William Ray
Through much of the 19th century NZ politicians and administrators dreamed of running a vast empire in the Pacific. Parts of that dream came true – although for some, it was more like a nightmare.
Today, Aotearoa has fewer Pacific possessions that it once had, but the history of our attempts at colonial expansion has effects which continue to reverberate throughout the Pacific.
In this episode we discuss:
For more on this subject:
 

TAHS
NZ’s Pacific Empire
 
WILLIAM: Us New Zealanders like to think of ourselves as a pretty relaxed bunch by global standards. 
 
We’re just sitting here in our quiet, isolated islands, far away from the world’s great geopolitical conflicts.
 
MĀNI: But that isn’t the case… In the context of the Pacific, Aotearoa is a big player – and if our 19th century administrators and politicians had had their way, it could have been a LOT bigger. 
 
During the 19th century, New Zealand’s leaders had a vision of a massive Pacific empire and dreamed of controlling places as far apart as Fiji, Hawaii and Rapa Nui.
 
WILLIAM: And parts of that dream came true. Although for some it was more like a nightmare… 
 
MĀNI: By the 1920s, the empire of Aotearoa stretched over millions of square kilometres of ocean – and ruled tens of thousands of people in Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue. 
 
WILLIAM: So for our final episode of this season we’re sailing deep into Te-Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa to look at the history of New Zealand’s Pacific empire…
 
STING
 
WILLIAM: Ok, so whose idea was it for New Zealand to broaden its Pacific footprint in the first place?
 
MĀNI: Well… it goes waaaay back.
 
Even James Cook hinted at the idea during his first voyage to Aotearoa. He wrote in his journal that…

“New Zealand might become the seat of a great Pacific commerce.”
 
WILLIAM: Over the next century, a lot of powerful Brits echoed Cook’s words. 
 
The strongest promoter of the idea was probably Charles Buller, spokesman for the New Zealand Company, who told Britain’s parliament that…
 
“A British Colony in New Zealand would be the natural master of this ocean…. Its position would command the Pacific; its numerous harbours would supply shelters, its vast forest materials, for the greatest navy in the world… and from that new seat of your dominion you might give laws and manners to a new world…”
 
WILLIAM: You can almost hear “Rule Britannia” playing in the background.
 
MĀNI: Funnily enough, the original boundaries of colonial New Zealand were much bigger than they are today. And that was by mistake.
 
WILLIAM: The Northernmost point of the North Island is about 34 degrees South of the equator, but when British officials first described the territory of New Zealand in official reports, they accidentally set the boundary at 34 degrees North of the equator. That’s almost as far north as Tokyo.
 
MĀNI: This meant the territory of New Zealand technically included most of Fiji, large parts of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and tons of other islands in Melanesia. 
 
WILLIAM: In 1846, Governor George Grey seized on that mistake in an attempt to block the French from annexing New Caledonia and Vanuatu – insisting that they had already been claimed as British territory. 
 
MĀNI: The Colonial Office stepped in to say that while Grey was technically right, they weren’t about to get into a territorial dispute with France over a typo.
 
WILLIAM: But Governor Grey wasn’t done.

In 1847, he urged the British Colonial Secretary to take control of Fiji and Tonga, and in 1852 he drew up plans for a hypothetical invasion of French-controlled Tahiti, using mostly Māori troops.
 
MĀNI: Competition with France was a big part of the argument for seizing Pacific territories. It’s part of the reason New Zealand itself was colonised.

WILLIAM: Governor Grey’s arguments were very popular with settlers in New Zealand and Australia, as well as some Māori. After all, any new French colonies were potential bases which could be used to attack them if Britain and France went to war again.
 
MĀNI: But the authorities back in the UK thought annexing more Pacific islands would be a strategic mistake. As the British Colonial Secretary wrote in 1872…
 
“We have quite enough isolated stations to defend in case of war, and by adding to them shall only add to the points open to an enemy attack.”
 
WILLIAM: The idea of a Pacific empire ruled from New Zealand was put on hold for much of the 1850s and 60s.
 
Sir George Grey and other colonial leaders were too busy dealing with internal issues like the New Zealand Wars, gold rushes, and the establishment of self-government.
 
MĀNI: Still, missionaries were sent out into the Pacific and trade slowly increased.
 
WILLIAM: So once the dramas of the 1850s and 60s were over, the idea of a New Zealand-run Pacific empire came roaring back. 
 
MĀNI: Its loudest advocates were politicians like George Grey, Julius Vogel, Robert Stout and Richard Seddon – all of whom served as Premier of New Zealand at one point or another. 
 
