We asked SAYit panel members whether or not they thought that 'pakeha' was originally used by Maori as an insulting term for European settlers. A clear majority believe that it was, including a substantial proportion of Maori.
- 66% of New Zealanders believe that 'pakeha' was originally an insulting term, including 44% of Maori
- Under 30 year olds (70%), Aucklanders (70%) and Cantabrians (68%) are relatively likely to believe that this was the case, while Wellingtonians (56%) and other people living in the lower half of the North Island (56%) were less likely to.
I asked this question in late 2011, not long after I'd had a heated discussion with someone who was adamant that 'pakeha' originally meant 'white pig'. I argued that this was exceptionally unlikely, particularly as (as far as I can tell) there were no pigs in New Zealand before Europeans arrived (e.g. http://www.kunekune.info/en/history/history.php suggests that Kune Kune pigs were introduced by European whalers and sealers while the origin of 'Captain Cookers' is implied in the name).
After I asked this question, I thought it'd be useful to consult an expert in the Maori language. I spoke to Associate Professor Rawinia Higgins, from Victoria University's School of Maori Studies. Her response was:
“There is no evidence that ‘pakeha’ was originally used by Maori as an insulting term. The word originates from Pakehakeha, which means 'Imaginary beings resembling men, with fair skins' (Williams Dictionary pg: 252). At the point of contact with Maori it would make sense that these strangers could be described in such a manner. However, what people take issue with is that there are multiple meanings of the base words of pakeha and of course it is easier to sensationalize the more derogatory meanings rather than the original intention.”