One continent, many nations
Africa is a vast and varied continent – North Africa is a different world from sub-Saharan Africa, and ethnicities in the many countries are diverse. In addition to the myriad black tribes and Arabic peoples of North Africa, there are European, Asian and Indian people born in Africa.
Over 40 African nationalities in New Zealand form a kaleidoscope of culture, religion, language and ethnicity. Often the only common element among Africans is their continent of origin.
Colonialism dominated early links between Africa and New Zealand as white settlers moved freely between colonies of the British Empire. As early as 1871, the New Zealand census recorded 34 people born in ‘British African Possessions’ and 31 from other African countries. And it is likely that most of the 92 African-born people in the 1911 census were white.
By 1986 there were 3,939 African-born residents in New Zealand – 90% of them from Africa’s Commonwealth countries. The vast majority were white.
The first black African to reach New Zealand was a servant of Captain Furneaux, travelling aboard the Adventure on James Cook’s second voyage. He was slain by Māori in Queen Charlotte Sound in December 1773.
Most early black arrivals were African Americans. The 1916 census list of ‘Race Aliens’ comprises 95 ‘Negroes’ (African Americans) and just six people born in Africa – four Abyssinians (Ethiopians) and two Egyptians.
In the 1960s there was an influx of black Africans who came as assisted students on the Colombo Plan. By 1972, 266 had completed courses. Most returned, but a handful married, had children and settled.
Before the 1990s there was little opportunity for black Africans to emigrate to New Zealand because the ‘traditional source country’ immigration policy favoured people from the United Kingdom and Ireland.