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  • Matters of the Heart: A History of Interracial Marriage in New Zealand by Angela Wanhalla
  • John Stewart
Matters of the Heart: A History of Interracial Marriage in New Zealand. By Angela Wanhalla (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2013. xx plus 231 pp.).

In this sensitively-written and engaging work the New Zealand historian Angela Wanhalla analyses the history of marriage between European and American incomers—Pākehā—and existing inhabitants—Māori. The period covered is from the earliest encounters in the eighteenth century to the 1970s. The latter was an era when, among other far-reaching changes, New Zealand finally began to abandon its restrictive immigration policies which had sought to promote a “white New Zealand.” This is an important context for Wanhalla’s story. For while relations between incomers and existing inhabitants became relatively harmonious, and especially when compared with the situation in other parts of the British Empire (South Africa being an obvious case in point), nonetheless there could be, as Wanhalla shows, a racial element to the apparent tolerance of interracial marriage.

As the author remarks in her Preface (ix) much of what makes up marriage consists of “private sentiments” and one of her aims, for the most part successfully achieved, is to recover these whenever the sources allow. However marriage is an institution in which the state, the law, and religious organisations also have a stake and it was around such areas that the possibility for misunderstanding and hostility arose. Pākehā and Māori might have, for instance, different views over the ownership of property; the role of the individual in the community and thereby his or her social responsibilities; and even of what actually constituted “marriage”. At different times, such matters intruded upon the more intimate content of the marital relationship. [End Page 260]

The book is mostly chronological. The first three chapters deal primarily with the period from the first encounters down to the middle of the nineteenth century by which point New Zealand had formally become a British colony and the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed. The Treaty, in principle at least, regularised relationships between Pākehā and Māori and remains an important touch-stone for modern New Zealand. At the start of the era the incomers were often involved in maritime trades such as whaling and what were deemed to be marriages, at least by those participating, certainly took place. However these might be temporary as the men (and it is Pākehā marrying Māori women which is the pattern at this stage) moved on. This was also the era of Christian missionaries who, Wanhalla suggests, were prepared to sanction interracial marriage on condition of the “status and reputation of the newcomer, the sincerity of the couple and their acceptance of Christianity” (24). But this was also a time of “racial amalgamation,” a concept which promoted the idea of the ultimate eradication of Māori custom, including marriage custom, by the imposition of British law and practice.

Chapters 4 and 5 take the story forward to the beginning of the twentieth century, the period of formal settlement, and turbulent economic expansions and contractions, on a large scale. Disputing historians who have seen a slackening off in interracial marriage in these years, the author notes that this “colonial period was characterised by the widespread uptake of monogamous marriage among interracial couples.” This might suggest the winning out of official policy. Rather ominously, Wanhalla continues, “this was not necessarily matched by social acceptance” of such marriages (93). This last point alludes to the fact that such social acceptance depended very much on the class and gender of the Pākehā seeking to marry. So, for example, for a woman to marry a Māori man (relatively rare, but not unknown) it was assumed that either she had been violently abducted or, in that immortal phrase employed of miscreants in the British Empire, she had “gone native.” New Zealanders were thus party to the widespread European view of this era, that non-European men should not be allowed anywhere near European women. The further gender twist was that while it was assumed that Pākehā men were capable of...


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pp. 260-262
Launched on MUSE
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