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Relationships Between Maori and Pakeha During the Early Contact Period


The Maori were the natural or indigenous people of New Zealand and they first came in contact with the Pakeha or the White People in 1769 when Captain James Cook landed in Turanga. Initially, the Maori were extremely violent towards the Pakeha but Captain James Cook realizing the potential of their newly founded land and the spirit and bravery of the Maoris conquered the area. In the beginning, there were a lot of misunderstandings between the contacts among the Maoris and Pakehas. The Maoris did not openheartedly welcome the Pakehas and thus, a lot of skirmishes and clashes took place between them. But later social interactions started to develop among them leading to the formation of different relationships. For more than 50 years since Captain Cook landed in New Zealand, there had been almost no contact between the Maoris and Pakehas. (Liu, 2003)

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In the Early Contact Period, i.e. the period before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maori and Pakeha in 1840, the relationships that were formed between them revolved mainly around religion, trade, and different instances of conflicts. Both the Pakeha and Maori had dominated their early interactions. While the Maoris formed these early relationships out of their unique motives, the Pakehas formed the relations because of huge amounts of free land areas and other riches like gold. (Liu, 2003)

Trade contacts

There were many forms of trade between the Maori and Pakehas before 1840 and it was the main driving force that led to their early contacts. Captain cook started trading with the Maoris for flax, food, and sex. Missionaries, traders, and whalers would come to the new land for trading and settle there. Manna or hardened sugar exudations were one of the items that motivated the Maori trade. Along with it the Maoris also traded in metallic things, such as nails, steel tools, and also muskets, which was a long-barreled gun used in those times. The Maoris preferred the muskets since those tribes who had the power of possessing guns, also possessed control over the other tribes and since the Maori tribes were constantly at war with each other possession of the muskets helped in swaying their balance of power shifted from one tribe to another. (Vaughan, 2001)

Development of Relationship

Soon, trade became their lifestyle and not just some occasional incident. The Pakehas were also responsible for introducing potatoes and pigs on the island during 1800 and soon the Maoris even started cultivating potatoes on the mainland. It was also used in the Bay of Islands for trading with the whalers. Sometimes the Maoris also traded labor by working on the whaling ships or by processing whale meat. Sex was also traded where a Maori woman would be given a musket or some other gift in exchange for sex. The close contact between the Maori and Pakeha also led to various diseases like venereal diseases. (Bell, 2001)

The intervention of the Missionaries

The missionaries, although led by White people, were somewhat different than the Pakeha traders since their goal was the establishment of various mission stations on the mainland and thus, they were not driven by any personal motives. Before 1840, 3 missionary groups landed in New Zealand ─ the Roman Catholics, the Church Missionary Society, or CMS representing the Anglican Church and the Wesleyans. These missionaries attempted to change some Maori traditions, like cannibalism, since they were barbaric and uncivilized. They also wanted the Maoris to convert to Christianity but were not able to do so. However, they did succeed in attracting the Maoris by teaching them how to read and write. They even translated The Bible for the Maoris who were very determined pupils.

Sometimes the missionaries also used trading for attracting the Maoris, like with muskets, but this unfortunately only led to more violence. That was the very thing the missionaries wanted to avoid. These missionaries were totally dependent on the Maoris for their protection and also food and thus, were somewhat controlled by them. But by 1840, the missionaries were significantly able to impact certain traditions and cultures of the Maoris, like causing a diminution of their cannibalism since they had become ashamed of it. (Mol, 1996)

Difficulties of Relationship

The missionaries had to face a number of hurdles while on the mainland since they often clashed with the Pakeha traders, their mission stations were frequently ransacked and they also had to face tribal warfare. Although these skirmishes were quite unusual, they hugely affected the relationship between the Pakehas and Maoris. The Pakehas were now able to fully realize the Maoris’ actual tribal nature which they did not witness earlier. The Maori and Pakeha did not properly understand each other and since their contact and relationship were based on their individual self-interests, at times, their exchanges and interactions even turned violent, leading to conflicts. There were a number of notable clashes between the Maoris and Pakehas, like the Boyd incident that took place during 1809. (Tennant, 2000)

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The Maoris killed a number of passengers and crew members of a Pakeha vessel proving that they could not be trusted. Slowly the relationship and interactions between the Pakeha and Maoris took place under a lot of caution since the Pakehas became very afraid of the brutal behavior of the Maoris. But soon money became the medium that erased all the sour memories between the two groups of people. The exchanges that took place after that saw the Maoris controlling the overall situation to a certain level but the control completely depended on the situation.

