Pasifika Youth in South Auckland: Family, gangs, community, culture, leadership and the future

Pasifika Youth in South Auckland: Familys, gangs, …
01 Nov 2009

The aim of this study funded by the Families Commission was to interview Pasifika youth from the suburbs of Māngere and Ōtara – including those who were involved in gangs and those who had never been involved in gangs or had transitioned out of gang life.

Pasifika youth make a significant impact on the demographic profile of South Auckland and are a major focus of the many projections regarding population, employment and education in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The place of family and community is regarded as an important influence on the future of Pasifika youth yet how these youth view the place of Pasifika families in the future is not adequately covered in the research literature. As more Pasifika youth are thought to be joining gangs, there are also concerns as to whether the gangs have replaced the family for Pasifika youth and whether the street has become home to these youth.



The aim of this study was to interview Pasifika youth from the suburbs of Mängere and Ōtara – including those who were involved in gangs and those who had never been involved in gangs or had transitioned out of gang life – in an effort to obtain information on:

  • how Pasifika youth understood family and how they perceived family in relation to the future
  • the perspectives of young Pasifika people on gangs, community, culture and leadership
  • why some Pasifika youth did not join gangs; why some Pasifika youth were joining gangs; and the support systems Pasifika youth had, and used, to remain out of gangs
  • the views and experiences of exiting gang life for Pasifika ex-gang members and the mechanisms that had assisted them to transition out of gang life
  • whether the family and the home were being replaced by the gang and the street for Pasifika youth involved in gangs.


The research was conducted between November 2007 and May 2008. It was based on a set of semi-structured interviews with Pasifika youth from the suburbs of Māngere and Ōtara to find out what ‘family’ meant for them; to identify which individuals or groups were included in their definition of family; and the vision that Pasifika youth had for their family and for themselves. As the concept of family is closely tied up with the home and community, the research also investigated where home and community were, and what it meant for Pasifika youth. The researchers also sought the perspectives of Pasifika youth on leadership and culture in relation to their family and the community. The researchers also attempted to determine whether the family and the home were being replaced by the gang and the street for those Pasifika youth involved in gangs.

The study used a qualitative design involving group interviews, focus group interviews and individual interviews to gather data. Data collection instruments included the use of semi-structured questionnaires, interactive prompts, tape recorders and note-taking. The use of qualitative methods of data collection was the most appropriate for researching with groups traditionally considered difficult to access. Qualitative methods are believed to provide an in-depth approach to understanding gangs, and researchers believe that more face-to-face, academically rigorous studies are needed in gang research studies (Phillips, 1999; Venkatesh, 1997).

Eggleston (2000) argued that research on gangs should avoid the presence of hype by using multiple methods to collect data. Eggleston believed that hype was a strategy used by younger gang members to build themselves up to an outsider. Interview hype, explained Eggleston, is recognisable and understood by the ethnographer in ways that it would not be to an interviewer. In this study, two of the three researchers were longtime residents of Māngere and Ōtara with access to young Pasifika people and their families including those involved in gangs, and relied upon established networks and personal relationships to recruit participants. The team of researchers consulted widely with youth workers and community organisations in Māngere and Ōtara and the involvement of trusted youth workers from a community youth organisation was a significant factor in the successful meetings between the gangs and the researchers.

The researchers were aware of the past and current social, political and economic environment in which these communities are located and were well placed in terms of research capabilities, background and knowledge to complete a research study on this topic. The researchers’ knowledge of gang relationships and operations as well as their familiarity and friendship with the gang members allowed the researchers to detect the presence of hype in the data and avoid its misanalysis in the results. The different groups interviewed by the three researchers enabled a triangulation of the data and the use of focus groups reduced the element of power that could have existed in individual interviews of non-gang and gang members.

The data were initially analysed under the themes of family, community, home, culture, leadership, gangs and the future as these themes provided the framework for the interview questions. As the voices of women in New Zealand gangs are often marginalised because of the media’s focus on the role and activities of the mostly male young people involved in gangs, the reader is reminded of the female voices that are present in the research. The focus of this research is on Pasifika youth in South Auckland. It is not just on gangs. The use of the phrase ‘non-gang’ seemed to be the only clear and simple way to differentiate amoung the three groups of participants.

Key Results

The key findings that emerged from an analysis of the data were:


  • Family was a significant and valued influence in the lives of South Auckland Pasifika youth. Family included immediate family as well as close relatives and friends.
  • Gang members did not appear to want to give up their immediate family for the gang family although the latter provided an alternative family environment for those members who did not have stable relationships with their own immediate family.
  • Pasifika youth involved in gangs did not seem to want to leave their family home for a life on the streets although the street was a major place in their socialisation. Their links to the gang and to gang life did not appear to weaken the relationship they wanted to have with their families.
  • Family expectations and values had a significant influence on the involvement of Pasifika youth in gangs.

Home and community

  • There was a strong bond between Pasifika youth and their South Auckland community and Pasifika youth felt a sense of identity and commitment to their suburbs.
  • The presence and availability of community resources including people and facilities were significant to Pasifika youth’s engagement in those activities regarded as socially positive.
  • Pasifika youth relied on youth workers to provide them with opportunities to become involved in the community and to give them information about issues relevant to youth.
  • The culture and practices of institutions such as the church, schools and the police often conflicted with those of Pasifika youth, particularly those involved in gangs.


  • Pasifika youth were proud of their Pasifika heritage and believed this heritage helped them to interact positively with other ethnic groups.
  • Although ethnicity may have historically played an important part in the composition of gangs comprising Pasifika youth, gangs involving Pasifika youth no longer appeared to be divided along a particular Pacific Island heritage.


  • The perceptions of Pasifika youth not involved in gang life to the presence of gangs depended on their knowledge of and relationship with gang members.
  • The gangs were aware that their presence affected how their community was perceived and that their presence had become a ‘community problem’ instead of a New Zealand problem.
  • The encouragement and support of friends and family were essential to assisting gang members who wished to exit out of gang life.


  • Pasifika youth not involved in gangs regarded their parents and community leaders as the people they considered leaders.
  • Most gang members believed in their ability to be leaders and regarded their own gang leader as someone they considered to have qualities necessary for leadership.


  • Pasifika youth not involved in gangs saw the future in terms of being able to contribute back to the family or to making improvements in their community.
  • Those Pasifika youth involved in gangs did not see a positive future for gangs but like the Pasifika youth non-gang and the ex-gang members believed that gangs would always be present in the community.
Page last modified: 30 Jul 2020