New Zealanders

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New Zealanders

PRONUNCIATION: new ZEE-lun-duhrs
ALTERNATE NAMES: Kiwi (nickname)
LOCATION: New Zealand
POPULATION: 4,115,771 (2007)
LANGUAGE: English; Maori
RELIGION: Christianity (Church of England, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist); New Zealand Christian sects (Ratana and Ringatu); Buddhism; Hinduism; Judaism


New Zealand is an island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, separated from Australia by the Tasman Sea. A small country, New Zealand is also a young one: it was a British colony until 1907 and did not achieve full independence from Great Britain until 1947, although it had been essentially self-governing since the middle of the previous century. New Zealand's history of human habitation is also relatively short. Its original inhabitants, the Maori, migrated from Polynesian islands in three separate waves between ad 950 and 1350. Calling their new homeland Aotearoa ("land of the long white cloud"), they settled in communities called kaingas, mostly located on North Island, passing on their culture and history orally to succeeding generations. The first European to discover New Zealand was Abel Tasman, a navigator for the Dutch East India Company, who sighted the west coast of South Island in 1642. In the 1790s, the islands began to attract whalers from Europe who established the first settlements on the coast, and in 1814 the first missionary station was set up in the Bay of Islands.

Europeans and Australians began arriving in New Zealand in large numbers in the 1830s. In 1840, the Maori chieftains entered into a compact, the Treaty of Waitangi, under which they granted sovereignty over their land to Britain's Queen Victoria while retaining territorial rights, and New Zealand became a British colony. More settlers arrived after gold was discovered in 1861. After the Maori Wars (1860-70), resulting largely from disputes over land rights and sovereignty, New Zealand rapidly increased in wealth and population. With the introduction of refrigerated shipping in 1882, New Zealand became one of the world's great exporters of dairy, produce, and meat. In 1907, New Zealand was made a Dominion of Great Britain. Its troops served in World Wars I and II at the side of the British, fighting in Europe in both wars and in the Pacific in World War II. In 1947, the New Zealand government formally claimed complete independence while remaining a member of the British Commonwealth. Troops from New Zealand fought with United Nations forces in the Korea conflict and with U.S. forces in South Vietnam.

Since 1984 New Zealand has actively pursued an anti-nuclear policy, refusing to admit a U.S. warship to one of its ports because of the possibility that there were nuclear arms on board. In 1986 the U.S. responded by suspending its military obligations to New Zealand under the 1951 ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, and the United States) agreement. The U.S. also banned high-level contacts with the New Zealand government, a ban that was rescinded in 1990. In December 1989, a Cabinet-level committee was established to formulate a government policy toward extensive Maori land claims (the country's entire coastline, 70% of its land, and half of its fishing rights).


Situated in the southwest Pacific Ocean, New Zealand consists of two main islands—North Island and South Island—and several dozen minor ones. With a total area of 268,680 sq km (103,738 sq mi), it is about the size of Colorado. Most of New Zealand's large cities, including Auckland and the capital city of Wellington, are located on North Island, which is home to three-fourths of the country's population. North Island is also known for its volcanic activity, including two active volcanoes as well as bubbling mud pools, hot springs, and geysers. South Island is the larger of the two islands and the location of the scenic Southern Alps, which run almost the entire length of the island from north to south and include New Zealand's highest peak, Mount Cook, which is 12,349 ft (3,766 m) high.

The most recent estimate (July 2008) of New Zealand's population is 4,173,460. The largest urban areas are Auckland (1,158,891 in 2001 census); Wellington, the capital (423,765 in 2001 census); and Christchurch (316,227 in 2001 census). Approximately 70% of the population is of European (mostly British) descent. The Maori, who were New Zealand's first inhabitants, are presently the country's most significant minority group, representing close to 8% of the population. In the 2006 census there were 565,329 Maoris or part-Maoris (those reporting a Maori ancestry of 50% or more), about 90% of whom live on North Island. The non-Maori Polynesian population in 2006 was 265,874. People of Chinese, Indian, and Southeast Asian ancestry account for the remainder of New Zealand's population (between 1 and 2%).


