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Paniora – the Spanish New Zealanders

Descendents of Manuel José

Descendants of Manuel José

The king of Spain, Juan Carlos I, had no trouble pronouncing Māori words during his recent state visit to New Zealand with his wife, Queen Sofia. The vowels are pronounced much the same in both languages so a guess is likely to be near the mark.

One of the words the king used in his speech at a state banquet at the Beehive on 23 June was ‘Paniora’, the Māori version of ‘Spaniard’. Today that word is generally used to refer to the New Zealand descendants of one particular Spaniard, Manuel José.

Manuel José abandoned his whaling ship in the 1830s to come ashore at Awanui on the East Coast of the North Island. There he lived for the rest of his life, working as a shore whaler and later as a trader. He also had an active home life, marrying five wives simultaneously from different subtribes of Ngāti Porou. Today the Paniora who can trace descent from Manuel José number more than 16,000, and include MPs Dave Hereora and Moana Mackay. Many still bear the surname Manuel.

Manuel José’s exact origins in Spain were eventually forgotten by his descendants. But in 2006 a documentary by the Wellington-based and Spanish-speaking journalist Diana Burns revealed that he came from a village called Valverde near the city of Segovia. There have since been several joyful reunions between the people of Valverde, where Manuel José’s house still stands, and the Paniora of the East Coast. They might not have been able to speak each other’s languages, but they were evidently delighted to re-establish a long-lost whakapapa connection.