Who is Māori in the ANZAC data?

It was Waitangi Day over the past weekend, New Zealand’s national day. It marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the indigenous Māori population and the British crown. Māori make up 15 percent of New Zealand’s population, a relatively high proportion of the population in a former colony. In Australia, Canada, and the United States the indigenous population makes up less than 5% of the population.

Thus in New Zealand attention to questions of Māori well-being are more prominent in daily life. Our research attempts to add a long-term dimension to this question. In a recent paper the research team found that Māori and Pākehā were about as tall as each other until people born around 1900, and then Māori average stature fell behind. After 1950 Māori caught up very rapidly, and now the European-descended (Pākehā) and Māori population have about the same average height.

Throughout this research we have been confronting a very basic problem. Who is Māori? Interestingly the question was never asked on World War I or World War II enlistment forms. To modern readers used to being asked their race in surveys this seems strange. In New Zealand surveys today people are asked if they have Māori descent. It seems strange also to people familiar with the frequent attempts to measure race in other societies, such as the United States.

So in the military records we have to identify Māori by using Māori names. We assume that someone with a Māori name has a Māori background. Here is an example from a History Sheet of a man named Huia, who we assume to have Māori ancestry (transcribe his record today). Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 5.28.24 PM.png

Names are obviously an imperfect measure of ethnicity. Pākehā could have given their children Māori names. We think from reading the work of other New Zealand historians that this wasn’t as common for boys. And Māori given European names will be lost to this strategy.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 5.44.05 PM.pngInformation on complexion from the medical side of the attestation can also help us. Māori had darker hair, and may have been described as having darker skin (transcribe the description of Huia Lister). As we gather a complete collection of data we’ll be able to get a better sense of what descriptors correlate with Māori names, or with enlistment in units known to have many Māori.

We anticipate that the data we’re collecting with our citizen scientists’ help on next of kin will help us identify other Māori connections and ancestry in New Zealand society. Understanding the intertwined and yet sometimes differing history of Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand society is an important part of our research. We hope this post has given you some insight into the challenges we face in proceeding, and how we’re trying to overcome them. Your help in creating more data to measure more ANZACs is incredibly important. Thank you.

Evan Roberts

(Please be in touch with the research team for copies of papers based on our research. Our email is linked above.)

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