking New Zealand Seriously: The Economics of Decency ISBN 1869502833
  18. ^ NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website:
  19. ^ Phillips, Jock (1987), A Man's Country? The Image of the Pakeha Male: A History, pp.1–42
  20. ^ Phillips, pp.81–130
  21. ^ Colin Meads at
  22. ^ Phillips, pp.261–89
  23. ^ Long, David (12 July 2009). "All Blacks need more mongrel". Sunday News. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  24. ^ 'Food, drink and dress' in Te Ara: Encyclopaedia of New Zealand:
  25. ^ Ian Taylor, head of Auckland's Sheffield executive recruitment company, said "We're a very anti-intellectual society, and ... we still have that No.8 wire thing."[1]
  26. ^ Bassett, Michael (1998), The state in New Zealand, 1840–1984: Socialism without Doctrines?
  27. ^ Transparency International Website Rankings for 2008
  28. ^ "Local Government Statistical Overview – Membership, Elections and Governance". Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand. Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  29. ^ "NZ independence is deeply rooted". The New Zealand Herald. 30 January 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  30. ^
  31. ^

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