WILLIAM: And their ideas were popular, as Professor Damon Salesa points out.
 
“…almost all politicians (including tangata whenua MPs who spoke on the concern) were committed to New Zealand’s… Pacific expansion. There were few opponents of a Pacific empire, and disagreements only reflected reservations over particular efforts or tactics – not principles.”
 
MĀNI: If those imperialist administrators and politicians in Aotearoa had their way, islands as far afield as New Caledonia, Hawaii and Rapa Nui would all have fallen under New Zealand control. Not to mention more nearby islands such as Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands. 
 
WILLIAM: The only thing which stopped them was the authorities back in the UK. 
 
MĀNI: The Colonial Office was still convinced that taking more Pacific island territory would only weaken Britain’s position in the region.
 
Their focus was mostly on India and China, not the Pacific Islands..
 
WILLIAM: So why did New Zealand politicians keep pushing the issue?

MĀNI: Sure, geopolitics, resources and the like played their part, but it also had something to do with emerging nationalism – a desire for prestige and adventure – a desire to be a far flung colony AND the centre of an empire at the same time. 
 
WILLIAM: One would-be Pacific adventurer was a young New Zealand businessman, Coleman Phillips, who later wrote that…
 
“[in the 1870s] the Glamour of the Islands was full upon me, and I wanted to reach out, as many another Englishman had done in the past, when building up the Empire. Nearly all these Islands were there for the taking. Why should we not take them[?]”

MĀNI: Coleman Phillips was described in one newspaper as… 
 
“…a supremely vain, ill-informed and empty headed young man…” 
 
WILLIAM: But other newspapers took his side… and as New Zealand historian Angus Ross pointed out, he was far from the only young Pākehā to talk about the Pacific this way. 
 
“…‘The Islands’ were to them what ‘El Dorado’ had been to the Elizabethans… a region beyond the horizon which was virtually unknown but which, nevertheless, was expected to be rich and wonderful.”
 
MĀNI: The idea of those riches inspired Coleman Phillips to suggest New Zealand set up a Polynesian Trading Company – similar to the East India Company. 
 
WILLIAM: Basically this would be a government-backed corporation with authority to go out into the Pacific annexing territory, buying and selling goods, negotiating trade deals – all kinds of stuff like that.
 
MĀNI: This scheme was seriously considered by Julius Vogel during his Premiership, but it never got off the ground.
 
WILLIAM: The thing is, it made economic sense for Aotearoa to export stuff to the Pacific, but at first this country didn’t have the same need for Pacific imports.
 
As historian Nicholas Hoare put it…
 
“…as a new colony of its own with ample domestic resources, New Zealand hardly needed to seek new Oceanic markets to invest in.”
 
MĀNI: Over time though, that changed. As we discussed in a previous episode, New Zealand, Australia and the UK had a three-way deal for control of Nauru, which was strip-mined for phosphate through much of the 20th century. 
 
Aotearoa also developed a need for Pacific labour – we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
 
WILLIAM: A bigger factor in the 19th century push for a Pacific empire was competitive rivalry with Australia. 
 
MĀNI: Towards the end of the 19th century the Aussie colonies were looking to federate into one single commonwealth. 
 
That unification would create a new country, way bigger than New Zealand in terms of population, economics and geography.
 
WILLIAM: Grabbing Pacific islands was a way of puffing ourselves up compared to our cousins across the Tasman. 
 
Richard Seddon put it explicitly when he said…
 
“[The Australians] will think more of us as a nation in years to come, with islands of our own, than as we exist now…”
 
MĀNI: You might remember that in our episode on the history of Aotearoa and Australia we showed you this cartoon with New Zealand recoiling from an ogre, representing New South Wales.
 
WILLIAM: You can see New Zealand is holding hands with a Pacific island woman – representing the idea that the future of Aotearoa lay in the Pacific, not in federation with Australia.
 
MĀNI: But this wasn’t imagined as Aotearoa going off and conquering the Pacific by force.
 
WILLIAM: The idea was that Pacific Islanders would welcome a New Zealand-led empire.
 
After all, the indigenous people of Aotearoa shared ancestry with the people of many of those islands. 
 
MĀNI: Some Māori MPs actually supported a New Zealand-led Pacific empire precisely because it would enable them to rebuild connections with long lost relatives.
 
WILLIAM: That connection also provided justification for Pākehā politicians. 
 
