06 Jan, 2021 Bicultural or multi-cultural? (Defining some vocabulary – and why it’s important)

Bicultural or multi-cultural? (Defining some vocabulary – and why it’s important)

We need to find simple answers for simple questions as a Christian community across this nation. Here are thoughts on three. What do you think?

Q1 – Are we bicultural – or multicultural?

How about the idea that we are concurrently both!

  • Bicultural’ – is our constitutional identity, affecting protocol in formal gatherings, and in greetings, laws and language.
  • Multicultural’ – is our daily relational reality, with sensitivity to each individual.

It is the same as being concurrently a ‘Christian’ nation and a multi-religious nation

  • We are Christian’ – in the sense that it is this faith’s values that we so very clearly embraced together early in our bicultural history (though with Maori leadership notably not present in the first Parliament)
  • We are concrrently ‘multi-religious’ – because our Christian heritage affirms the freedom of the will, so faith cannot be coerced. There is therefore the freedom of religion

As with being both bicultural and multicultural, the former could rightly affect public gatherings and protocols, while the latter is about giving common grace, and showing appropriate sensitivity. to all people.


Q2 – Of what importance is Te Tiriti o Waitangi to a Pakeha?

For some backdrop to the question, New Zealand was recognised by Britain as a sovereign Maori state from 1835 onwards as a result of He Whakaputanga – The Declaration of Independence. This is why a Treaty was needed for Pakeha to be able to assume some jurisdiction over / responsibility for the behaviour and welfare of their own people – because Maori were the sovereigns!


Te Tiriti o Waitangi was therefore an agreement between Maori and Pakeha with implications for both groups

  • For Maori – it gave protections
  • For Pakeha – it gave the right to be on and in this land.

To note it, without Te Tiriti o Waitangi, all uninvited Pakeha would be intruders. Non-Maori are only rightfully here because of Te Tiriti.


Why then is Te Tiriti viewed more as  ‘a document belonging more to Maori’ than for Pakeha?

  • It is because it is the promises to Maori that were betrayed. We are therefore now trying to work out how to rectify that.


Some resulting vocabulary:

There are therefore two distinct people groups, and we are all a part of one of these groups (though some are a part of both groups).

  • Tangata whenua – referring to Maori, who are ‘the people of the land.’
  • Tangata Tiriti – referring to non-Maori, who are ‘the people of the Treaty.


Q3 – Is a person who is not a Maori a ‘Pakeha’ or a ‘non-Maori’ – and what’s the difference?

‘Pakeha’ means foreigner. However, ‘Pakeha’ also sometimes has the connotation that someone is of European decent. Many suggest the original word was paakehaa – which meant to be pale, or to be an imaginary being resembling a man.

  • Incidentally, a kaumatua I met with early in January 2021 prior to publishing this article told me in passing that he held this very view – believing that the appearance of being like a ‘ghost’ is what caused many of his elders to revere and listen more openly to the first Europeans they met – who were for their Iwi the missionaries).

This is why some Chinese New Zealanders might sometimes see themselves as a New Zealander of Chinese descent, rather than as a ‘Pakeha’.

However, it remains that the Chinese New Zealander is only rightfully allowed here because of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They are ‘Tangata Tiriti’ just as much as a New Zealander of European descent. Hence ‘non-Maori’ as a term, rather than ‘Pakeha’.

Here are some options for our vocabulary:

  • Maori and Pakeha
  • Maori and non-Maori.
  • Iwi and tauiwi (foreigner).


Q4 – What does it even mean to be ‘bicultural‘ 

How about the idea that it’s about being comfortable functioning in two different modes of operation?

  • We are able to be comfortable under both tikanga Maori (Maori protocols) and tikanga Pakeha (European protocols).
  • We are able to adapt our approaches accordingly – without discomfort, and without impatience or annoyance.

As a possible boundary this implies – how about the ideas that being ‘bicultural’ does not therefore imply that we need to know te reo / the language – even though we might choose to (and even though we would logically develop an ever-growing vocabulary if exposed to tikanga Maori often)?

The point is, one culture doesn’t dominate. Both are possible – and we fluidly transition between them when relating to different people, and in different places, because we’re accustomed to them – because that’s who we are.



One point that stands out here is that many of us actually are not accustomed to both the Pakeha and Maori worlds – and that is the issue. We’re a bicultural nation that is functioning mono-culturally. It’s also very difficult for the dominant culture to accept that they might need to change.


Q5 – But didn’t Hobson say to Maori ‘now we are one‘? (What can’t we just be one people?)

It’s like a marriage. Two do become one – just like the pastor says in the wedding. But they also still remain as two separate and distinct people! This is why marriages take work!

Our bicultural partnerships is exactly the same. We did become one – but we are still two distinct peoples (iwi and tauiwi).


And the conclusion of the matter? Yes, two becoming one does take grace, love and effort. But if it is what we have agreed to do under God,  then it is what we have agreed to do!


And why is all this ‘vocab’ important?

Because it’s hard to discuss and apply something we don’t have a terminology for!  
For example, if we thought we were multicultural – as if that were in tension with being bicultural, we might have missed the entire point!
What do you think?

Other blogs by Dave Mann on this topic


5 self-print bulletin-booklets for your church 

  • Called ‘Then and Now’ – about outreach and our early bicultural story, to give to church members with the bulletin over a 5 week period here (These booklet also encourager support of the Hope Project – which takes some of these stories to the public square).


An easy-to-read option to educate yourself, elders, children’s and youth leaders – and then all members (children, youth and adults)

  • Consider the illustrated novel series: ‘The Chronicles of Paki – Treaty of  Waitangi Series’. These can be found at BigBook.nz. View a blog with displaying some of its endorsements here.


Waitangi weekend sermon outlines (free)

  • ‘Three Treaties’ (Gibeonites, Waitangi and Jesus) from Dave Mann is (word doc) here, with power point here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Leaving a legacy’ – edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc)  here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Joshua and the Treaty (five treatise)’ –  edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc) here


The Te Reo Pulpit Challenge

DAVE MANN. Dave is a creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing, and also being valued, in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and recently coordinated a 5th nationwide multimedia Easter project purposed to help open conversation between church and non-church people about Christianity take place, including regarding the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values. Dave is the author of various books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last”, “The Elephant in the Room”, and available for free on this site: “The What and How of Youth and Young Adult ministry”. Married  to Heather, they have four young boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.  
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