Senior Pacific Curator Sean Mallon looks at the wave of Tokelau migration to New Zealand that began in the 1960s and its consequences.
History of the migration
Since 1976, more Tokelauans have lived in New Zealand than on Tokelau.
The migration to New Zealand began in 1948, when the New Zealand government made the Tokelauan people New Zealand citizens.
Then, in 1963, a government-assisted scheme helped Tokelauans, especially unmarried people, migrate to New Zealand to work as domestics and in hospitals and hostels.
Three years later, the programme was formalised as the Tokelau Islands Resettlement Scheme, and it brought over more Tokelauans, including families.
Some people arrived independently, helped by others already here.
Adapting to a different life
For many of the new migrants, the process of resettling was unsettling.
Culture shock ranged from coping with New Zealand’s colder climate to experiencing telephones and televisions for the first time.
Newspaper headlines like ‘Tokelauans Learn About Stoves, Washers And Hot Water Systems’ reflect how different New Zealand life was for the newcomers.
Changes to Tokelauan society
So many Tokelauan men of working-age moving to New Zealand caused problems for the population in Tokelau. ‘One difficulty was that the remaining working men in the homeland were obliged to put in longer hours to harvest communal food resources and this bred resentment. The remittances sent home from New Zealand workers, while welcomed at a practical level, created further inequality among Tokelauan households and upset traditional kinship and social patterns.’ (Mähina-Tuai 2012)
These and other, more long-term changes to Tokelauan society are described in depth in the study Wesser et al., Migration and Health in a Small Society. For more stories of Tokelau peoples experiences in New Zealand visit the Te Papa exhibition Tangata o le moana: the story of Pacific peoples in New Zealand.
Mähina-Tuai, K. “A land of milk and honey? Education and employment migration schemes in the post war era,” Mallon, S.,Mahina-Tuai, K.and Salesa, D. (eds.) Tangata o le Moana: New Zealand and the people of the Pacific.(Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2012)
Tangata o le Moana: the story of Pacific people and New Zealand (Te Papa exhibition 2007- )
Wessen, A.F., A. Hooper, J. Huntsman, I. Prior and C. Salmond (1992) Migration and Health in a Small Society: The Case of Tokelau, Clarendon Press, Oxford. pp. 90–103.