Look, it’s mind-blowing to think of this today, but back in the late 19th century many Pākehā politicians were totally convinced they had done an absolutely awesome job dealing with Māori.  
 
MĀNI: So in their minds they were the perfect people to rule the rest of Polynesia. As one official put it in a report to Julius Vogel from the Cook Islands in 1873.

“Does it not… seem as though Providence has intended such at least of the islands of the Pacific as are inhabited by [Polynesians] to be ultimately colonised by the British occupants of New Zealand…”
 
WILLIAM: So the desire to expand into the wider Pacific had a moral dimension – the idea was that Pākehā New Zealanders would “uplift” and “civilise” other Polynesian peoples just as they had supposedly done with Māori. 
 
WILLIAM: Another big part of the moral justification for a Pacific empire was something called “Blackbirding”.
 
MĀNI: Blackbirding involved coercing or straight out enslaving indigenous Pacific Islanders to work on plantations and mines in Australia, the Pacific Islands and South America. 
 
WILLIAM: Its estimated 62 thousand people were brought to work on plantations in Queensland and New South Wales alone between the 1860s and 1900s.
 
MĀNI: Maybe the most brutal example of the trade was in 1862 and 1863, when more than 3,600 Polynesians were kidnapped or tricked aboard ships and taken to Peru. 
 
It’s estimated more than half of those people died of starvation and disease.
 
WILLIAM: Not all Pacific islanders were forcefully taken or tricked – some agreed to work on plantations, although they were often unaware of the brutal conditions they would experience. 
 
MĀNI: We only have fragmentary records on the role New Zealanders played in Blackbirding. As historian Angus Ross explains…
 
“The degree to which New Zealanders participated in the labour traffic cannot be stated accurately, as many of the traders were extremely reticent about their activities, but sufficient evidence exists to show that New Zealand owned and operated vessels played a leading role in the recruiting of labour, especially for Fiji.”
 
WILLIAM: There are only limited records of Blackbirding victims being brought to New Zealand. 
 
MĀNI: The first was in 1870, when 27 men arrived in Auckland from Vanuatu and were put to work in the Onehunga flax mills. 
 
It was later revealed the ship’s captain had bribed a local chief to bring the men aboard, casting serious doubts on whether they had come to this country by choice. 
 
WILLIAM: New Zealanders responded with outrage… Although, that outrage wasn’t always based on sympathy for these men. Instead some were outraged that Pākehā and Māori families might be expected to live side by side with Melanesian people. 
 
An editorial in the New Zealand Herald said.

“We have received letters from several correspondents complaining with considerable bitterness of the odious sights to which their families are exposed by the manners and habits of these woolly barbarians.”
 
MĀNI: Not everyone was so hard-hearted. There were many New Zealanders who took a stand against blackbirding – the most famous is Bishop John Patteson, who headed the Melanesian branch of the Anglican Church. 
 
WILLIAM: In early 1871 Bishop Patteson sent a long report on the blackbirding trade, outlining the kidnapping, murder, and brutal treatment of indigenous people.
 
He urged British authorities to step in, saying.
 
“Imperial legislation is required to put an end to this miserable state of things. Stringent regulations should be made and enforced by heavy penalties…”
 
MĀNI: Bishop Patteson also argued that no action should be taken against indigenous people who killed Europeans in revenge for kidnappings. 
 
WILLIAM: And in a tragic irony, a few months later Bishop Patteson himself was killed on Nupaku in Solomon Islands, apparently in retaliation for abductions by blackbirders. 
 
MĀNI: Reacting to his death, New Zealand’s Parliament sent an official message to the Queen saying…

“…a grave duty rests with the British Government: that of protecting the Islanders of the Pacific against the infliction of wrongs by the hands of British subjects – wrongs little less grievous than those of the African slave-trade… [W]e, the Commons of New Zealand, will at all times be ready to assist your Majesty’s Government, by every means within our reach, in suppressing the practice…”
 
WILLIAM: The next year, in 1872,  Britain passed the Pacific Islanders Protection Act.
 
The Act was meant to regulate the trade in Pacific labour – outlawing kidnapping or coercion.
 
MĀNI: But it wasn’t very effective. It could only really be enforced in British territory, not in places like Fiji, Samoa, and Vanuatu where a lot of blackbirding took place.
 
WILLIAM: This provided ammunition for people like George Grey and Julius Vogel, who argued Britain should seize control of those islands to end the trade once and for all. 

MĀNI: And in Fiji that’s exactly what happened. In 1874 the islands’ leaders ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria. 
 
