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Palagi (pronounced Palangi) or Papalangi is the Samoan word for a white person or Caucasian. The term has gained widespread use (usually as "palangi") throughout much of the south Pacific. For the book The Papalagi by Erich Scheurmann, see The Papalagi.

The term is now also used in New Zealand in a similar way to the Māori term Pākehā, but carries the implied meaning of a white person within Pacific island surroundings, rather than a white person within largely Māori surroundings.

Meaning and origin of term

The etymology of the term palagi is disputed. palagi can also mean 'shailiana'. Some linguists suggest that the origin may be in the words papa-lagi, meaning "bursting or piercing the sky", possibly a name derived from the tall "sky-piercing" masts of European explorers' ships. The Niuean word "palagi", where "pa" meaning bang such as that of a gun and "lagi" means sky, literally means bangs into the sky. In "Papa-lagi" "papa" means more than one bang or many bangs, and "lagi" means sky. In the olden days Europeans that landed on Niue carried with them guns and often fired the guns into the sky when landed on the reef to scare away potential trouble making natives.

Jan Tent, a Macquarie University linguist, and Dr. Paul Geraghty, Director of the Institute of Fijian Language and Culture in Suva, suggest that the word may have its origins in the travels of the Polynesians themselves. They believe that the Polynesian islanders may have encountered Malay travellers prior to contact with Europeans, and adopted the Malay word "barang" (meaning imported cloth). Alternatively, they may have picked up the words from the East indian crew of Abel Tasman in the 1640s. Whichever is the case, in 1777 Captain James Cook reported that Tongan called his men " 'Tangata no papalangie', that is ... cloth men."

These researchers also suggest another possible etymology - the Malay word for European, as used in the 17th and 18th centuries, was 'faranggi'. However, they discount this possibility as the word palangi seems to have originally referred to cloth; only later was the word transferred to the people.

Modern usage

Thanks largely to a growing Pacific Islander counter-culture in New Zealand this word has been adopted by other Pacific cultures. Its usage in New Zealand's Pacific Islander media such as television and radio is common, and it is often used by the mainstream media to describe white people in Polynesian contexts.

See also

External links

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