New Zealand–History

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Unless you believe J.R.R. Tolkein was a historian rather than a novelist (impressed? not even one clause into the background e-mail about New Zealand and there’s already an only-makes-sense-if-you-already-know-it reference to Lord of the Rings), you’ll agree that the distant island nation we now know as New Zealand (known in Maori as “Aotearoa”) was among the last large land masses in the world to be inhabited by humans. Polynesians first settled New Zealand in the late 13th century and within a couple centuries had developed a distinct “Maori” culture. Maori communities divided into many tribes and sub-tribes that would often cooperate, but also often fight.

Europeans first landed in New Zealand in 1642 A.D. when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his crew happened by and had a hostile encounter with the Maori. Europeans didn’t return until British explorer James Cook mapped the coastline in 1769. European and North American merchants, whalers and seal hunters followed. They quickly introduced two items that changed the course of Maori history–potatoes and guns (“muskets.”) In the potato, the Maori found a crop that provided a reliable food surplus that allowed them to sustain military campaigns. The muskets provided a way for warring tribes to shoot each
other. During the 1801-1840 “Musket Wars” there were over 600 battles between tribes, resulting in the death of tens of thousands of Maori.


The Maori in New Zealand didn’t just fight each other. During the early settlement of Aotearoa some Maori had moved to land now known as the Chatham Islands, which are east of New Zealand. A “Moriori” culture developed there that differed from Maori culture in several ways. The most notable divergence was in the fact that they adopted something called “Nunuku’s Law,” essentially a law of maintaining peace, which the ancestor Nunuku-whenua implemented after seeing too much bloodshed in previous

Between 1835 and 1862 Maori from Aeotearoa invaded the Chatham Islands, taking advantage of the Morioris’ sense of peace, ruthlessly decimating most of population and
enslaving the rest. By 1862 only 100 Moriori remained. The last of the full-blooded Moriori passed away in 1933.

More information:

More about the Moriori and why the Maori were able to defeat them | (this link for grown-ups only) This excerpt from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel describes the brutal Maori invasion and devastation of the Moriori and presents it as a metaphor for the Western colonialists’ destruction of global indigenous cultures–an organized, technologically advanced people with iron will laying waste to a population less able and/or less inclined to take up arms.

In the early 1800s British missionaries descended upon New Zealand and eventually converted most of the Maori population to Christianity. The British government moved in soon thereafter, formally annexing Aotearoa in the mid-1800s by signing the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 with a group of Maori called the United Tribes of New Zealand. By 1856 the colony of New Zealand had effectively become self-governing. Wellington became the capital in 1865. As immigration increased there were conflicts over land ownership that resulted in the “The New Zealand Wars” of the 1860s and 1870s, during which time British immigrants claimed most of the MÄori lands. In the early 20th century New Zealand became increasingly independent from the British, eventually becoming an independent nation within the British Commonwealth. After World War II New Zealand’s economy boomed, which raised the standard of living substantially but also enticed large numbers of rural Maori to move to the cities, leading to tension between the Maori and European-descended settlers. In the 1960s a Maori protest movement developed, challenging European dominance and resulting in the government negotiating settlements of violations of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Today New Zealand is a modern nation that’s as closely connected to the West as it is rooted in Polynesian history and culture. While the relationship between European descended New Zealanders and ethnic Maori is very complicated, and the nation’s volcanic foundation always presents the possibility of unexpected disruption, New Zealanders’ apparent combination of rugged individualism and relaxed humility (i.e. Edumnd Hillary, first Westerner to climb Mt. Everest, personified “the brave, self-deprecating New Zealander“) has so far enabled “Kiwis” to islands to both engage the global economy and remain proud of their own complex culture.

More information:

Why are New Zealanders called Kiwis? It’s about the bird, not the fruit |Â Learn all about Maori activism–Brown Power, the Land Rights Movement, the Waitangi Tribunal, etc.–in Te Ahu’s excellent overview, “The Evolution of Contemporary Maori Protest” | What’s the deal with the rivalry between New Zealand and Australia? | How to speak Kiwi | Is New Zealand really Middle Earth? |’s take on New Zealand/Aotearoa imperialism | The New Zealand Tourism Guide’s exploration of New Zealand’s national character lists many important Kiwi inventions: “While frozen meat, the Hamilton Jet boat, and the bungy jump are probably our most famous Kiwi inventions, there are many others. New Zealanders are also responsible for the tranquilliser gun, seismic ‘base’ isolators (rubber and lead blocks which minimise earthquake damage), electric fences, the fastest
motorbike in the world, freezer vacuum pumps, stamp vending machines, wide-toothed shearing combs, and the electronic petrol pump–to name a few!” | Kiwi comedy duo comes to the U.S.: Flight of the Conchords!


[DISCLAIMER: Remember to look through the below slide
shows before sharing them with the kids.]

Put the phrase “New Zealand” into’s search bar and prepare to have your jaw drop. The resulting “New Zealand” slideshow is extraordinary, even considering the context of all the beauty we’ve encountered in our tour of the Pacific. New Zealand has beaches and sparkling blue seas, but the real wonder of New Zealand comes in its interior–its mountains, its forests, its fields. New Zealand’s landscape has an intangible yet undeniable visual and historical depth. The land seems ancient and essentially uncorrupted, but at the same time it’s not fearsome or foreboding. You see the images; you can imagine yourself there. If you’d like to get a more intimate sense of New Zealand’s culture, search for “MÄori New Zealand,” were you’ll find images of traditional MÄÂori dancing, intricate MÄori wood carvings and, at the very least, this guy.

Photographers in New Zealand may well be at an unfair advantage–go to New Zealand and try, just try, to take a bad picture. Even a brief jaunt to the New Zealand page on the photoblogging site will not disappoint. Based in Hamilton, an agricultural center in the middle of New Zealand, photographer Zing populates his photoblog with the South Pacific’s many extraordinary colors–the multicolored sky, multicolored flowers, this awesomely multicolored bird….

The photoblog of Dunedin-based photographer Allan Clark, called BirdsEye, is a heartfelt exploration of life in rural New Zealand. The main designer/developer of, Aaron Schmidt, is based in New Zealand and has his own photoblog that mainly focuses on the people in his life. What better way to learn about the spirit of a place than to meet it through its many smiling faces?


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