WILLIAM: But, while outright slavery was ended in Fiji it was replaced by indentured labour, where people were contracted to work for a period of time.
 
MĀNI: Cos, you know, labour exploitation is bad and everything, but people reeeally don’t like paying too much for sugar. 
 
WILLIAM: At first, the conditions indentured labourers worked under were horrific, although they did improve over time. 
 
MĀNI: The point is imperial expansion in the Pacific couldn’t happen without a moral justification.
 
It wasn’t enough to say these islands were important for military, or economic, or nationalistic reasons – people had to be convinced that annexation was also in the best interests of the people living on those islands.
 
WILLIAM: The driving force behind this thinking was that New Zealand could share the “three C’s”: Christianity, Civilisation and Commerce, which in their minds had to be a good thing.
 
And in some cases Pacific island leaders actually did ask to become part of the British empire – to boost trade, and provide security and stability. 
 
MĀNI: New Zealand politicians were disappointed that Fiji wasn’t delivered into their control. Instead, it got its own governor sent by Britain.
 
WILLIAM: But that was OK, cos there was somewhere else they had their eye on: Samoa. 
 
MĀNI: As we’ve already said, the British weren’t enthusiastic about seizing more islands in the Pacific – and in Samoa they had already come to an uneasy deal with the Americans and Germans. 
 
None of them would claim ownership of the islands, but each would maintain access to plantations and important harbours.
 
WILLIAM: New Zealand politicians were unhappy with this arrangement. They constantly lobbied British authorities to seize the islands outright. They even sent a guy called John Lundon to Samoa to undermine the British Consul by pushing Samoan leaders to support annexation. 
 
MĀNI: In 1886 the situation boiled over. The King of Samoa died and there was a dispute over who should become the new King.
WILLIAM: Over the next 13 years there were two civil wars in Samoa, with the Americans, Brits and Germans each supporting different factions. 
 
At one point, seven warships belonging to the German, British and American navies got into a three-way standoff in Apia harbour.
 
MĀNI: They were so busy staring daggers at each other they ignored warnings of an incoming tropical cyclone which sank or severely damaged all but one of the ships.
 
WILLIAM: Eventually, in 1899, the three Western powers decided to split Samoa up.
 
The Western islands became German Samoa, the Eastern islands became American Samoa.

MĀNI: Britain decided against pushing for a claim to the islands, and in exchange the Americans and Germans let them control Tonga, Niue and parts of the Solomon Islands. 
 
WILLIAM: New Zealand politicians were not happy that Britain had given up on claiming Samoa. As Premier Richard Seddon put it:
 
“…the surrender of Samoa has disheartened the natives in the Islands, disappointed the people of Australasia and lowered the prestige of Great Britain in this part of the globe…”
 
MĀNI: And partly to deflect that criticism, Britain agreed New Zealand could control some of its new Pacific island possessions. Specifically: the Cook Islands and Niue, which both became part of New Zealand on the 11th of June, 1901.
 
WILLIAM: Then, when the First World War broke out in 1914, Aotearoa got another chance at Samoa. 
 
MĀNI: On August 29th 1914, New Zealand invaded and occupied German Samoa.
 
The invasion was bloodless, but when the war ended, disaster struck. The 1918 flu pandemic. 
 
WILLIAM: In this pandemic, Western Samoa suffered the highest death rate of any country in the world. More than 20 percent of the population was killed, far higher than the rate for Pākehā and even Māori.
 
And Aotearoa holds some responsibility for that.
 
MĀNI: On November 7th 1918 New Zealand authorities in Apia allowed passengers to disembark from a ship called the Talune [PRON: tar-loon], even though some of them were clearly sick. 
 
The failure to maintain a quarantine was compounded by the insensitivity of New Zealand’s colonial administrator, Colonel Robert Logan.
 
WILLIAM: Logan was out of his depth in this catastrophe and, in one remarkable story, is said to have taken out his frustrations on the headmistress of a local girls boarding school, Elizabeth Moore.  
 
When Moore asked for meat to feed sick students, Logan lashed out at what he saw as laziness. She said that Logan told her…
 
“I wish to inform you that no meat will be given [to] you… Send them food! I would rather see them burning in Hell! There is a dead horse at your gate, let them eat that!” 
 
MĀNI: Logan also turned down offers of assistance from nearby American Samoa – which went into lockdown and was one of the few places on earth to keep the virus out.
 
WILLIAM: So it’s probably not surprising that, in the wake of the influenza epidemic, cries for Samoan independence grew, led by the Mau Movement.
 