Maoris and Pakehas

During the early relationships between the Maoris and Pakehas, we can clearly see that when it came to dominance in the relationship, the Pakehas were always a step ahead. They used a single musket to buy food, flax, or sex, and at times even all 3 of them. But with time the Maoris too became shrewd in the way they traded with the Pakehas. They sometimes manipulated and exploited the Pakehas since they were dependent on the Maoris for food and were able to acquire more guns and also access to trading. (Harré, 1991)

Thus we can see that during the Early Contact Period the relationships that the Maoris formed with the Pakehas was based on their acculturation motive where they acquired the best that the Pakehas could provide them, like potatoes and muskets, and rejected that which they did not like, like the teachings of Christianity. This was the unique motive of the Maoris that led them into forming relationships with the Pakehas. (Bell, 2009)

The Kaiwhakarite

During this period the role played by a certain group of people also have a lot of significance on the relationship between the Pakehas and Maoris. These people played the role of an intermediary and were referred to as the go-between or Pakeha-Maori or kaiwhakarite. These go-betweens helped in leveling the manners in which trade was conducted. Most of the go-betweens were prompted by profit since they realized that it was wise to establish good relationships with the Maoris since the latter also realized the gains their relation with the Pakehas brought in. Most of these go-betweens were women since they knew that the Maoris would never attack women. Even the Maoris used their women for attracting and retaining the Pakehas in their tribe as a way of contact with the other Pakehas. These acquired Pakehas acted as mana or power for the Maoris over the other tribes, like iwi or hapu. (Swaffield, 1998)


In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the 1930s saw a new time on the mainland after the introduction of tobacco and alcohol among the Maoris. The Maoris became so dependent on the Pakehas for these goods that their bargaining power completely attenuated and the balance of power previously in the hands of the Maoris shifted towards the Pakehas. Muskets became least important now since the Maoris had already been wiped out by diseases and wars which the Pakehas had brought in. Even the missionaries were able to break through and were actually able to convert the Maoris into Christians. This created a fatal impact on the Maoris since most of their cultures and traditions had been completely lost with the deaths of thousands of Maoris. Even though trading was the most widespread form of contact between the Pakehas and Maoris, the latter never traded land. The main Pakeha influences during the Early Contact Period through the missionaries consisted of literacy, faith, and habits that were fairly new to the Maoris.


Bell, A. (2001) ‘Styling the other to define the self: A study in New Zealand identity making’, Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 523-541.

Bell, A. (2009) Dilemmas of settler belonging: roots, routes and redemption in New Zealand national identity claims’, Sociological Review, vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 145-162.

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Harré, J. (1991) Maori and Pakeha: a study of mixed marriages in New Zealand, Wellington: Institute of Race Relations.

Liu, H. (2003) ‘Social identity and the perception of history: cultural representations of Aotearoa/New Zealand’, European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 29, no. 8, pp. 1021-1047.

Mol, H. (1996) The fixed and the fickle: religion and identity in New Zealand, Auckland: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press.

Swaffield, S. (1998) ‘Inventing New Zealand: Everyday Myths of Pakeha Identity’, New Zealand Geographer, vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 66-79.

Tennant, M. (2000) ‘Pakeha Deaconesses and the New Zealand Methodist Mission to Maori’, Journal of Religious History, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 309-326.

Vaughan, G. (2001) ‘Social change and intergroup preferences in New Zealand’, European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 297-314.

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StudyCorgi. "Relationships Between Maori and Pakeha During the Early Contact Period." November 5, 2021.


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