After the initial migration in the 1890s the number of Lebanese arrivals dropped. But relatives of earlier immigrants continued to arrive in small numbers. In 1936 there were 1,261 people of Lebanese origin in New Zealand; it has been estimated that in the early 1980s the descendants of Lebanese totalled 5,000. By the 1940s the Dunedin Lebanese were largely assimilated, and many have since moved to other parts of the country. In the 1990s some 1,000 Otago and Southland residents were descended from the original migrants.
A trickle of migrants arrived from 1975 to 1990 when Lebanon was ravaged by civil war. They settled mainly in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. Many of them ran cafés and restaurants. The cuisine has been welcomed in New Zealand and Lebanese (pita) bread is popular, as are hommos (hummus), kebabs and tabbouleh.
Attitudes toward Lebanese
Lebanese have been called ‘the quiet immigrants’ because they were easily assimilated into New Zealand society. But not everyone was welcoming. In Otago and Southland some people considered the peddlers to be tramps and vagabonds, even though many farmers’ wives and remote miners were only too happy to see them. After all, they were colourful characters who brought rare goods and rural gossip.
In the 1890s there was a move to introduce legislation that would stop Lebanese migration and ban those already resident from peddling goods. It was partially successful. In 1900 Lebanese immigration became more difficult with the introduction of an English language test. Although those who had arrived could be naturalised as British citizens, Lebanese could not draw pensions or family allowances until the 1930s, as they were officially classified as Asiatics.