English is the universal language of New Zealand, although Maori, which belongs to the Polynesian language family, is still spoken by the Maoris and taught in Maori schools. Maori became an official language of the country in 1987 through the Maori Language Act. New Zealand English resembles British English in a number of ways. In addition, New Zealanders have many unique words and expressions of their own. Both males and females are addressed informally as "mate," and the word "she" is used for "it" in a very general sense, as in "she'll be right," which means "everything will be all right."

bach (or crib)cottage or vacation house
fizzysoda pop
mobherd of sheep or cattle
roustererprofessional sheep shearer
panel beaterauto body shop
hoggetyear-old lamb
gumbootsrubber rain boots
hotela public bar
peckishslightly hungry
prangcar or bicycle accident
aotearoaland of the long white cloud (Maori name for New Zealand)
arohalove and understanding for others
Maoritangathe Maori tradition and way of life
maraea Maori meeting house or the area surrounding it
pakehaa white, or non-Maori, New Zealander


Guy Fawkes Day, an institution with English roots, was celebrated by burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 was discovered lurking in the cellar of the Parliament building with barrels of gunpowder, waiting to blow up Parliament as it opened in the morning. In parts of New Zealand, children would recite Guy Fawkes rhymes in a type of competition and adults would throw pennies to the children who recited the loudest or the best. Sometimes, certain adults would heat pennies on a shovel held over a fire before throwing them. The anxious children would pick up the hot pennies, regardless of the burns they would receive. Some children carried painful reminders of Guy Fawkes Day for weeks.

The Maori have a rich folklore tradition that is reflected in their native art, song, and dance. Some of their legends involving journeys contain highly detailed and accurate descriptions of New Zealand's terrain and of the surrounding waters.


The majority of New Zealanders are Christians. In the 2006 census, over 2 million New Zealanders reported Christianity as their religion. The next largest group includes those who reported no religion, with a total of approximately 1.3 million. In the same census, most of the population belonged to one of three main churches: the Church of England, 17%; the Presbyterian Church, 11.0%; and the Roman Catholic Church, 14%. There are many other Protestant groups, and two Christian sects that are native to New Zealand (Ratana and Ringatu). The largest growth in religions reported in the 2006 census was for Hinduism and Buddhism. The number of Buddhists in New Zealand increased by 255% between the 1991 and the 2006 census.


Nationwide legal holidays in New Zealand include Christmas and Boxing Day (December 25 and 26), Easter, New Year's Day, Labor Day (the fourth Monday in October), and the official birthday of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, celebrated on the first Monday in June. A holiday unique to New Zealand is Anzac Day (April 25), on which New Zealanders and Australians who died in both world wars are honored at dawn services throughout the country. Another date with national significance is Waitangi Day (February 6), commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the Maori and Great Britain in 1840.


Rituals marking major life events such as birth, marriage, and death are generally observed within the Christian religious tradition, as well as within Buddhism, Hinduism, and the other faiths represented in New Zealand.


New Zealanders like to refer to themselves as "kiwis," a name derived from the kiwi, a rare flightless bird unique to their country. (The distinctive kiwi fruit, with its green center and fuzzy brown skin, was originally known as the Chinese goose-berry and renamed to reflect its connection with New Zealand. However, the popularity of the name "kiwi" comes from the bird, not the fruit.) People from New Zealand also refer to themselves as "En Zedders," a name based on the abbreviation "NZ" ("Z" is pronounced "zed" in New Zealand, as it is in Britain). The Maori word "pakeha" is used for New Zealanders of European descent.

A common greeting among New Zealanders is "good day," pronounced so that it sounds like "geday." New Zealanders often address each other informally as "mate," a term that reflects the British ancestry that many of the country's inhabitants share. The Maoris have a traditional greeting, called hongi , in which they touch faces so that their noses are pressed together. It is believed that their spirits mingle through this gesture.


