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History of New Zealand

Early History

New Zealand was originally settled by waves of Polynesians some time between 1000 and 1300 BC, although some evidence suggests earlier settlement. The descendants of these settlers created a distinct culture and became known as the Maori. Separate settlement of the tiny Chatham Islands in the east of New Zealand produced the Moriori people; linguistic evidence indicates that the Moriori were mainland Maori who ventured eastward. Some of the Maori (particularly in the North Island), called their new homeland "Aotearoa" ("land of the long white cloud").

The original settlers quickly exploited the abundant large game in New Zealand, such as moa. Moa were large flightless birds similar to ostriches and rheas that were pushed to extinction by about 1500. As moa and other large game became scarce or extinct, Maori culture underwent major change. Horticulture became more important, as did warfare, reflecting increased competition for land and other resources. In this period, fortified pā became more common, although there is debate about the actual frequency of warfare.

Leadership was based on a hereditary system of cheiftainship, although chiefs needed actual leadership abilities as well as chiefly genealogies. The most important unit of pre-European Maori society was the hapū or group of families. Within the hapū were several whānau or families, and tribes (iwi) consisted of groups of hapū. Related hapū would often trade goods and co-operate on major projects, but conflict between hapū was also relatively common. Pre-European Maori had no written language but were capable of amazing feats of memory; most could recite their genealogies back hundreds of years. Arts included ta moko (tattooing), weaving, wood carving and various performing arts including the haka.

New Zealand has no native land mammals, apart from some rare bats. Birds, fish and sea mammals were important sources of protein. Maori cultivated food plants which they had brought with them from Polynesia, including sweet potatoes (kūmara), and taro. They also cultivated the cabbage tree, a plant endemic to New Zealand. Cannibalism, as elsewhere in the Pacific, played a very small part in the diet.

European Contact

The first Europeans known to reach New Zealand were the crew of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who arrived with his ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen. Tasman anchored at the northern end of the South Island in December 1642 but sailed northward to Tonga following a clash with local Maori. Tasman sketched sections of the two main islands' west coasts. Tasman called them Staten Landt and that name appeared on his first maps of the country. Dutch cartographers changed the name to Nova Zeelandia in Latin which derived from Nieuw Zeeland in Dutch. It was subsequently Anglicised as New Zealand by British naval captain James Cook of the HM Bark Endeavour who visited the islands more than 100 years after Tasman (1769-1770). Cook returned to New Zealand on both of his subsequent voyages.

From the 1790s, the waters around New Zealand were visited by British, French, and American whaling and trading ships. Their crews traded European goods, including guns and metal tools, for Maori food, water, wood, flax and sex. Maori were reputed as enthusiastic and canny traders. Although there were some conflicts, such as the killing of French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne and the destruction of the Boyd, most contact between Maori and European was peaceful. From the 1800s missionaries began settling in New Zealand and attempting to convert Maori to Christianity and control the somewhat lawless European visitors.

The impact of contact on Maori varied. In some inland areas life went on more or less unchanged, although a European metal tool such as a fish-hook or hand axe might be acquired through trade with other tribes. At the other end of the scale, tribes which frequently encountered Europeans, such as Ngapuhi in Northland, underwent major changes. Pre-European Maori had no distance weapons, and so the introduction of the musket had an enormous impact on Maori warfare. Tribes with muskets would attack tribes without them, killing or enslaving many. As a result, guns became very valuable, and Maori would trade huge quantities of goods for a single musket. The Musket Wars died out in the 1830s after most tribes had acquired muskets and so a balance of power was achieved.

Around this time many Maori converted to Christianity. The reasons for this have been hotly debated, but may include social and cultural disruption caused by the Musket Wars and European contact, the appeal of a religion which promotes peace and forgiveness, a desire to emulate the Europeans and gain a similar abundance of material goods, and a polytheistic culture which had little difficulty accepting new gods.

European settlement increased through the early decades of the nineteenth century, with numerous trading stations established, especially in the North. The first full-blooded European infant in the territory, Thomas King, was born in 1815 in the Bay of Islands. Many Europeans bought land from Maori, but misunderstanding and different concepts of land ownership led to conflict and bitterness. In 1839, the New Zealand Company announced plans to buy large tracts of land and establish colonies in New Zealand. This alarmed the missionaries, who called for British control of European settlers in New Zealand.

British sovereignty

In 1788 the colony of New South Wales had been founded. According to Phillip's amended Commission dated 25 April 1787, the colony included "all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean" and running westward on the continent to the 135th meridian. Until 1840, this technically included New Zealand, but this had no real impact as the New South Wales administration had little interest in New Zealand.

In response to complaints about lawless white sailors and adventurers in New Zealand, the British government appointed James Busby as Official Resident in 1832. In 1834, he encouraged Maori chiefs to assert their sovereignty with the signing of the "Declaration of Independence" in 1835. This was acknowledged by King William IV. Busby was provided with neither authority nor military support, and was thus ineffective in controlling the European population.

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