MĀNI: The Mau organised boycotts, strikes and peaceful marches. New Zealand responded by deporting and imprisoning its leaders, Mirroring tactics used on Māori who resisted colonial rule. 
 
WILLIAM: And 11 years after the flu devastated the islands, a day came that’s infamous in Samoa: Saturday 28 December 1929 – also known as “Black Saturday”.
 
MĀNI: Two Mau leaders had just returned from exile in Aotearoa, and people gathered to welcome them and marched down the main street of Apia, ignoring warnings from authorities to stay away. 
 
WILLIAM: New Zealand police attempted to arrest members of the Mau in the march. When they resisted, officers opened fire with revolvers, then retreated to the police station. 
 
MĀNI: They were pursued by the crowd, which caught one officer and beat him to death.
 
WILLIAM: Three officers on the roof of the police station fired rifles into the crowd while another fired a machine gun.

MĀNI: 11 Samoans were killed. Among the victims was a popular Samoan chief, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi the Third. He’d been trying to restrain the crowd when he was shot in the back. 
 
His last words were:   
 
“My blood has been spilled for Samoa. I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilled in maintaining peace. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price.”
 
MĀNI: And the Mau honoured that message, their resistance against New Zealand rule remained peaceful.
 
WILLIAM: In the following months, the authorities cracked down on the Mau, outlawing the organisation completely. 
 
MĀNI: In January 1930, 200 New Zealand marines and military police were deployed to hunt down about 1,500 members of the movement who’d retreated into the bush. 
 
WILLIAM: They were led by Commodore Geoffrey Blake, who claimed…
 
“At the present moment [the Samoans are] in the position of a sulky and insubordinate child who has deliberately disobeyed his father… and no peaceful persuasion will induce him to submit.”
 
MĀNI: New Zealand troops carried out a counter-insurgency campaign – launching night-time raids on villages, and arresting people suspected of supporting the movement. 
 
But the campaign ultimately failed, partly thanks to the efforts of Samoan women. 
 
When New Zealand authorities banned men from supporting the Mau, women picked up the slack, forming the so-called “Womens’ Mau”.
 
WILLIAM: Then, in 1935, the first Labour Government was elected in New Zealand. 
 
It changed the law to recognise the Mau movement as a legitimate political organisation.

MĀNI: Elections were held and the Mau came to dominate Samoa’s two main political bodies, the Legislative Assembly, and the Fono o Faipule. However, Aotearoa would retain control of the islands until 1962.
 
WILLIAM: New Zealand’s empire reached its largest point in the 1920s. Along with Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands, Aotearoa also gained control of Tokelau in 1925 – another colonial gift from the British.
 
MĀNI: New Zealand rule in other parts of its Pacific empire usually wasn’t as troubled as in Samoa, but it still came with plenty of problems.

WILLIAM: Part of the issue was that while politicians had dreamed of Aotearoa becoming the “Britain of the South Pacific” – New Zealand was not the UK. 
 
MĀNI: The British had legions of public servants to govern colonial affairs, and a global empire’s worth of resources to call on – including the Royal Navy. New Zealand did not. 
 
WILLIAM: Instead, we appointed Resident Commissioners with authority to govern islands virtually single-handed. 
 
As Professor Damon Salesa points out.
 
“In both Niue and the Cook Islands, the Resident Commissioner acted as President of the Island Council, Chief Constable, Chief Administrative Officer, Postmaster and Controller of Customs; the Resident also was in charge of education, public works, the treasury and public service,  and served as both Chief Justice and Chief Judge of the Land Court.”
 
MĀNI: So these Resident Commissioners had enormous power, and very limited accountability. 
 
The people who lived in these islands couldn’t vote their Resident Commissioner out of the job, they could only be recalled by Wellington.
 
WILLIAM: As you might imagine, that situation didn’t always end well… 
 
The most infamous case was Cecil Hector Larsen, Resident Commissioner of Niue from 1943 to 1953.
 
Larsen often wrote to Wellington asking for more support, but was repeatedly turned down and effectively told to figure it out himself.
 
MĀNI: He seems to have taken out his frustrations on the people of Niue… It’s alleged Larsen regularly bullied, abused and wrongfully imprisoned Niueans. People were locked up for adultery, for holding hands in public, or even for swearing. 
 
WILLIAM: Some prisoners were then forced to work for Larsen, and were beaten and starved.
 
MĀNI: On August 16th 1953, three young Niueans broke out of jail and hacked Larsen to death with machetes while he was sleeping. His wife was also attacked, but later recovered. 

