Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters


Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_11



This section covers a description of the term “Pasifika” people in New Zealand. Furthermore, an explanation of the use of the term Pasifika is covered, as it pertains to people’s identities through the evolving nature of diasporic movements. Examples of diaspora include youth and education are also explored. Finally, the section ends with coverage on the Rethinking Pacific Education Initiative.

Who Are Pasifika People?

This entry is focused on Aotearoa/New Zealand’s perspective of the term “Pasifika.” The umbrella term “Pasifika” has been used by the New Zealand government to describe the ethnic makeup of people migrating from the Pacific Islands to Aotearoa/New Zealand. The origination of the word Pasifika is from the Niue language. In this entry, the term “Pasifika” is used interchangeably with “Pacific,” and Bedford and Didham (2001) state that the term “Pacific” has been commonly and widely utilized at all levels of society including educators, policy makers, community workers, the media, and institutions. In fact, the use of the term has often led to broad generalizations about a group of people who in fact are extremely diverse. Many Pasifika people do not solely identify as saying they are “Pasifika.” Rather, people self-identify with their specific Pasifika ethnic group (e.g., Niuean or Tongan or Tuvaluan). With the different terminologies of Pasifika, (Pacific, Pasefika, Pasifiki, pan-Pacific, to name but a few), there has not been one term that has been consistently used in New Zealand. Pasifika and non-Pasifika people select the term they find most appropriate and relevant to them to use.

Aotearoa/New Zealand is a country that has attracted people from the Pacific Islands over a long period of time. Macpherson et al. (2001) identified that at the end of World War II, there were 2,200 Pasifika people based in Aotearoa/New Zealand. With the subsequent flow of migration, Pasifika people were coming to Aotearoa/New Zealand for various reasons, such as employment and education. In the 1950s, the New Zealand government encouraged a more diverse population to become involved in the workforce. In particular the labor market attracted the flow of Pasifika people, and it was at this point in time that the Pasifika population began to change in size and sociodemographic character (Macpherson et al. 2001).

Similarly, the New Zealand government used the term “Pacific Islanders” in the early 1980s to group and to classify New Zealand migrants belonging to various Pasifika ethnic groups under one name. In the early 1990s up to the present, this term has evolved into various names such as “Pacific Islands,” “Pacific nations,” “Pacific peoples,” and “Pasifika” or “Pasefika.” The term “Pacific” has been commonly and widely utilized at all levels of society including educators, policy makers, community workers, the media, and institutions (Bedford and Didham 2001).

The “Pasifika Education Research Guidelines” (Anae et al. 2002), developed for the Ministry of Education in Aotearoa/New Zealand, provides one definition of Pasifika peoples. At the time of development, it made reference to the six Pacific nations, namely, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Cook Islands, Tokelau, and Fiji. In this context, “Pacific people” is exclusive of Māori and in the broadest sense covers peoples from the island nations in the South Pacific and, in its narrowest sense, Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The research guidelines go on to clarify the issue of Pasifika people as being a heterogeneous group with different inter and intra-ethnic variations in the cultures. Variations include New Zealand-born/New Zealand-raised, island-born/island-raised Pasifika people being recognized as diverse groups.

At the time of writing, Pasifika peoples are defined as New Zealand residents belonging to the seven Pacific nations, namely, Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Fiji, Tokelau, and Tuvalu. There are 265,974 people identified in this ethnic grouping, which represents 6.9% of the country’s total population. As a significant population in New Zealand, Pasifika people are a multiethnic group. Diversities exist at specific levels. One of these levels is called cultural diversities which refer to differences in language and culture between all of the Pasifika ethnic groups. Another level is the intra-cultural diversities where differences are associated with youthful groupings. Some groups include diversities that are traditional in nature and differences between village or island heritages. As an example, priority is placed on a particular island (e.g., Pukapuka) over the affiliation to a national birth place (e.g., Cook Islands).

In a geographical definition, Pasifika people are commonly defined by Westerners as people living in Oceania particularly in the sub-regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. These island nations in the South Pacific have diverse cultures, different languages, and various ethnicities, which constitute the three most salient features of its people. In 1820, French explorer Dumont d’Urville coined the terms “Polynesian,” “Melanesian,” and “Micronesian” to describe and to distinguish the Pacific and its inhabitants from the rest of the world. Each “nesian” grouping has distinct characteristics. In breaking down the word Melanesian, “Melas” refers to black and “nesos” refers to island, encompassing New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji. Melanesians make up more than three-fourths of the indigenous Pasifika population. Micronesia consists of Palau, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Kiribati. Micronesia is one-twentieth of the Pasifika region population and to the East of Polynesia is French Polynesia (Tahiti Islands) and Rapanui or known in the English name of Easter Island.