Most people in New Zealand live in single houses with large yards and flower or vegetable gardens that New Zealanders enjoy tending during their leisure time. The average home has three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, laundry, bathroom, and garage. Most are built of wood and have sheet-iron or tiled roofs. Besides the garden, a common sight outside a New Zealand house is a clothes-drying rack covered with laundry spinning in the wind. Most families own their own homes. However, high-rise apartment buildings can be found in the major cities. More than half of the total housing stock has been constructed since 1957.

New Zealand's life expectancies showed continued increase since the 1991 census. In the 2002 national data, the life expectancy of non-Maori females was 81 years while that of non-Maori males was 76 years. For Maoris, the average life expectancies were about 8.5 years less than those of non-Maoris in 2002. The principal causes of death are heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Alcoholism and related health problems are significant public health concerns in New Zealand. In a national study whose results became available in 2004, alcohol consumption has decreased for adult New Zealanders. Older New Zealanders (over the age of 55) consume alcohol at the highest rates of all groups that were surveyed. Most doctors practice under the National Health Service, established by the Social Security Act of 1938, but private practice is also permitted. New Zealand's health care system has been undergoing a restructuring since the mid-1980s, when area health boards were established to combine primary and hospital care facilities for each region under a single administrative unit.

New Zealand's mountainous terrain has made the development of rail and road communications a challenge, especially on South Island. The automobile is New Zealand's primary mode of transportation. There is one car for every two people, and teenagers can get their driver's licenses at the age of 15. While there is little traffic on roads in most parts of the country, the major cities have begun to experience the traffic congestion common to metropolitan areas in other countries. People travel between North and South Islands on ferries that can transport both them and their cars. A government-operated railroad system links New Zealand's major cities. Auckland and Wellington are the nation's two main ports, and there are international airports at Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington.


Most families in New Zealand have two or three children and enjoy a high standard of living, often owning a home with three or four bedrooms and an attached garage. Maori families are larger than those of the pakeha , or white, population, and Maori households may include relatives besides the nuclear family, such as grandparents, uncles, and aunts.


New Zealanders wear modern Western-style clothing. Th ey prefer to dress casually, and men in white-collar jobs sometimes even wear shorts and knee socks to work with their white shirts and ties. Maoris generally dress like other New Zealanders, but still wear their traditional costumes for special occasions. The most distinctive feature of these costumes is the striped, fringed skirt woven from flax that is worn by both men and women (women wear them over brightly colored dresses consisting of snugly fitted bodices with shoulder straps and either knee-length or longer skirts). Over their dresses the women may also wear long white capes decorated with black fringes.


New Zealanders eat three main meals a day—a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and bacon; lunch, often consisting of a meat pie, hamburger, or sandwich; and a full meal at dinnertime, generally featuring some type of meat dish, often lamb. In addition, it is common to have a mid-morning snack called morning tea between ten and eleven o'clock and a bedtime snack called supper. British-style afternoon tea is still popular, complete with scones, cakes, and other pastries, especially as an occasion for entertaining guests. The most popular traditional dinner entrée is roast lamb with mint sauce, typically served with roasted potatoes, roast kumara (New Zealand's sweet potato), and roast pumpkin. A distinctive New Zealand dish that is considered a real delicacy is the dark-green soup made from the toheroa, a rare clam found on the country's beaches. For dessert, New Zealanders enjoy tarts and various other pastries topped with fruit, including the distinctive kiwi fruit. Ice cream also comes topped with chunks of fruit. A special favorite is pavlova, made of meringue covered with fruit and whipped cream.

The most famous Maori culinary tradition is the hangi , a meal prepared in the traditional manner that used to characterize most Maori cooking. The term hangi also refers to the cooking method itself: a covered pit filled with red-hot, fire-heated stones on which meat and vegetables are left to steam for several hours.