As historian Dick Scott writes:

“The three young Niueans were not merely avenging themselves for the ill-treatment they had long suffered. They were, they believed, ridding the whole island of a tyrant.”
 
WILLIAM: The trio were convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after a public outcry in New Zealand. 
 
MĀNI: Around the same time as the Larsen murder, there was a global move towards decolonisation – it was a major objective of the United Nations which was formed in the wake of The Second World War. 
 
WILLIAM: You might have thought, given all we’ve discussed, that New Zealand’s Pacific territories couldn’t wait to cut ties with us! …but it wasn’t that simple. 
 
MĀNI: In the decades since colonisation the populations of many Pacific islands had grown significantly, but their economies hadn’t – it was considered difficult or impossible to support those populations without assistance from Aotearoa. 
 
WILLIAM: People in tropical Pacific territories also feared that severing colonial links might make it difficult for them to travel to New Zealand.
 
MĀNI: That turned out to be a valid fear. In the 1970s New Zealand authorities disproportionately targeted Pacific Island overstayers for deportation in what’s now known as the Dawn Raids.  
 
WILLIAM: Decolonisation meant losing access to jobs. In the post-war economic boom of the 1950s and 60s, Pacific Islanders had flooded to Aotearoa to fill gaps in the labour market, especially in meatworks and factories. They were able to send money home to support entire communities. 
 
MĀNI: Moving to New Zealand also meant better educational opportunities for children. 
 
The thing is, for all that 19th century politicians had talked about their empire “uplifting” Pacific Islanders, in the 1950s most Pacific Islanders never had the opportunity to go to high school, let alone university.
 
WILLIAM: So it’s no wonder that people in New Zealand’s Pacific territories saw decolonisation as a double edged sword, and saw value in maintaining close links to Aotearoa. 
 
MĀNI: As of 2022 the only inhabited dependent territory of Aotearoa is Tokelau. 
 
A majority of Tokelauans did support an independence referendum in 2006, but they didn’t cross the two thirds threshold needed to separate from New Zealand. 
 
WILLIAM: The Cook Islands became self-governing in 1965, and Niue followed suit in 1974, but both remain in “free association” with Aotearoa. 
 
So, while they elect their own governments and make their own laws, their people remain New Zealand citizens and use New Zealand dollars.
 
MĀNI: Samoans decided on full independence and became their own nation in 1962. However, Samoa retained close links with Aotearoa through a Treaty of Friendship.
 
WILLIAM: But it wasn’t like we flipped a switch and New Zealand’s colonial history in the Pacific was gone. Its effects still linger in Aotearoa and the other Pacific islands. 
 
MĀNI: One of the most obvious legacies is that Aotearoa has a MASSIVE Pacific Island population. 
 
WILLIAM: It’s grown from about 2,200 in 1945 to over 380 thousand in 2018! 
 
MĀNI: Those numbers are still rising rapidly – although these days the increase is mostly people being born in New Zealand rather than migrating here. 
 
WILLIAM: And, before Covid, another 14,000 or so would come for seasonal jobs each year, under the RSE scheme. 
 
MĀNI: As Professor Damon Salesa puts it… 
 
“…[Pacific Islanders] altered many dimensions of New Zealand life. The high profile examples are well known as Islanders transformed New Zealand rugby and netball, literature, theatre, art and music. But the fundamental changes driven by Islanders were far more important, evident [in] the spaces of work, key trade unions and government…”
 
WILLIAM: Aotearoa has increasingly come to describe itself as a Pacific Nation. 
That’s partly a consequence of our growing Pacific population, and the fading influence of the British Empire. 
 
MĀNI: And over the last few decades New Zealand has tried to transition from Pacific coloniser to more of a friend and ally.
 
WILLIAM: While we kiwis generally see ourselves as a plucky little underdog on the world stage, in the context of the Pacific, New Zealand is a big player…
 
MĀNI: We invest hundreds of millions of dollars of aid funding in our Pacific neighbours every year. 
 
Our military and charity organisations also help with disaster relief and peacekeeping efforts. 
 
WILLIAM: But let’s not be naive. Aotearoa still views the other Pacific islands through a geopolitical lens and their leaders know from experience that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
 
MĀNI: And Pacific geopolitics is heating up, particularly with new players such as China and the United States entering the game..
 
The stakes for the Pacific Islands, including Aotearoa, are high.  
 
WILLIAM: All the more reason to better understand the deep histories that bind us together, for good or ill.
 
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