Often the question is raised, so who is a Pacific Islander? Hau’ofa (1994) believed that the question does not need to be asked if Oceania is used. This was a term coined by the late Professor Epeli Hau’ofa (1994) who pointed to the sea of islands, being Oceania. The expanded Oceania is extensive across the world from Australia and New Zealand through to the north to the USA and Canada. Oceania is about a world of people connected to one another by the sea.

Pasifika languages are diverse, with several hundred spoken lingua franca across the Pacific. There is some familiarity with either English or French as one or other languages have been used in virtually all the Pacific Islands. In Vanuatu, as well as the lingua franca of Bislama, English and French languages are both used due to British and French colonization.

The people of the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau have a free association relationship with New Zealand which permits the people of these islands to have New Zealand citizenship, while their own country makes their own laws and conducts its own affairs. This is one reason why there are more Cook Island Maoris, Niueans, and Tokelauans living in New Zealand, than in their home island nations.

Pasifika Diaspora

Since the 1950s, Pasifika people have migrated from the Pacific to countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. Pasifika people live all over the world and are known to be a flowing diasporic population. Generations of Pasifika people are born outside of their Pacific nations, and as a result, many Pasifika youth do not know what it is like to grow up on an island. The onset of diaspora presents certain challenges such as language maintenance. Pasifika youth are more likely than their grandparents to grow up speaking a language that is not their mother tongue. There are many reasons for Pasifika diaspora. It is known through Pasifika communities that the journey of migrations for Pasifika people in New Zealand was about obtaining opportunity in a land of “milk and honey.” This meant that a vision of a better lifestyle and employment for their children was highly important. Many Pasifika parents and families place a high emphasis on education as a way to obtain qualifications and then go onto well-paid careers. There are other motivational factors for Pasifika migration. Remittances are one of the biggest forms of economy in the Pacific region with families and individuals living away from their islands and working in countries as a means to send money back to their families. Educational opportunity abroad increases the likelihood of earning wages or salary that is higher than what can be earned in the Pacific.

Pasifika Youth

Generations of youth who have Pasifika heritage are being born in countries that are not their original ancestral home country. Pasifika youth make up over 50% of the Pasifika population which makes them predominately New Zealand-born Pasifika or Pacific. Because of this reason, it is often described by commentators in education that Pasifika youth are struggling with identity formation and conceptualization. Their worldviews and lifestyles reflect an individualist approach which is more and more different from their elders. New ethnic identities are being formed especially with the influence of Western cultures and the high use of the English language.

Issues have been associated in describing Pasifika youth identities. There is complexity in positioning the Pacific Samoan self in ethnicity (Rimoni 2012). The experiences of growing up in a country that does not reinforce the value systems of Pasifika cultures pose challenges for cultural identity and what it means to be Pasifika. The notion of “Pasifika edgewalking” has been used by Tupuola (2004) to explain how Pasifika youth “edgewalk” between identities and roles that are Pasifika and Western because they are influenced by both cultures. Local and global cultures influence generations of Pasifika youth which allow them to move between cultures or live between two (or more) worlds. In this notion, Pasifika identities are fluid and constantly changing. Music, fashion, and media come together to influence the way Pasifika youth represent their identities which are somewhat different from their elders. The ASB Polyfest, the largest Secondary School Performing Arts Festival which is run in Auckland, New Zealand each year since 1976, provides an avenue for Pasifika youth to compete as Samoan, Tongan, Niuean, Fijian, Cook Island Maori, Tuvaluan, and Tokelauan performers for their schools. The festival is seen as a competitive but culture-embracing event that allows for Pasifika youth to learn the cultural practices of their Pasifika ethnic groups. The 2-day event is judged by Pasifika elders who are experienced in the culture and language. The schools and youth spend countless hours preparing and practicing for the major competition. Pasifika secondary school performances extend beyond the city of Auckland, which has the highest population of Pasifika youth in New Zealand. Smaller cities in New Zealand are also taking up the Pasifika youth performances as an approach to motivating and affirming identities of Pasifika. “Malaga” (or journey) was the name given to a group of Pasifika students’ cultural show based in Porirua, Wellington (Mackley-Crump 2011). Over 900 students were involved in the show.