New Zealanders are a well-educated people, with an adult literacy rate of 99%. Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15, although most children attend school from the age of 5, many at state-subsidized preschools. Most state schools are coeducational, but some private schools are not. For children in isolated areas, there is a public correspondence school, which enables them to send in their homework assignments by mail. In some regions there are special state primary and secondary schools for Maori children, but most Maori children attend public schools.

Although young people may leave school at 15 to work, most stay in school through the eleventh grade (called the fifth form), earning a school certificate. Students planning to attend college continue their secondary education until the age of 17 or 18, when they take university qualifying exams. New Zealand has six universities: the University of Auckland, University of Waikato (at Hamilton), Massey University (at Palm-erston North), Victoria University of Wellington, University of Canterbury (at Christchurch), and University of Otago (at Dunedin).


New Zealand enjoys the rich cultural heritage provided by both its Maori and European traditions. In recent years Maori weaving and wood carving have enjoyed a revival, and many galleries and museums display Maori art. The Maori also preserve their traditional songs and dances. Since World War II, a lively art scene has grown up in New Zealand, with leading artists including Frances Hodgkins, Colin McCahon, and Sir Toss Woollaston. The New Zealander with the greatest literary reputation worldwide is probably the 20th-century short story writer Katherine Mansfield. Other well-known authors include Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame, and Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Native New Zealander Kiri Te Kanawa is an internationally acclaimed opera singer. New Zealand's motion picture industry, assisted and promoted by the New Zealand Film Commission, has produced a number of internationally acclaimed movies. Notable New Zealand films include The Piano , Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, Lord of the Rings, and Heavenly Creatures.


In 2003, New Zealand had a total labor force of 1,985,100 people. Due to slow economic growth in the early 1990s, unemployment climbed into the double digits in the early 1990s. The 21st century saw boosts in the New Zealand economy and employment and the 2003 labor statistics show that unemployment hovered around 5% in the first three years of the century. Since 1977 employers have been required to pay men and women the same minimum wage.


New Zealanders enjoy many kinds of sports. Rugby, a game similar to football in the United States, is the national game. The national team, called the All Blacks (a name that refers to their uniform of black shirt and shorts), plays teams from Australia, France, Britain, and other countries, and is well-known throughout the world. Cricket is also very popular, as are a variety of water sports including sailing, surfing, kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. Bruce Kendall, a New Zealander, won an Olympic gold medal in yacht racing in 1988, and in 1995, New Zealand won the coveted America's Cup yachting trophy. In the winter, skiing is a favorite pastime in New Zealand, where the ski season runs from June to late October.


Almost every household in New Zealand has a television set, and New Zealanders enjoy watching both local programming and popular shows from Britain and the United States. Camping is a universal summertime activity among New Zealanders, who take advantage of their vacation time to enjoy their country's beautiful scenery, including its national parks. Beach houses (called "bachs" or "cribs") are also popular vacation spots. Most family trips are taken during summer vacations from school, which run from late December to early February.


The Maoris are known for their weaving and their intricate wood carving, a skill that is transmitted from one generation to the next. Other New Zealand crafts include stained glass, glassblowing, and pottery.


Free market reform policies instituted by New Zealand's government since the mid-1980s, while lowering inflation and increasing economic growth, have resulted in high unemployment and led to cutbacks in educational spending and social services. New Zealand, a country proud of its traditionally egalitarian ways, has seen a growing division between rich and poor, accompanied by rising tensions between the Maori and pakeha (white) populations and an increase in violent crime.


New Zealand is generally considered a progressive, tolerant community in regards to sexual and gender expression. Several members of the New Zealand Parliament and Ministers of Cabinet belong to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community. In the 1999 election, Kiwi Georgina Beyer became the world's first transsexual member of parliament. She retired from parliamentary politics in 2007. In 2004 the Civil Union Act was passed that provides the right for same sex couples a legal equivalent of marriage. The Act took effect in 2005.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.


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—by J. Williams

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