Education and Pasifika People

For Pasifika people, education is located in formal (early childhood education, schools, and tertiary institutions), as well as informal contexts such as the family. Informal learning and education has occurred in Pasifika homes and communities for many generations and has been perceived as part of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning has its roots in traditional education with Pasifika elders which enable opportunities for young people and adults to learn specific cultural skills and knowledge. Telling stories is integral to the practices in the Pacific Islands. This is how Pasifika people have taught one another. This is how specific learning takes place, on certain principles and values. Another institution of learning has been the church. The church has provided a place for the mother tongue language with services being spoken in Tongan, Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Tuvaluan, Tokelauan, or Fijian, as examples. In New Zealand, early childhood language centers or nests have been traditionally founded by some of the churches and have been designed to support Pasifika language maintenance and growth. Typically, the mothers of the communities have been the pioneers of such centers and the educators of the young children.

The situation of New Zealand Pasifika education has been evident in the inadequate academic achievement rates. The issues are long standing. For example, 28% of Pacific students left compulsory education with no formal qualifications in 1999. As a result of educational challenges, the New Zealand government developed the Pasifika Education Plan (PEP) in 2001. The plan was developed to provide strategic direction for educators and communities to improve the outcomes for Pacific students in early childhood education, the compulsory (primary and secondary) sector, and tertiary education. Since 2001, the PEP has been revised and relaunched by the Ministry of Education. It was a document reflecting the changing priorities of Pasifika students and families. Further, it was a plan to integrate community input and consultation, by recognizing the roles of the family and community. The plan was about Pasifika people, educational services, and the government working together.

New Zealand tertiary education includes all involvement in post-school formal education. This encompasses foundational education (such as adult literacy), certificates and diplomas, bachelor degrees, industry training, adult and community education, and postgraduate qualifications. Tertiary education institutes (TEIs) include universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, Wananga (Maori higher education institution), and specialist colleges. In terms of educational performance in higher education, 30.4% represents Pasifika school leavers with a university entrance standard and 25.6% corresponds to the tertiary participation rate of Pasifika students aged 18–24 years old. Of the Pasifika students enrolled in tertiary education, 75.6% enrolled in their second year, but only 39.9% of Pasifika students were able to complete their qualification within 5 years. Of 213,120 Pasifika students, 1500 (0.7%) enrolled in postgraduate-level study. These figures show that the educational progress and academic achievement of Pasifika students has slightly and steadily improved compared to previous years.

The Birth of Rethinking Pacific Education Initiative (RPEI)

The discourse of educational challenges for Pasifika people does not only exist in Aotearoa/New Zealand but also out to the Pacific region. But the year 2000 marked a significant change in education for the Pacific region. Three key leaders in the Pacific came together literally under an umbrella in the pouring rain. Associate Professor Kabini Sanga, Professor Konai Helu Thaman, and Dr. ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki were waiting for the rain to stop, and, as they huddled under the shelter of the umbrella, they came to a point where they decided that it was time for some dynamic changes in Pasifika education. As a result of the umbrella of discussion, the three leaders brought together other key leaders and educators, Pasifika and Maori, in a colloquium to begin the rethinking of Pasifika education. From the colloquium, participants began to identify the issues, challenges, needs, and areas of attention for their Pacific countries. Papers were produced and edited into a book, the “Tree of Opportunity” (Pene et al. 2002). The rethinking pacific education initiative (RPEI) was a significant and positive turning point for Pasifika education in the Pacific region. The word “Pacific” was used as an embracing descriptor of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. The official government aid development agency of New Zealand (NZAID) became the principal funding organization for the initiative. RPEI initially began mobilizing and engaging with an initiative in Vanuatu. However while RPEI started within a collaborative initiative, it became a philosophy and a movement. The rethinking pacific education initiative snowballed and outlasted the funding. Leadership development and mentoring is a constant strategy in building up island countries’ educational development. Pasifika people are assuming responsibility for their own communities by focusing on what skills and knowledge they have, rather than focusing on what is not available.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Victoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand